Telling reporters ‘No comment’ says a great deal more

Everyday people offer news reporters a simple response when they elect not to be interviewed for a story: “No comment.”

TV interviewAnd while these words are accurate in their intent, people hearing and reading those words add a great deal to that statement – none of it good. Most people translate “no comment” to one of the following:

  • “I’m guilty or responsible, but don’t want to or can’t admit it.”
  • “You caught me.”
  • “Uh, oh.”
  • “I’m covering up for something that’s actually far worse.”

In most cases, based on my years of experience as a reporter, editor and marketing executive, none of the above interpretations is accurate. Most people who say “no comment” don’t have anything to say or are not in a position to speak. Their reasons really don’t matter, unless their actions come off as implying one or more of the above interpretations.

People who don’t want to talk to a reporter should instead use one of the following:

  • “I would prefer not to comment at this time.” — This response conveys respect for the reporter and the audience and offers the small chance of a future interaction.
  • “I can’t speak to this issue.” – Reporters need credible sources, not people offering hearsay. If you can provide the reporter with the name and contact information of the person who can address the issue, then you have made a friend.
  • “Can I get back to you later today.” – This approach works best with print reporters, because they don’t need on-camera interviews. It also suggests that you share the same goal, ensuring the report has the most accurate information possible. One caveat: Honor your word. Failing to contact the reporter later in the day implies you are covering up something.

People believe – wrongly – that not helping reporters will prevent them from covering a story. Nothing is farther from the truth. By the time the reporter is doing interviews on a story, it means a story is going to be printed or broadcast. No news operation has the extra staff necessary to send reporters out on a possible story. Any effort to stand in a reporter’s way just makes it less likely that his or her report will be fair or accurate. People often blame the reporter for the incomplete report, failing to realize that a report is only as good as the information available to the reporter.

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