Is it ever okay to tell the media NO COMMENT?

Is it ever okay to tell the media NO COMMENT?

Public Relations | Judette Coward-Puglisi

July 16, 2008

It’s a question that pops up every time I do media training: "Are there instances when a spokesperson should say "No Comment" to the media?" In one word, okay make that three…Are you crazy? You should never say it.


13 thoughts on “Is it ever okay to tell the media NO COMMENT?

  1. Stating "NO COMMENT" almost always suggests that "there is more in the mortar than the pestle" – as we say in local parlance. More than that, it also suggests a level of discourtesy. There are many ways that the question can be circumvented, and even reconstructed to your advantage.

  2. The media has a way of twisting and manipulating the words you say to appear as they wish; to make a story or report juicier than it really is. So sometimes, it really is good to say no to the media. As stated, its good to give some inclination of the intention to make a statement as it shows that one cares or has thoughts on whatever the matter may be. Remaining silent leaves room for speculation and may make one seem insensitive dependent on the situation.

  3. Thanks Hilean.

    Over the past two weeks, we have handled three press conferences and I observed something startling.

    The reporters covering the story were on average about 22 years old. In some instances they could have been younger. And I think the general inexperience of reporters today may be a reason why we are getting increasingly just plain bad reporting.

    In once case, a television reporter handed the microphone to a Minister to hold while she conducted her interview. When I whispered to her afterwards that she shouldn’t do that because she was giving away control of her interview, she responded by saying that no one ever told explained that to her at the station where she worked.

    Here’s the thing Hilean, I disagree that journalists deliberately seek to manipulate words or get things wrong. I believe that the code of truthtful reporting is very much alive in newsrooms. My concern is that I am seeing such young journalists on stories I have to wonder if they are truly grasping the context of the press conference or even the story itself.

    One more thing and this really gets me. At the point of the Q&A, the perfect moment to ask the right, and yes, tough questions. Not a hand goes into the air. Reporters become either tongue tied or are just too shy.

    I yearn for the days when you’d get your stories from writers and reporters that you knew and trusted.

  4. I agree with you Judette. No one sets out to deliberately write a skewed story but journalists get little to no training in this country, it’s sink or swim. Many of them get tongue-tied because they can’t believe they are interviewing Mr so and so , or because they have no idea what they hell they listening to, they can’t process the information properly because they weren’t briefed. And because they have to deliver their stories on deadline they don’t bother to think about what they are writing. As for interviewing styles and techniques no one teaches that, you are just expected to go out and get information, whatever means necessary.

    Editors too don’t question the stories they get, they just run with it, they don’t sift through the PR nonsense (no offence) to get to the real story, it seems that once something on the assignment list was done, the story should run.

  5. None taken Laura. I see the warts on both the skin of journalism and PR.

    I also think some editors are so out of touch, it’s running with the story yes, but there seems now to be a disquieting tendency to focus on controversy, to look for the heat rather than light and emphasise conflict over consensus.

    I get the need to be the protector of the underdog against big government and big business so to speak but throwing resources at the controversy of the day rather than the essential issues of the era seems to do a big disservice to the very public the media tries to protect.

  6. Actually, Judette, one reason journalists at media conferences say little or nothing when it’s question time is because they do not want to alert the competition. They prefer to take their chances and waylay the speaker afterwards for a quick one-on-one. Journalists love exclusives and media conferences are usually not a great source of only-for-you information. You seem almost grieved by the standards in the media. It all tends to come down to dollars and cents and how much media managers are willing to invest–in training, in compensation, in finding and retaining the best journalists, in nurturing talent, in administrative and technological support. I’m afraid that once the paper is selling or the media house is making a profit, media managers say okay, if it ain’t broke, why fix it. Longterm investment in excellence is ignored.

  7. I’m a twenty-something year old reporter, and I disagree with the comment that being 22 years old disqualifies you from being able to ask the right questions. If not, how else do you account for the leaves-much-to-be-desired output of Trinbagonian journalists twice that age?

    It’s about training, education, and hunger.

  8. Hi. Totally agree with the phrase re long term investment in excellence is ignored. A large part of that investment is mentoring and I believe that many senior media pros have not invested the time/effort in mentoring younger professionals. A large part of mentoring is also sharing those networks and contacts that the more seasoned pros may have built up throughout their experience and in the case where the seasoned pros leave their jobs, they take those networks with them and the less experienced are basically left to swim on their own. Another fundamental skill that seems to be missing is the willingness to work on forging and building relationships, on both sides. Judette, I am sure that nuggets of knowledge, like the bit you shared with the young reporter who handed over her mic to the Minister, that can be shared and imparted to the less experienced pros will go a long way in building their capabilities and I hope that you and others who have that kind of experience will continue to seek their best interest in that respect.

  9. Sinistra, thanks for your comment.

    I would also add experience and knowledge to the mix but I take your point, too many times editors and heads of news are entirely divorced form the process as Laura said.

    How would you suggest both sides move forward to create a better news finding and delivery process?

  10. Candace, you certainly answered the question I was asking Sinistra. Mentoring and sharing experiences will certainly help and I know many who do.

    I believe that in a newsrooms setting that process may have to be formalised, ask any head of news and they will tell you they know it is needed but it will be just another something to do on their very long list.

    There another side of the news business, Kathy Ann mentioned it when she talked about competition. She was referring to the kind that happens among the media houses but there is another aspect: a firercely competitive, often back stabbing kind of cloud that hangs over newsrooms and that managers often tend to feed.

    I hear young reporters say this to me time and time again, and the reality is Candace I am not sure how much mentoring can go on in that kind of environment.

  11. Boy, are you ever correct about the ‘No comment’ response to issues. Speaking from personal experience, there are companies whose communication policy stipulates that never are those words to be used in response to questions from the media and other would-be quoters of what you’ve said.

    That our people in prominent positions continue to use that response, though, is just a sad reflection of how much training they get in dealing with the media. I think that much of what the decision-makers focus on in organisations is the mileage they get from donations and other routine and unimaginative approaches to PR. They neglect to realise that PR goes beyond that and stifle the profession locally. PR must also touch on such issues as media relations during tough times.

    I agree with Laura, though, that our media personnel are also very poorly trained. They are basically recruited fresh out of school (A levels or university) and put on a beat right away. It sometimes pains me to see the sentence construction in the news. But, let me stop here for this is a subject that strikes a chord with me…a discordant one at that.


  12. I agree that the youth and inexperience of journalists ill-prepares them for a media conference or an interview… and I’m 24. I have to thank God that those things were part of the curriculum during my undergraduate degree, otherwise I would have been lost from day one. I was employed at an established media house full-time as a sub-editor and the extent of my ‘training’ was to watch a more experienced person for about a day and then struggle on with help from my peers. And if they act like that with the people who prepare the paper each night, reporters are even less likely to get the training and support they need. And if management does not put these things in place, how can the editors do it? They’re rushing toward daily or weekly deadlines with limited resources and inexperienced personnel… they have to do the best they can.

  13. Thanks Hermese. Your comment is welcomed and noted.

    Desiree, your distinction between editors and management is also well noted. You’re right of course formalised training lies with management (Hurray for the CCN Group for awarding a one year scholarship for Kwame Lawrence this week.)

    I was talking to Irving Ward this week editor of the Express and he said that media houses are sometimes reluctant to offer reporters scholarships because it’s like opening the door to a host of other opportunities that lies outside the newsroom but that’s another blog all together

    I still feel that editors have a mentoring role to play and I am not convinced that it happens Desiree

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