I try not to. A national business reporter pinged me this morning with a request to do an interview on a former employer. While flattering, I passed. Why?
1. The It-Takes-One-to-Know-One rule. In 1983, while covering local politics at a Massachusetts daily newspaper, I scored a serious scoop about a state senator representing a city that was home to my paper’s arch-rival newspaper. Front page, big lurid headlines, I totally de-pantsed the other paper. So their reporter called me to “congratulate” me. We saw each other all the time — this was a classic newspaper war deathmatch rivalry — and had a joking relationship. What I thought was a collegial conversation turned out to be their front page story the next morning. Lesson learned. The press shouldn’t talk to the press.
2. Don’t be retromingent, in other words, no pissing backwards. Slagging former employers, schools, colleagues is low behavior. This isn’t a case of not having nice things to say, but the odds of the one negative comment uttered in the course of an interview becoming the money quote for the reporter is usually 100%. No matter how well you stay on message, how much media training you have, you will feel misquoted.
3. Don’t let ego get in front of common sense. Seeing one’s name in print is a kick, sure, but ego aside, what’s the upside for the person being quoted? I’m not concerned about my “personal brand.” If I were I’d submit an op-ed piece to the same paper. This doesn’t advance the cause of current employer, it doesn’t make me more marketable. So … what’s the upside? Little to none.
Apologies to the reporter, but next time, work on your email presentation: asking me if there is a “potential downside” is like telegraphing your intentions.