There are rules by which reporters generally operate. As an attorney, you need to learn the ground rules for interviews.
Reporters with a strong sense of professionalism will honor the request that the reporter describe the “angle” counsel would like taken in a given piece of reporting. Similarly, print reporters are usually careful to adhere to requests that a conversation be considered off the record and for background only. Relations with the electronic media tend to be somewhat different, although the fundamental issues remain the same.
Here are some tips for those new to the media spotlight:
- Know the local practice. Some courts and media outlets have written agreements about how coverage will be “managed;” familiarize yourself with such practices.
- Hold off for a while. Early in a case, it’s usually best to refuse all requests for interviews, stating that a decision about whether to hold a press conference is pending, and indicating that as soon as the decision is made, the reporter will be notified.
- Prepare yourself. You may find it hard to get reliable guaranties that an editor or producer will agree either to air or publish your comment. The easiest way to try to get some control over what information is disseminated is to prepare a statement in writing and read it at a press conference, or at a time when you have organized your thoughts sufficiently to present a coherent, brief, newsworthy, and “legal” statement. The written statement can then be distributed to media as well.
- Consult with an expert. Large prosecutors’ offices have media spokespersons, as do some criminal defense organizations and large law firms. If you’re not in one of these organizations, consider consulting with an experienced media spokesperson to get a better understanding of the practices governing the dissemination of information to the media and help in creating an outline for a plan to deal with the media.
For a list of publications available to courts and counsel on dealings with the media, see the website of the National Center for State Courts.
Publicity issues often arise in criminal cases and are covered in chapter 14 of CEB’s “crim law bible,” California Criminal Law Procedure and Practice.
Other CEB blog posts you may find interesting:
- Social Media Adds a New Twist to PreTrial Publicity Ethical Issues
- Privacy Rights in the World of Video Games
- 18 Questions to Spot the Issues in a Criminal Case
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