It is very wise to deal cautiously and carefully with the Press since most of them bring some serious bias or prejudice to the interview and will usually print only what they want to out of an interview even if it is not important to the interview. The headline is about all most secular press are concerned about. Notice I said, secular press. If you are dealing with a religious press person, and don’t know then well, the same word of caution is wise to remember. Just tell them the same thing over and over in different ways. Bill Easum
I highly recommend a guidebook from the Religious Communicators Council called “How Shall They Hear?” You can get it through their website at: http://www.religioncommunicators.org/handbook.html
In the meantime, the most important thing to remember when dealing with the press is that they don’t know your side unless you tell them. Decide before you talk with them what points you want to get across and write them down. They should be concise, like a sound bite. Then learn them so well you can relay them without notes. I was taught a method called “A+1” This means that when asked a question, you provide the answer (A) + one of your points.
For example, the reporter might ask, “Pastor, what do you say to those who claim that you’re violating sacred ground?”
You might say, “We certainly understand that gravesites have special meaning, (A) but this is not an unusual practice for churches wanting to expand their service to the community (+1).”
Also, designate one person to deal with the media and make sure that everyone on staff and, if possible, in the congregation, knows that that person is the designated media person.
In our conference, we have several people, including every superintendent, trained to handle crisis media relations through what’s known as the “Ammerman Experience.” A former reporter puts folks through kind of a media relations boot camp.
Also, check with your judicatory to see if there’s a resource person who could help you.
Although I would agree with you that good communication should include a verbal conversation/interview with a reporter. My caution is that if – and that may be a big if – if a reporter has an agenda any interview – no matter how informative it may appear to the one giving it – can become fodder in the hands of one who has already made up their minds. Far better may be short printable, space paid for, letter, that explains what you suggest to be the reasons of the legitimate move and how common the practice is. Then a follow up interview afterwards.
In most situations this may be an overboard caution. However, if the local paper is creating the stink it may be an indication that they have already staked out their position on the issue. My caution to refrain from verbal communication as the first avenue of correcting the mis-understanding must be weighed against the bias of the article and the bias of the reporter. Unfortunately not every reporter is as open minded or ethical.