Talking to the Press

More and more, homeowner association issues are being reported in the news media. Almost every television station has a troubleshooter who is always looking for a juicy story. Often, these stories give only the homeowner's point of view, while the viewpoint of the board, management company or developer may not even be represented. It is up to all of us to see that those sides of the story get reported too.

Unfortunately, for some community association professionals, talking to the news media can be like speaking in tongues. When a reporter calls, normally confident pros can feel distrust, fear and suspicion. It's also normal to become defensive. However, whether you're facing an interview with a "60 Minutes" camera crew or a part-time staffer with a small, local newspaper, the rules for responding to the news media are the same.

Be honest.

Reporters have a good sense of when someone is lying. Eventually, the press will find out if you are inaccurate or deceptive, so tell the truth. Also, don't play the "off the record" game. Assume that every word in your conversation might appear in the story. Besides, continuously going off the record makes you look evasive and is often unnecessary.

Take the call.

Don't duck the phone call. Never say "No comment" to the press. Those words create antagonism amongst reporters who are only trying to do their jobs. Plus, a "no comment" response implies an admission of guilt. Stonewalling seldom keeps the news from being reported.

Return the call.

Remember, the press is always on deadline and it's a reporter's job to get a story. If they don't get the information from you, they'll get it from outsiders who might not know the whole truth or may even be holding a grudge against your association or management company. When you don't return calls, you run the risk of seeing incomplete journalism and disinformation in print. In addition, statements like "The board member does not want to talk with you" can't help but plant a seed of doubt in the reporter's mind about the association's integrity.

Act quickly.

If the news is bad, get it out fast and tell the whole truth (or as much as you know at the time). Don't try to hide or conceal, or your credibility will quickly vanish. If the information comes out piece-meal, the damage can accumulate.

Tell the whole truth.

Perhaps the biggest communications faux pas at Three Mile Island was a utility executive at an impromptu press conference failing to admit about small off-site radiation releases. He later justified his deceptive behavior by saying, "the press did not ask about it." His failure to tell the whole truth gave reporters heightened skepticism and misgivings about any information provided by the utility company. If you're up front with bad news, you'll be trusted on other occasions with good news.

Choose a spokesperson.

Appoint a company spokesperson or specific board member to handle the news media. Make sure everyone knows, and is reminded occasionally, of the identity of the spokesperson. Remember, if you don't appoint a spokesperson, the news media will appoint one for you by finding someone to interview. Think about it: whose quotes do you want in the newspaper -- a management company president or an envious competitor?

Pave the way.

Make friends with the press now. Offer to give advice when they have stories that pertain to homeowner associations. Help them understand how associations work and the documents and laws that govern them. Working with the press can make a vast difference in the way things are perceived and reported. Mishandling the press can seriously damage your reputation.

Most associations are governed by reasonable members of the community, but we need to make a concentrated effort to promote positive stories about how associations work for the good of the members. Speaking the truth and speaking out can make a huge difference.

Source: Association Times
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