I didn't even see it coming. A big, slow, deliberate set-up. How could I miss it? My adrenalin was gushing. Our campaign to get the Minister to close down a children's facility providing sub standard care was picking up momentum. The Minister was forced to respond to our concerns. Even though she refused our recommendations and was defending the status quo, we knew she was feeling the pressure.
It was a Sunday and the reporter invited me to the newsroom for what he said would be a front page story the next day. Bring your daughter with you. It won't take long.
You could say I was pumped and distracted.
The reporter was friendly and engaging, even getting some juice for my eight year old daughter. Reflecting on my disagreement with the Minister, he slipped in this question, "So you think Minister 'X' is full of sh##?"
"Yes," I said without thinking.
"I mean NO. That's not what I'm saying at all."
I dodged that one, just barely. I learned later about this reporter's reputation for headline grabbing quotes.
Five lessons I learned:
One, most journalists won't try to trick you but the odd one will.
Two, it pays to get to know the kind of reporter or journalist you are dealing with – their slant, schtick, focus, passion, reputation. Look at their previous columns or articles.
Three, never repeat the reporter's negative language.
Four, be careful of the media's paraphrasing. Divert the conversation back to what you want to say in your own words.
Five, there is no such thing as "off-the-record.