A primer on dealing with the media as a hacker, and dealing with hackers as the media

Here's a simple guide for dealing with the media as a hacker, including tips on dealing with hackers for journalists

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Q&A

The following questions were taken from Twitter, and the answers are based on my personal opinion or experience. No two journalists are alike, which is why it's important for you to know as much as you can about the person interviewing you and your own comfort levels.

"What can I do to avoid being horribly misquoted?"

This is why email interviews are useful. You have less of a chance of being misquoted, and a way to prove the quote was wrong if needed. In the event that the interview was recorded (via phone or tape during an on-the-spot interview) the correction process is the same.

Talk to the journalist first. Explain the situation, offer the corrected quote, and wait for the changes to appear. Honestly, journalists don't like to be wrong. Plus, factual errors and misquotes can hurt a story.

If you don't hear anything from the journalist within 24-hours, try them again. If that fails, you'll need to contact their editor or the managing editor at the publication.

It's rare, but misquotes happen. Journalists are humans, prone to the same mistakes as anyone else.

No matter what though, do not get angry or start attacking the journalist for their mistakes. If you do, you're going to create a follow-up story about a hacker harassing a journalist in an angry fit of rage over a simple mistake.

"What should I do if the journalist who wants a story doesn't have the technical knowledge enough for me to explain it?"

This is tricky. If you want to do the interview and it's a story you want told, you're going to have to help the journalist along.

However, even generalists have basic knowledge for the most part. But if the journalist isn't a tech writer, you may end up explaining little things like what webcams are.

If explaining the basics is too much, politely decline the interview, because you don't have enough time to explain everything. Perhaps you can do the interview later over email...

[Journalists: Do your homework and know the basics about the topic you want to cover. Just because someone is hacking webcams and the editor demands a story on it, doesn't mean you can expect a hacker to explain everything to you. Hackers appreciate it when someone can demonstrate that they've done their homework. They realize you're not going to be an expert – but a little effort goes a long way.]

"What should a hacker do when pressured for a response from press, but they're either not allowed to reply or uncomfortable about it."

If at a conference, decline the interview politely and walk away. "I'm sorry. I don't have time to talk right now." or "I'm sorry, I'm not able to speak at the moment."

Do not say "no comment" or anything related to it.

This accepts the premise of the question being asked and suggests that you have information of value or something to hide. Likewise, saying "I can't comment" or "I can't" followed by any reason is equally as bad.

Again, if at a conference, and the journalist keeps pressuring you, if you are uncomfortable go to the event staff or security team. Journalists have rules at these shows and harassing speakers or participants is a quick way to see our credentials revoked.

So what if the harassment or pressure comes via email or the phone. If it's email, ignore it and don't reply. Don't say anything. If it's a phone call, send them to voicemail, and again remain silent.

If you work for a company with a PR team, tell them what's happening and let them deal with it. If you're on your own, and the harassment continues, talk to the journalist's direct manager.

Journalists will chase a story to the bitter end, and sometimes we can be a bit committed to getting a person on the record, but there is no excuse for harassment and you shouldn't accept it.

"What should I do when the press makes a mistake in the story and I need to have a correction made?"

You would deal with this situation the same way you would being misquoted. First, start by contacting the journalist and explain the situation. If that doesn't help, then you can go to their editor or the publication's managing editor for assistance.

Again, if no corrections are made, do not get angry with the journalist, and do not attack them for the error. It won't help your situation. However, if obvious mistakes are left uncorrected, use that as proof as to why you will no longer deal with the journalist or their publication.

Update: @4Dgifts offered an additional tip here.

When reaching out to a journalist to get a correction made, remember to avoid doing it in public. Contacting a journalist in public could create personal or professional embarrassment, adding to the embarrassment already established by the mistake in the first place.

[Journalists: We're not experts; we will make mistakes and get it wrong. While we'll catch heat for errors, it's better to get them reported and fixed as soon as possible. Hackers talk to other hackers, so accuracy and a willingness to correct mistakes is something that helps your personal reputation. They realize you're going to screw-up, but it's how you deal with it that matters.]

"What should a hacker do when a story has been written about them or their material and/or research and it's either off or horribly wrong?"

Again, contact the journalist first. Try and resolve the issue though them first before going to the editors.

"How does a hacker go about reaching out the press if they feel they've got something that needs to be public knowledge?"

This is why you do your research on the press. Most journalists are easily contacted via email or social media. Try and select the journalist you feel will best represent the story you're wanting told – and be ready to work with them to make it happen – including explaining every little detail multiple times.

"How does a hacker talk to the press if the company they work for doesn't have a PR team?"

Carefully, and that isn't a joke.

Everything you say is on the record, and there is no second chance. When answering the questions asked – assuming you don't decline the interview – weigh your answers carefully, and imagine how they will look as a headline or in a court transcript.

If you're solo, you need to understand what the story is and how you fit into it. Make sure you're clear on the questions being asked, who is asking them, why they're being asked, and if there are any other aspects to the story that could come back to haunt you down the line.

You should really have some sort of PR help at the company, even if it is on a month-to-month basis with a local firm. Also, many PR firms do media training, which is a useful skill to have under your hat.

What to see other questions here? Email them to me, ping me on Twitter, or leave a comment below.

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