A knack for the exclusive non-interview

By Christian Nielsen

The Belgian magazine Knack did something shocking, brilliant, or lazy… depending on how you look at it.

Thursday 4 October 2012

The -language weekly has published a Q&A with , a Flemish politician and popular TV personality, thanks to his successful run on the quiz show (The World's Smartest Person), and more recently for his amazing transformation from chubby leader of the Flemish nationalist NV-A party to slim mayoral candidate in next week's . Oh, and he just published a book about his miraculous diet.

Magazines interview celebrities, politicians, actors, etc. because people want to hear what they have to say. There is nothing outlandish about that.  But on this occasion Knack ran a cover story promoting an interview that never happened!

In a short introduction to the story, the editors explain that De Wever was asked a couple of times to answer some questions but was just too busy – or, as implied, ‘too important' – to find the time. So, the publication was probably faced with a rotten choice. Ditch the cover story, then scramble to adjust the flat plan (the content structure), find a replacement story, and may be even adjust the line-up.  In a weekly magazine, that would be a nightmare scenario.

Or do what Knack clearly decided to do … run the story anyway. Run with what? You rightly ask. They published the article with a full-page photo of the new-look De Wever in his freshly tailored pin-striped suit, followed by a spread with the Q&A in the usual format Knack: Blah blah followed by De Wever:  Blah blah. Except in place of De Wever's responses, they wrote ‘No answer' or something to that effect. It's a gimmick, sure, but a brilliant one if you think about it. They got to keep their cover story, reinforce their reputation as an edgy political publication and … well … take the piss out of De Wever for being too arrogant, it would seem, to answer their journalist's requests for an interview.

Of course, it isn't that simple. The way it was presented made it seem like he chose not to answer, which in terms always smells of hiding something. Public relations experts insist that spokespeople never say ‘no answer' or ‘no comment' for that reason. Whether De Wever actively chose not to answer or just genuinely didn't have the time or interest to appear in Knack for the nth time is, of course, irrelevant because the result is the same.

The fallout from the story, including resignations at the magazine and political intrigue, runs in concentric circles. Observers of the Flemish media told me that the journalist seemed to be just trying to make a name for himself with this trick, that a good journalist would have tried harder to reach De Wever or his people. There is an election going on, after all, and De Wever is busy promoting his book to boot. Others wonder how any politician would pass up a potential cover story in a major weekly (with a print run of around 130,000 copies), let alone one who has shown in the past to have a strong nose for publicity.

Alternatively, it could all simply have been a mix up, a classic communications breakdown. This is the way NV-A would want the incident to be remembered. The party posted what the answers to Knack's questions would have been had they been given more time to reply – to show they had nothing to hide, presumably.

Is this incident a shocking piece of PR, lazy , or a brilliant stunt which shows that the print media is not going to give in to the digital upstarts without a fight? You be the judge.


  • Christian Nielsen

    Christian Nielsen is a journalist, copy writer and editor based in Brussels. He writes pretty much anything that takes his fancy, from the woes of travelling with kids to the dangers of antidepressants, but technology, EU affairs and science writing pay the bills.

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3 thoughts on “A knack for the exclusive non-interview

  • Possible this more daring approach could be a consequence of Knack appointing the former editor in chief of Humo (Another weekly Flemish publication known for their edgy and controversial pieces),
    Knack had always the reputation of publishing interesting and in-depth articles but is facing reorganization due to a down fall of sale figures. There was even talk that two of the main figures behind Knack would resign if Knack would go on with this editor.

  • Not something a publication can do twice and get away with. Not even sure they got away with it the first time – heads seem to be rolling. As the print world gets backed into a corner, you’re gonna see more and more gimmick-led journalism, I’d say. Like to see Chronikler keep tabs on that!!


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