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Beat the Press
(first three chapters)

The Rugged News Media Game:
What You Must Know to Survive
  This book will help you survive the glare of unflattering media attention. It will prepare you for those instances when you find yourself facing difficult, painful or embarrassing questions. Or for when you are blindsided by hostile, biased, relentless, or dangerously ignorant reporters. In a controversy or crisis, you will doubtlessly encounter each of these. 

  Sometimes you may be lucky and face only softball questions from reporters on simple and harmless subjects. “How did you feel when the tornado ripped the roof off your house?” kind of questions. But in a society where the media is increasingly negative and sensational, where networks and tabloids frequently trample over the same stories, thousands of people are catapulted daily into instant notoriety .

  “There was a time, perhaps, when being a good reporter meant being street-smart, asking tough questions, siding with the underdog, and even making a few enemies to get to the bottom of a story. But the cynicism of today's news seems to be rooted not in a vaunted muckraking spirit so much as a professional angst among reporters. Honest skepticism has been supplanted by a chronic cynicism that all but guarantees a negative slant on news.” 

Scott London, Santa Barbara News-Press

  “(If you) ask journalists about their profession they will tell you bad news: Reporting has gotten sloppier, facts too often are blurred by opinion, and efforts to inform and entertain have led to a kind of ‘infotainment’…A rising number of journalists agree with public-opinion polls that say the media lack credibility. They also say reporters drive controversies with their coverage of personal and ethical behaviors of public figures…”

   The Associated Press, 

It’s Not a Fair Game, but You Have to Play

  Dealing with a news reporter has frequently been compared to playing a game—a risky game with potentially crushing consequences for those who refuse to play, or fail to play it well. The trouble is, most targets are never taught the rules, nor given any coaching on how to play. Out of the thousands of people forced onto the field every day, many will suffer trampled careers, lost business, slaughtered reputations, and unattained goals. And not because they necessarily deserve that kind of treatment, but because they simply don’t understand how this game is played. 

  That’s like being handed the ball on a football field, knowing absolutely nada about the sport, and being told to “score.” You look downfield and see several thousand pounds of life-threatening mass running at you, and you have no idea what to do. So you naturally turn and run the other way. Guess who scores?
How do you win on an unfair playing field when the other team controls most of the shots? Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? But it’s not. 

  The trick is to keep control of the ball for as long as you can, as often as you can. The most important thing to remember is that no matter what tactics or tricks reporters use, you are in control of what you say, not them.
Your Chances of Being Forced into the Game
  Every day tens of thousands of people, most of whom never imagined they would ever make the news, are interviewed by the U.S. news media. So if you are a human being, or a reasonably alert shrub, chances are you someday will have your fifteen minutes of fame, and some news hound will be there to sniff it out. But the odds are against your coming across well on the uneven news turf unless you master the lessons in this book. 

  Why? Because news is largely about conflict. Few of us communicate well during conflict and even fewer are experienced at publicly dealing with the chief components of many news stories: accusations, lies and distortions. (Heck, most of us don’t handle these things well in private!) Our natural adrenaline reactions—defend, lash back, stonewall or blame others—are not behaviors that will make us look good either on the evening news or in the daily paper. It certainly doesn’t help that pack journalism encourages reporters to focus their stories on issues of blame, guilt or fighting. 

  Also, most people feel powerless when dealing with reporters. If you are distracted by fear, you won’t have much chance of coming across as a reasoned, intelligent, caring person. And how many of us are accustomed to boiling down complicated issues, even deeply personal ones, in fifteen seconds or less? Not many. Yet, it can be done with preparation and practice. 

Great Risks and Great Paybacks
  Saying something careless to a reporter is terribly risky. A single negative story can take a tremendous toll on your personal and professional life. At best, you may come across as simply inept; at worse, you may seem uncaring, irresponsible, derelict, or guilty.

  These images can threaten things that are very important to you—your reputation, your organization’s reputation—and can cause customer confidence to wane, stock prices to plunge, sales to plummet, lawyers to start wringing their hands, etc. 

  But just about every day’s newspaper and every night’s broadcast carry examples of missed or botched opportunities. People regularly say risky, ludicrous, mediocre and just plain dumb things to reporters. Like the mayor of a major U.S. city who was quoted in the paper as saying, “People blame me because these water mains break, but I ask you, if the water mains break, would it be my responsibility to fix them then? Would it?” 

  That’s certainly a statement to remember around election time.

  However, if you can learn to hold your own in a media interview, you can greatly increase the odds of getting a balanced news story. Then the interview becomes a tremendous opportunity to sway people to your position. Corporations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the kind of attention one positive news story provides.

  Refusing to be part of a news story has the opposite effect. You lose a precious opportunity to sway, convince, or move people to action. And you give your adversary, or the reporter, the power to define the issue in his or her own terms. That’s like taping a sign on your back that reads “kick me” and running through a playground with the expectation that nothing bad will happen to you. 

  In other words, a media interview is not an opportunity to be missed, under most circumstances. As this book will show you, you can come across as rational, confident and authoritative, even under the direst circumstances. It’s not complicated, and it shouldn’t overwhelm you. What’s key is that you practice these techniques, and be patient with yourself. It’s a different way of communicating for most of us.
You Need to Do a Little Work, but Not Too Much
  When you examine the model responses in this book, you will find they are similar in many respects. They don’t dwell on negatives. They often bridge to positive future efforts and skirt confrontation or conflict. Learning these three points alone will give you an advantage over most interview subjects.

  But that’s frankly not enough knowledge if you really want to bolster your interviewing skills. You need a basic knowledge of the media, particularly the personality traits and professional nuances that influence how they cover stories. You also need an understanding of the tactics they use to coax information from a reluctant source. Most important, you need to grasp some essential techniques for steering the direction of questions. 

  Being absolute about almost anything in life is foolhardy, and these comments aren’t meant to apply to all reporters, all circumstances, or all news mediums. But they are generally relevant to most media, in most situations.

  Also, this book is not meant to draw conclusions about the state of journalism, nor to examine its influence on society or offer suggestions for improvement (though a little judgment is unavoidable). There are plenty of excellent books on these subjects. This book explains how things are, and offers ways you can protect yourself while getting your key information across to the audiences you need to reach.
Thoughts in Your Head, Not Words in Your Mouth

  This book isn’t intended to help you deceive the media—that’s a game you’ll lose for sure. It is meant to help you frame your viewpoints in a highly effective, intelligent, sincere, truthful and confident manner, and not be led down a path to say something you didn’t intend to reveal. 

  This book is meant to help level the highly uneven playing field by giving you the right equipment and training to score your own goals and win more often. Remember, their goal is to get a great story. Your goal is to make sure it’s not at the expense of you or the things you care about. 

Chapter Two

The Unwritten Rules and Their Automatic Penalties

  Every game has its rules. The news media game is no different, except that the rules are unwritten. Think about how incredible that is—how altogether frightening.

  Only a few professionals exercise such a profound influence on our lives—lawyers, doctors, and police—but they are all governed by strict laws, codes of conduct, and performance expectations. The paper trail each must comply with is astounding. If you are guilty of murder, but aren’t read your rights, you go free! That’s a profound example of how important rules are in professions with similar power.

  What is a reporter who slams you in the national press required to document or file with the proper authority? Nada. Plumbers operate under more laws than reporters. Though they have the power to trash people on a universal scale at the speed of an electronic signal, almost no one cares if they erase interview tapes, scribble notes on a cocktail napkin, or write their stories from vague recollection. Journalists can print or broadcast devastating rumors, cruel speculation, innuendo, and lies and get away with it unless the victims can prove overwhelmingly that they acted with malice and reckless disregard for the truth, which is next to impossible. But there are unwritten rules (and a few listed in the Canon of Ethics, though legally non-binding) that most respected reporters follow under most circumstances. 

  This chapter gives you a good understanding of the unwritten rules savvy newsmakers don’t violate, knowing that the penalties are often severe and self-inflicted. Master these rules and you’ll score winning points with your target audiences and succeed more often than not. Each rule is cross-referenced with more substantive chapters so that you can easily locate the specific information to strengthen your abilities in any area you need to bolster.
Rule 1: Go into the Game Prepared

  Penalties for violation: You get slaughtered. Everyone laughs at your message. You go home humiliated.
  You wouldn’t go into an important game without full preparation. You’d scout the other team, drill your players in the best plays, practice key responses to tricks, check and re-check your equipment. In short, you’d be ready for anything from anyone. 

  Going into the powerful news media game (or getting dragged into it) without preparation is like playing the NFL Super Bowl champs but without wearing a helmet and padding, practicing, or learning any plays. And did we mention you were naked? So tell us, what do you think your chances are?

  This is the biggest and most frequent violation in the news game. Getting hit unprepared by the news media feels like being flattened by a three-hundred-pound tackle. It hurts for a very long time. So, get prepared and stay prepared. 

  See Chapter 5 on focusing on your message, Chapter 6 about “bridges” for powerful, succinct responses, and Chapters 18 and 19 on crisis communications. 

Rule 2: Don’t Lose Control of the Ball (the Message)

  Penalties for violation: You don’t score a point with your audience. Zip, nada, nothing.
  You can’t score points if you don’t have the ball. If you aren’t in control of it, guess who is?

  What? You think reporters are in control? No. Only if you let them.

  Reporters are in control of a lot of things, but they are not in control of what you say. No matter what they ask, or what prying tactics they use, you have complete control over what spills out of those lips of yours. Stay on your message.

  Savvy communicators sometimes insist on live interviews for this very reason. Live means reporters can’t edit, can’t interpret, can’t paraphrase. To keep control, you must learn how to “bridge” from the reporter’s question to your points.

  See Chapter 6 for this life-or-death skill. See Chapter 5 on keeping control of your message, and Chapter 4 on ten fast steps to a winning performance. 
Rule 3: Don’t Forfeit by Refusing to Play; Don’t Say “No Comment”

  Penalties for violation: You forfeit the entire game to your opponents, who score points by getting their message to your (former) fans.
  Imagine a football game where your team doesn’t show up. Obviously, you forfeit. But it’s worse in the news media game. The other team can score all the points it wants. It can (and will) tell fans, TV, radio, newspapers, and the Internet world anything it wants. And you aren’t there to defend yourself, much less score any points yourself.
Sure, you can say, “no comment,” but then you might as well say, “I’m guilty,” or, “Arrest me; I’m hiding something!” Because that’s what the phrase implies. It clearly suggests you are so guilty that you are unable to think of even one thing to say in your defense. 

  Read Chapter 9 on the many smart things you can say besides “no comment.”
Rule 4: No Pouting or Whining When Benched (Admit Mistakes)

  Penalties for violation: Even your best fans “boo” you. You and your message instantly lose credibility. 
  Stand up. Look ’em in the eye. Be a good sport and own up to your mistakes when you can legally and politically afford to do so, if only for the sake of strategy. Because when you admit you made a mistake, you have amazing power over news. You dilute the news value when you take responsibility for your mistakes and you take some control away from the media because no one can speculate about your alleged guilt or innocence. 

  The more you protest the allegations of your obvious rule violation, the longer you keep negative attention on your actions. Remember this: People won’t let you alone until you atone. 

  Practice the time-tested response methods in Chapters 10 and 16. They will help you get past the unpleasant penalties that come with making a mistake. 
Rule 5: All Defense, No Offense Makes a Loser (Being Passive with Reporters)

  Penalties for violation: You have a boring, low-scoring game, and you still lose. People will only remember your mistakes.
  If you’re all defense and no offense, you will lose. If you wait to see what the reporter will ask or write, you will lose. You can’t win any game if you don’t take the initiative. You can’t score any points with your target audiences if you don’t take your message and run with it every chance you get. Take an active role in the interview: ask questions, point out faulty logic, and ask the reporter to repeat back to you what it is he thinks you said.

  See Chapter 4 to learn ten powerful performance techniques for taking the initiative and going on offense to score points with your message. 
Rule 6: Don’t Lose Your Cool 

  Penalties for violation: You get kicked out of the game–-by your fans. They don’t like nasty behavior (so what if they ignore their own?).
   Losing your cool is not cool. It makes for great television, and great copy, but it turns viewers and readers against you, regardless of whether you are right or not. 

   Yes, you are only human and you even have a right to get angry. Whenever we are the victims of slander or outrageous accusations, a certain degree of anger is warranted, and expected. If you were accused of murder, for example, appearing calm and collected would seem grossly inappropriate, but if your emotions appeared out of control in relation to the circumstances, people would consider you more suspect. You don’t have to raise your voice to reinforce your argument.

   See Chapter 12 for many examples of how to handle criticism coolly and Chapter 13 for model comments showing how to say your opponents are lying without calling them liars.
Rule 7: Send Clear Signals Quickly (Don’t Bury Your Message)

  Penalties for violation: No one knows what you are talking about. Players bump into each other. Fans want you fired.
  Too many newsmakers (particularly those who are blindsided by reporters) fall back on boring detail and complex analysis before coming to a conclusion. Too late. You’ve already put everyone to sleep.

  If you can’t summarize your position in a sentence or two, then most people won’t get your key message and you’ll look like you don’t know what you are talking about. Get your message across by answering these questions in a couple of short sentences. 

  How do you want people to “feel” about your circumstance? “We want people to know we care about our employees, which is why we’ve had to make some sacrifices to protect the jobs of the majority of our employees.”

  Why should they believe you? “We have set up placement clinics to help retrain those we are forced to lay off….”

  What do you want them to do with the information? “We hope the community will support us in our efforts to find these good workers other jobs.”

  Study the hundreds of model responses in Part Three to see how experts get their points across succinctly. 

Rule 8: Don’t Lie to Your Team, Fans and Everyone Else

  Penalties for violation: No one can trust your message so don’t bother pitching it to anyone. 
  Ask yourself which is worse: the truth emerging or what the media will do to you once they discover you have lied (they almost always do). It’s not a pretty sight. A half-truth is a half-lie as far as the media is concerned. Their reaction is usually swift and vehement. The lie makes the truth even harsher to handle. So you lose twice.

  See Chapter 10 on damage-controlling a mistake and Chapter 16 on the value of admitting a mistake. See also Chapter 13 on the art of calling the other player a liar (without sounding like you are being a poor sport). Chapter 17 illustrates how the most skilled communicators make use of inference, insinuation, and analogies to effectively discredit adversaries.
Rule 9: Avoid Guessing the Future (Dodge Most “What If”’ Questions)

  Penalties for violation: Doomed to be wrong, and then punished by people who foolishly believed you could correctly predict the future. 
  When someone begins a question with “What if,” get ready to duck. If people were really good at guessing the future, there would be a lot more winners at casinos and racetracks. 

  As it is, most of us end up with lighter pockets as we futilely try one more time to predict the future, or the next card, or the winning horse, or lottery numbers. The odds can be a billion to one, but people still risk their hard-earned money trying to beat the odds. If you have a crystal ball, go right ahead. If not, “Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson.” You can get hurt.

  Guessing can likewise be a risky game during a media interview. You can guess yourself right out of your credibility, and, perhaps, your job. 

  Don’t let reporters pressure you into drawing conclusions or making hasty predictions. Safer alternatives are disclosed in Chapter 15.
Rule 10: Say, “I’m Wrong. I’m Sorry” (Apologize Before It’s Too Late)

  Penalties for violation: If you wait until Monica’s blue dress is discovered, no one will believe you are sincere.
  Intelligence test: What sounds better? “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!” or, “I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds. I never should have misled the country, the Congress, my friends or my family. Quite simply, I gave in to my shame. I understand that accountability demands consequences, and I’m prepared to accept them…even censure would pale compared to the agony I feel within my own family.” 

  If you have harmed others, intentionally or not, you’d better own up to it and ask for forgiveness. Refusing to acknowledge their suffering, and your part in it, will almost always result in your suffering even more. You lose trust, you lose credibility, and you’ve lost it all. 

  Chapter 16 provides excellent examples of how to say, “I’m wrong. I’m sorry.”
Rule 11: Play Fair (Don’t Kick ’em When They’re Down)

  Penalties for violation: Loss of advances you recently made with fans and the undecided spectators. 
  There are few things our society likes more than to see a successful person fail, a great man or great woman fall from grace by giving in to shame, greed, addiction or avarice. 

  To the media, personal tragedy is big news, especially if the person is a “public figure.” Reporters buzz around like little PT boats, hoping to bump into somebody who will give them a juicy comment about the person’s alleged transgressions.

  When you are asked to comment on the failings of others, it might be wise to remember: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” 

  Check out Chapter 11 on “Refusing to Play the Blame Game” to find out how to make your points without getting penalized for piling on a downed player.
Rule 12: Don’t Overlook the Basic News Release

  Penalties for violation: Your razzle-dazzle fancy plays look great until you fail to effectively reach your target audiences. You play hard but can’t score enough points, and can’t figure out why.
  The lowly news release is one of the most powerful plays any newsmaker can use. Yet, too many people overlook releases, write horrible ones, or issue them too late or not at all. Look at the power the news release has:

* It is the only vehicle to reach hundreds or thousands of newsrooms in your region.

* It’s accurate (your wrote it!).

* It’s positive, with your focus.

* It includes the important “why,” which is imperative to understanding, and necessary to win acceptance.

* It educates reporters and editors for future coverage, even if they don’t use your information this time.

* Editors can compare it to the reporter’s story to ensure better accuracy.

  You and your staff don’t have time to call each of the hundreds or thousands of newsrooms at daily and weekly newspapers, radio, TV and cable stations, and wire services. But news releases that are sent via postal mail, email, or fax can do just that.

  See Chapter 22 for easy ways to create simple, effective news releases and then review Chapter 20 for ways to use your news release via the Internet. 
Rule 13: Expect the Unexpected (Develop a Crisis Communications Plan)

  Penalties for violation: You and key players needlessly suffer life-long injuries. You lose today’s game, and the team may fold, or be sold.
  You know that important things never happen without breakdowns and setbacks. So the only person you have to blame for not being ready to communicate in a crisis is you. 

  Crises happen to Fortune 500 companies, to small businesses, to government agencies, to not-for-profit charities, and to successful and savvy individuals. Sometimes there is warning, but usually there is none.

   Crises can come in the form of a hundred traumatic events, such as embezzlement, workplace violence, product tampering, toxic spills, union shenanigans and the like. And they most likely hit when offices are closed and most of the people you need are gone elsewhere, without their cell phones.

  It’s not that hard to prepare for communications and decision-making during a crisis. If you are prepared, even just a little, you will be way ahead of the game. But it’s just about impossible to prevent a crisis from becoming a disaster if you wait until the inevitable crisis hits. 

  Several chapters will help you prepare to do your best when the merciless blades of crisis strike. Read Chapters 18 and 19 on crisis communications, then go to Chapter 10 for damage-controlling a mistake. Also examine Chapter 9 for alternatives to “no comment.” 
Rule 14: Keep up with New Techniques (Use the Internet’s Power)

  Penalties for violation: You lose 62 to 3 every day because your opponents get their messages to your audiences faster, better, and cheaper, and you let yourself become a victim as Internet vandals create “crisis by Internet.”
  The Internet gives you enormous power to pressure reporters and editors to do their jobs better, to make them more accurate, and even to keep the occasional unsavory journalist more honest. The Internet is affecting information distribution as much as electricity did factories, farms, transportation, and offices.

  The Internet also gives you the power to end-run reporters, editors, and even entire news organizations when you really need to communicate directly with important audiences. Without having quick access and use of the Internet, you cannot move as fast and as far as bad news and vandals can.

  When you really need to go directly to your key audiences, you can do that by email and by attracting them to your website. Just about any person can set up a website for fifty dollars in a couple of hours with help from an Internet service provider.

  If you have been seriously wronged, you can make that news itself and announce via the news media that the truth lies at your website. Indeed, you can use the news media itself to attract attention to its own mistakes. But make sure the mistakes are clear and factual. If you cry wolf, there had better be a wolf in sight. Otherwise, you’ll be ignored when you really need direct attention. 

  Chapters 20 and 21 elaborate on how to harness the power of the Internet without hurting yourself. 

Chapter Three

Player Report Sheets

  Nearly all powerful and professional occupations require exams, certifications, and adherence to codes of ethics to hold a license. Not so for journalists. There isn’t even a method for weeding out bad apples or incompetents. Anyone who says she is a media player is one. You become a journalist the moment you say you are and can show you are attached to some media outlet. And that means all you need today is access to the Internet and a fancy news name.

   It’s a little scary (even terrifying) knowing that the people you are entrusting with your reputation basically answer to no one, save for their ratings-hungry bosses. Sure, they can be sued, but the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that they acted with intentional malice and reckless disregard for the truth. Fat chance of that happening. But there are personal and professional commonalties within media niches. Understanding them will help you adjust your behavior and strategies accordingly. 

   Study these confidential scouting reports on the major media reporters from TV, newspaper, radio, wire service, trade publications, and the newly developing Internet writer-publisher. 

Player: TV Reporter
  Characteristics: Intense. Dynamic. Craves pressure and attention. Healthy ego. Fiercely competitive. Easily bored. Independent. Idealistic. Little regard for authority. Tends to favor underdogs. 

  Strengths: Ingratiating personality. Able to blend pictures, words and sound to tell a story. Adept at condensing complicated issues. Able to work under extreme pressure. Well-developed sense of humor. Possesses impressive discriminatory abilities (great detectors of “B.S.”).

  Weaknesses: Accepts errors as part of the territory so may appear uninterested in fixing mistakes. Vigorously criticizes others but is too thin-skinned and is loath to accept criticism or admit to being wrong. Tends to be too idealistic and thus blind to the harsh realities of business and politics. Inclined to oversimplify complex issues. Tends to gravitate toward conflict and titillation in order to beat the competition. Eager to pounce on any sensational tidbit. Puts sources at bottom in terms of whom he or she seeks to satisfy (after boss, other reporters, competitors, and the public). Staunchly defends First Amendment right as justification for his or her sometimes-dubious news-gathering tactics. Aptly dubbed “jack-of-all-trades and master of none.” 

  Tricks of the Trade: Asks for your personal opinion, hoping you will give it. Asks leading, loaded, speculative and fight-provoking questions to confirm his biases, preconceived notions or suspicions. Gets up close to intrude upon your comfort level. May conduct ambush interviews, disguising his identity or relying on stolen documents.
  Handling Strategies: 

* These individuals are generally rushed and stressed. Don’t expect them to spend much time with you, or use much of your interview. Be prepared to answer every question in twenty seconds or less. Because reporters normally have less than a minute to devote to a story, it’s crucial that you learn to express your viewpoint on any question succinctly. If you don’t, you increase the risk that your comments will be edited, or paraphrased, and thus taken out of context. 

* Be friendly and do whatever you can to help them meet their deadlines to increase the chances of an accurate portrayal.

* Don’t assume they know much about your subject. Some reporters tend to act more knowledgeable than they really are, mainly out of fear that exposing their ignorance will make them vulnerable to lies and omissions. Politely find out what they know and offer suggestions.

* Don’t let them pull you into their inclination to focus on conflict, drama, and titillation. News is a business. Their news story is their product, and they will attempt to make it as saleable as possible. 

* During short TV interviews, you must constantly return to the main theme you want to push in each answer. Don’t get diverted to areas that are secondary to your chief reason for doing the interview. Answer the question in the beginning of your first sentence and then link your comment to your theme or key points. Don’t hesitate to correct faulty assumptions from the get-go.

* Maintain your composure, regardless of what you are asked. Keep your mind focused on the points you want to get across, and block out any negative thoughts about the reporter or her comments. You can’t afford to let your mind go that route because it will almost certainly show up on your face and in your voice.

* Some reporters have been known to write their story on the way to the story, coming to you only for the necessary sound bite. Their questions will hint at their predispositions or biases. Their idealism sometimes blinds them to the harsh realities of the world, leading them to see things more in black and white, good guys vs. bad guys, victims and perpetrators, saints and sinners, instead of seeing life’s real shades of gray. Frame your comments to help them understand the bigger picture. 

Player: Newspaper Reporter
  Characteristics: Scrappy. Dogged in pursuit of a story. Unimpressed by title or wealth. Independent thinker. Strong convictions. Somewhat contemptuous of broadcast competitors. Very protective of freedom of speech. Fights for underdogs.

  Strengths: Generally has the time and resources to investigate stories more fully than broadcast counterparts. Better at providing depth and interpretation. Typically “breaks” the stories that radio and TV news later replicate. Good at forming relationships with frequent newsmakers, so less likely to “burn” people they are dependent on for information. Tends to be older and more knowledgeable on the specific issues covered, such as police or business. Often cleans up a newsmaker’s quotes, understanding that few people speak in faultless sentences.

  Weaknesses: Accepts (though apologetic in private) newspaper’s practice of creating grabbing headlines that exaggerate or conflict with article’s premise. May stubbornly pursue a story past its practical playing time to wrench one more angle. May poorly translate complex information from interview notes. When paraphrasing interview subjects, can give unintended meaning to words. Can rely on faulty wire service or old newspaper stories as fact without verifying their accuracy. May work on two or three stories at the same time, and always under the stress of deadlines. Consciously or unconsciously lets personal biases slip into stories. Little conception of what it feels like to be the subject of scrutiny.

  Tricks of the Trade: Good at gaining favor with newsmakers who may later regret their openness once they read the story. Asks limiting questions to confirm biases or suspicions. 
  Handling Strategies: 

* While newspaper reporters don’t need to meet directly with a source and can interview over the phone, it’s an impersonal form of communication. Try to encourage a face-to-face meeting to better convey your sincerity, believability, and credibility. You can only hope your comments are accurately conveyed. You do not have the advantage of a TV or radio story where you can at least gauge your performance.

* While most people feel more comfortable with humble print reporters than with the quick, in-your-face approach of broadcasters, they have the greater potential to cause you damage. They have the luxury of investigating stories more fully and have more time for the “why” of a story—often the most important aspect that is critically lacking in broadcast stories. Establish a time limit in advance and don’t let reporters wear you down. We all say dumb things when we’re tired.

* Always be on guard: Be friendly but businesslike. Do not give opinions on areas outside your expertise or purview. Rather, direct reporters to where they can find this information. 

* Provide them with concise, written background information, as most reporters tend to rely heavily on these when composing their reports. 

* Make your points clearly, quickly, and distinctly to lessen the chances that reporters will poorly paraphrase you. Ask them to repeat what you have said to help ensure you made your point clearly (or that they understood it properly). 

* Because they are likely to include more of your comments than other media, you can provide them with more detail, but not too much. Whenever possible, cite easily grasped comparisons or statistics rather than using unclear generalities such as “a great many” or “lots.”

* Use personal stories, analogies or other real-life examples that can help readers relate to your circumstances and beliefs.

Player: Radio Reporter
  Characteristics: Usually unassuming. Less egotistical and aggressive than TV or newspaper counterparts. Often entry-level reporter who couldn’t get into TV. Feeds off newspaper to a surprising degree. Works under hourly deadlines and is always in a hurry. Least likely to need detailed or complex explanations. 

  Strengths: Best for covering late-breaking stories by avoiding network programming constraints. Will cover non-visual stories, like school board meetings. Frequently uncovers a problem that TV jumps on and turns into an exposé.

  Weaknesses: Cannot offer newsmaker much in the way of power when it comes to coverage of an issue. Has a small budget compared with television and newspaper, so there are no beat reporters except in very large cities. An entire newscast often runs about a minute or two—time only for scant headline attention of issues. Usually stuck in the radio newsroom so frequently conducts phone interviews with little person-to-person contact.

   Tricks of the Trade: Will try to pressure newsmaker into an immediate interview, sometimes minutes before the newscast. May tape conversations without informing interviewee and then want permission to use it. Waits until flashy television reporters and by-line newspaper journalists conduct interviews, hoping to catch newsmaker off-guard.
  Handling Strategies:

* Radio reporters have hourly deadlines, so don’t let them pressure you into an instant interview unless you feel totally confident you can handle it. The next deadline is an hour away, so your news will eventually get on. 

* After being bombarded by intimidating TV and newspaper reporters, it can feel like an off-the-record chat after the lights are off and the pencils down. But the radio reporter is quietly recording you. Never let your guard down. 

* Be ready to give a fifteen-second sound bite that will help the radio reporter focus your story on the point you want to make. The better you are at that, the more you influence the final broadcast. You must be clear, concise, and understandable; set yourself apart from your opponent.

* Understand that your voice is needed for an “actuality” that brightens up a newscast just like photos do for newspapers and magazines. Don’t be annoyed when radio reporters ask the same or similar questions several times. They need several voice cuts to make newscasts sound fresh and different from one hour to the next.

* If you screw up a response, stop and start over, and tell the reporter you can do it better and shorter. They won’t use your flubs unless you are running for president or you have given them some reason to really, really dislike you.

Player: Wire Service Reporter
  Characteristics: Usually thinly informed on many issues because typically writes short summaries about hundreds or even thousands of topics each month. High early burnout rate from the factory-like production of re-written stories taken mostly from major newspapers.

  Strengths: Has excellent skills in summarizing key points of an issue in a few sentences and writes quickly. May possess great abilities to see the overall picture and the related pivotal events. Typically can work a phone with surprising speed, and with only a few contacts get the gist of a breaking story.

  Weaknesses: Little time to obtain original information. Frequently rewrites stories from major newspapers (and occasionally from TV, but rarely from radio) without verifying accuracy.

  Tricks of the trade: Often relies on a few trusted sources, often deeply imbedded in key government and corporate locations. A careful call to one can elicit just enough information to confirm allegations by other less credible sources.
  Handling Strategies:

* Respond to their calls immediately! If you wait they may send the story down the wire to a multitude of newspapers, radio stations, TV newsrooms, and corporate PR departments—with inaccurate or incomplete information because you didn’t want to talk to them at that moment.

* When your local newspaper contains a major inaccuracy about you, call the wire service first. Someone there is probably re-writing the story at the same moment. Try to help the wire service send out a correct story. Waiting until the next day makes your chances of getting the wire service to run a correction, and then the hundreds of newsrooms down the line to actually use it, next to none. 

* Be as concise as you are with a TV or radio reporter. These rushed journalists must compress a fifteen-inch newspaper story into a four-paragraph summary. You might get one or two sentences, so make them rich in major facts and overall imagery.

* Although it may take years for you to build a trusting relationship with wire reporters, it can gain you great press when your word and integrity cause a wire reporter to kill a story, because you could show why the story was unfounded. Few people realize how many potential stories never see print or get airtime because a trusted source provided honest facts that killed it.

Player: Trade Magazine Reporter
  Characteristics: Sometimes writes for several publications at once, so may feel somewhat invisible in the hurried trade magazine business. Tends not to build long-term relationships with newsmakers. Often doesn’t interview the same person twice because audience is typically national or international. Often freelances, working from home or hotel room while traveling around the country or world.

  Strengths: Adept at learning an industry quickly so can write good summaries in a hurry. Skilled at eliciting a lot of information over the phone in a few short hours, even minutes. 

  Weaknesses: Strives to be like daily newspaper reporters (searches for truth, etc.), but must often succumb to industry enthusiasm, particularly by publication’s major advertisers. 

  Tricks of the Trade: Can make you feel like an old friend after a few minutes on the phone so can coax you into revealing more information than you had planned.
  Handling Strategies:

* Don’t ignore or underestimate trade publications, which nowadays can boost or flatten your business or organization. Know the audience, focus, and mission of the publication so that you can tie your comments to it.

* Find out what the deadline is so that you can decide if you have only a few minutes or a day to respond.

* While the “big advertiser” influence typically does not affect reporters for major daily newspapers, it is just the opposite for trade publications. Be sure which type of trade writer and publication you are talking to. Otherwise, you may find very embarrassing quotes in the next issue.

* Ask the trade writer if he or she could summarize back to you what he or she thinks you just said. Say that the summary will help you find out if you explained yourself correctly. 

* Be ready with insights or unusual aspects of your organization so the trade writer can produce an article that has more color, flavor, or specialized information that a reader wouldn’t normally find in a daily newspaper.

* Have photos, charts, or tables that are very simple while also projecting a clear point about you and your organization. How do you know your graphic is easy to comprehend? If a reader has to look at three items or more to understand it, then the graphic is probably too complicated.

* Because trade publications must offer in-depth, specialized information about their subjects, you can enhance the interview by asking the reporter beforehand what you could make available. If you’ve done that well, much of the interview could focus on your key information and graphics—and you are probably on your way to a positive story.

Player: Internet Reporter-Publisher
  Special Warning: Through the Internet, any sane or insane person, any happy or mean-spirited person can have his or her own publishing-broadcasting system, but with almost none of the group discipline or professional ethics that moderate behavior at traditional news media organizations. Moreover, the Internet species don’t have large buildings, hundred-million-dollar presses, or chains of TV stations to lose in a libel suit.

  They are thus less likely to be constrained by the fear of total financial ruin. That is, until some of them are successfully sued for libel and other transgressions that they don’t realize are not protected by the First Amendment (a reality that helps traditional publishers and editors hold tight reins on young, bloodthirsty cub reporters). 

  Characteristics: Dangerous loner new to the news scene but will multiply and spread as fast as the Internet does. Loves the thrill of uncovering and exposing “news.” Enjoys being gossip monger (which most reporters won’t admit they are). 

  Strengths: Knows how to get and disseminate information (and misinformation) in seconds to thousands of sites and millions of people throughout the world. Extremely skilled at moving quickly through information sources among the two-hundred-million-plus sites on the Internet. 

  Weaknesses: Not known for writing skills. Isolated from the constructive and positive influences of traditional journalists, so have not yet learned the big lessons of journalism’s history: accuracy, balance, fairness, responsibility, and self-restraint. Missives are dispatched to small and narrow audiences (small but not unimportant). The Drudge Report and its flaws is an early example of what surely will proliferate as rapidly as all the Internet companies did. Often slants information to promote an obvious or hidden cause (like a party or issue newspaper).

  Tricks of the Trade: Speed and stealth. Able to distribute information about you before you or your organization learns you have become a target. Can cause enough rumor or consternation that the traditional news media organizations feel compelled to report both the allegations and the controversy caused by the Internet freelancer.
  Handling Strategies: 

* Handle a rattlesnake only when you have to. As noted throughout this book, it is to your advantage to respond quickly to traditional journalists because their reach and relative dependability gives you a chance to get your key points across to your audiences. But most Internet freelancers do not yet have the means to get your audiences to listen to them. Not yet, anyway. Therefore, your response to these sometimes unpredictable and unreliable wanna-be journalists should depend on whether they could create a story that will attract the traditional news media.

* If you think the Internet freelancer can gain attention from the traditional news media or your audiences directly, then be ready to use your own communication methods to reach them as well. (See Chapters 18 and 19 on crisis communications and Chapter 20 and 21 on using the Internet to your advantage.)

* Listen more than you talk, at least at first. Try to figure out why he is doing the story. Use the Internet to check out the freelancer. They write mostly for ego (many are unpaid) and therefore their names and previous articles should be easy to locate via web search engines. Once you have discovered what he has written before, you will know whether to give complete answers or limited, tightly worded comments. Record every second of the interview (but be careful about your state’s laws on recording phones—be safe by telling the reporter you are recording). You may later need the recording to correct any major error using the traditional news media or through the court system, as many of these freelancers will find that there are limits to what harm a reporter in any medium can do to people and organizations.

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