January 12, 2016
Recently I saw a tweet from a radio producer I deal with in my public relations work.
It stopped me cold.
It read, “media training is the world’s greatest evil.”
Really? Worse than ISIS, Donald Trump or cleanses?
I generally don’t get into Twitter bunfights, but, as a media training provider and former Globe & Mail journalist, I felt compelled to challenge him. I argued that journalists have tactics designed to extract information, so isn’t it fair to prepare interviewees? What about those ambush interviews where a TV reporter sticks a big microphone in your face and asks hostile questions? Shouldn’t people, especially interview novices, know that can happen, and how to handle it?
After a bit of a twitter set-to, I learned the producer was describing a guest so rigidly positioned on his message track that he sounded awful. He likely alienated listeners with his non-answers.
I got the producer’s point. Overly-trained interviewees who don’t answer questions do a disservice to the news consumer and sound like robots. Hardly great radio. And the person being interviewed comes across as stonewalling.
It got me thinking about the ideal role media training should play.
In my sessions, I help participants tell their story in an interesting way that they hope reflects well on their organization (or if the organization’s in crisis, I help them answer questions as best they can).
But I also tell them that a huge part of their job is to help a reporter. That may sound counter-intuitive. But all it means is respecting deadlines, having information ready, and answering questions clearly. No jargon or obfuscation. It means being honest and accurate, not flip or condescending, like this guy. Obviously, interviewers and interviewees have often divergent goals, but can’t there be a dose of mutual respect?
Giving media what they want, when they want it, is critical in this period of pared-to-the bone newsrooms and overworked reporters. Did you know that every day they file multiple stories to multiple platforms? A print reporter may file her story online, do a video version of it, finish it for the published version of the paper, then blog. Journalism is onerous work.
So, as I advise my clients, help reporters. Here are five ways how:
- Be available and respect their deadlines.
- Be prepared. Have supporting information. Infographics. Video for TV or online media.
- If you get a tough question, don’t be arrogant or do something bush-league like put your hand over the camera lens.
- Don’t ask to see something before it’s published or aired.
- Answer questions clearly and honestly.
A little media practice to help your organization and, yes, to help the reporter, is far from evil. Contact me here to learn how media training can help you and reporters.