Archive for the ‘News coverage practices’ Category
By Carl Carter, APR
Originally published Feb. 2013 Auctioneer Magazine, used by permission
I rarely meet an auctioneer who doesn’t have a story (or 10) about a reporter who misquoted him or garbled the story of a high-profile auction. I just smile, shake my head and say something like “unbelievable.” I’m sympathetic, because there are a lot of ways an incorrect story can hurt an auction or a company — just as a “good” story can help bring in bidders or future sellers.
At the same time, I can usually see what went wrong. There are a lot of potholes to step in when talking to journalists (and I’ve stepped in a lot of them). But you can avoid the most common mistakes simply by understanding four basic things about reporters and letting your common sense guide you.
1. He doesn’t want to hurt you — or help you. The single most helpful thing to keep in mind is that a reporter is just a guy doing a job. He’s not controlled by corporate advertisers or political bosses. He’s not looking for a scalp. At the same time, he’s not looking to do you any favors, either. If he’s a competent reporter (and believe it or not, most reporters are), he just wants to do a good job — and that means getting a good story that meets the needs and standards of his publication. He wants to get his byline, get home to see his kids and collect his paycheck at the end of the week. So follow the old Dale Carnegie advice and think in terms of his interest. He needs a good story, so tell him one!
2. He’s overworked, underpaid and probably scared. From the New York Times to your “Mom & Pop” weekly, newspapers have been shedding reporters at alarming rates. So that reporter you’re talking to is likely looking around at a lot of empty chairs. According to the Paper Cuts blog, more than 1,850 newspaper jobs disappeared in 2012, and that’s been going on for more than a decade. The reporters who still have jobs are often expected to write more stories, take their own pictures, and promote their stories on Facebook and Twitter. Some are even being handed camcorders and told to post videos. And many have taken pay cuts as well. He doesn’t want your sympathy, but he’d appreciate your being cooperative and making his job a little easier. In short, he’s human.
3. He’s thinking local — VERY local. When I first started publicizing auctions in the 1990s, local media were still making money hand over fist. A mid-sized daily newspaper would typically cover news from a city 80 or 100 miles away, or more. But as readers have turned to the Internet for their national and regional news, local media have realized that the only thing they have to sell is strictly local news. And that usually translates to news about a single city, county or metro area. An editor in Memphis probably isn’t going to even glance at a press release about that property you’re selling two hours away in Little Rock. (If there’s a solid “local” angle that directly affects his readers — for example, if the seller is a prominent Memphis business leader — you have a chance. But if your pitch for the Little Rock sale is that “we’re hoping to attract bidders from Memphis,” you may want to just back off and try again another day.) Show respect for his needs, and you’ll score points that will earn you the benefit of the doubt in the future.
4. He wants the basics, but not much more. You live with the details of the auction business. You write contracts to cover all the things that could go wrong, because the wrong language can turn into a no-sale or a lawsuit. The reporter lives in a very different world — one where his editor’s expecting two more stories before quitting time. And his story needs to be short. He has no time for your detailed explanation of the difference between a sale that’s “reserve” and one that’s “subject to confirmation.” He doesn’t want to know the sale price with and without the buyer’s premium. He just wants a number. The simpler you make things for him, the more likely he is to get it right. Trying to explain too much just opens the door to confusion and problems.
Reporters are people too. If you remember that, your dealings with media will go a lot better.
Copyright 2013 by National Auctioneers Association
When I changed the name of my public relations agency to NewMediaRules a few years ago, I was convinced that the media landscape was changing in ways that would require professionals to constantly adapt. But the changes I’ve seen in the last five years have exceeded anything I could have anticipated or predicted.
Now and then, you get one just right.
What I didn’t anticipate was the difficulty of predicting the direction of these changes. With the decline of newspapers and television and the growing role of digital media, the direction seemed pretty well set. For one thing, it seemed perfectly clear that the sharp cutbacks on local news staffs would translate into few opportunities for local news coverage. For a while, that seemed to be the case. But now, the opposite is true. Oops.
To give myself the benefit of the doubt, opportunities for local coverage did decline — for a while. But several major factors — including the growth and credibility of hyperlocal media, the resurrection of RSS technology and the explosion of tablet computers — have changed all that. In fact, while I expected to simply track the continuing trend that started five or six years ago, I’ve found myself feasting on new opportunities for my clients.
I’ll confess, it caught me by surprise. A change this big has happened only three or four times in my career, but I think the most recent changes are the most dramatic.
I try to keep NewMediaRules.net posts as useful as I can, but this is one of those cases when I have to hold back to protect my own competitive advantage as well as that of my clients. Suffice it to say that things began to turn on their head around mid 2011, and as new data became available, I spotted a trend that my colleagues seem to have missed so far.
With a couple of simple changes in the way I approach the writing, distribution and promotion of press releases, I’ve been able to gain more local and trade media coverage for my clients — especially auction companies — in the first four months of 2012 than I’ve ever seen in a similar time period. Yet, it’s working in an environment where there are fewer reporters, with less space for their stories, than ever.
This is good for everybody. Clients who are competing for business can say, in all candor, that competitors can’t match the effectiveness of the public relations element our campaigns.
I realize that by not giving the secret to these results, I risk sounding like a huckster on a 2 a.m. infomercial, but sometimes it just turns out that way. Don’t worry, though. I’m not peddling books or CDs.
Here’s the best advice I can offer without giving away the goods: Stay flexible. Don’t get too attached to one way of doing things, or to one view of how things are supposed to be working. The only reliable prediction is that the rules will keep right on changing.
Balance used to be a good word in the news business. It meant that a reporter didn’t have an ax to grind. He interviewed people, read documents, confirmed sources and made hard decisions that told us what we needed to know. To be sure, it never worked perfectly, because people are people. And to be sure, there have always been pressures to promote some agendas and tamp down others. But it worked a hell of a lot better than what we’re getting now, especially on the news networks.
It’s a timeless reality that politicians and other interests evolve their techniques to “work the system,” exploiting the weaknesses of current structures, policies and market dynamics. And the weakness they’re exploiting most these days is the confusion between balance and objectivity.
Balance is what we’re getting these days, but only on the surface. Let’s say the New England Journal of Medicine has just published a paper showing that a certain type of chemotherapy is very effective in treating bone cancer.
“But wait,” says the producer, “we’ve got to balance it. Call Chris Chapin for another side of the story.”
“Right. Snake Oil, Inc.”
The networks love Chapin, because he’s always good for a quote. He’s always been prepped and media trained to the nth degree by his PR handlers, so he looks and sounds good on TV. He looks straight into the camera and convincingly tell us that “Everybody knows the guys at The New England Journal are liberals. They’re just wanting to inflate health care costs. Two teaspoons of snake oil a day will prevent bone cancer forever, and we think four tablespoons a day will cure it in almost all cases.”
So we end up with a nicely balanced story that is useless at best and more likely bad for our health.
What’s the alternative? Objective reporting. Yes, it’s possible. Indeed, it exists. You don’t see it much on television, It happens when the reporter takes responsibility for the reality rather than settling for appearance.
Put another way, balanced reporting is happy enough to put a feather one one side of the balance scale and a block of granite on the other side and say “there, done.” Objective reporting happens when the journalist says “feathers ain’t granite.”
All men may be created equal. But not all arguments are. That’s why we need reporters to help us know the difference between snake oil and reality.