Tips from a pro
I asked a professional press relations guy to look the article over. These were his comments. I added most of it to the article.
It’s been my experience that working with the media is like playing in a room with a lot of sharp knives. Knives are useful tools when handled properly, but handled wrong, knives can hurt you pretty bad!
One of the first rules one needs to learn is that there is no such thing as “off the record.” Never try to use it. If you don’t want it reported or repeated, don’t say it in the first place.
Never assume the reporter has the same frame of reference you have. That’s a fatal mistake! Assume the reporter knows nothing about what you’re trying to tell them.
Don’t use acronyms. Use simple words in short sentences. I imagine that I’m explaining this to a fifth-grader. If a 10-year-old can understand it, then chances are the reporter will, too. (By way of explanation, of all the ages of kids I give tours to, the age group I enjoy the most is 10-year old fifth graders. I’ve found that when I talk to them they get it. They’re sharp, interested, and enthusiastic, and hormones haven’t wrecked them yet! Trying talking to the same kids a little later in their lives, say between the ages of 13 and 16! Good luck!)
You may know very well what you told the reporter, but you really don’t know what they heard until the story comes out. Since reporters will almost NEVER give you their story to check over, the next best thing is to ask them at the time you’re talking to them to tell you what they think they heard, especially when the subject matter or concepts are complex. They’ll normally do that because most reporters have accuracy as their #1 priority.
When I deal with the media I expect them to be fair, accurate and balanced.
Working with the media is a fairly happy arrangement. They’re looking for stories to tell and we have stories that need telling. Pretty good, huh?
It’s extremely important that we understand what the story is that we want told. Thinking ahead about what they’re likely to ask is helpful. They’re after the “who, what, where, when, why and how” of the story. They normally answer the first four of these in the first couple of paragraphs, then use the rest of the paragraphs to explain further, telling the most important parts first, heading toward the least important aspects toward the end of the story.
These are just some random thoughts. Hope they help.
--Bill Taylor 18:08, 21 September 2006 (PDT)