Book Review: The Girl From The Train

A book review?  Really?  That’s right…a book review. 

I will from time to time write reviews of books that I have read recently,

because they are, after all, still media…although not high tech or have to do with news media relationships, they are a nice way to break up content and go to that creative side of the brain that loves a good story.  And as you may have come to realize, the ways of the news media can be a bit self-serving these days and predictable, so a break is always welcome.

The Girl FROM The Train.  I wrote the preposition ‘from’ in all capitals in the title because I don’t want readers to be confused with another fairly recent novel with a very similar name but with a different preposition…’on.’  The Girl From The Train is a historical novel set back during the closing days of World War II.  This was an international bestseller from author Irma Joubert first published in 2007 and later translated to English and published in 2015 by Thomas Nelson.

First off, historical fiction is likely one of my favorite genres of reading.  That said, what makes me want to go on reading is just good storytelling. Quality relationships and plot in a stimulating setting are the elements I look for and this story delivered.

Six-year-old Gretl Schmidt manages to escape the whole catastrophe before it happens. But it leaves her in a country that hates her people.

To give a brief summary without giving too much away, the story follows a young Polish soldier named Jakob Kowalski who opens the story placing explosives on a bridge to blow up a scheduled German troop train.  It instead tragically obliterates the bridge as an unscheduled transport of civilian “inferiors” heads towards Auschwitz.  Six-year-old Gretl Schmidt manages to escape the whole catastrophe before it happens. But it leaves her in a country that hates her people. Jakob finds Gretl and realizes the disaster he and his fellow saboteurs created so, out of a sense of compassion, he ends up taking care of her for some three years. But the story follows their lives as they have to go their separate ways that span years, oceans and continents.  They both have secrets they know are best left alone, but are eventually dug up. That means there’s a lot to deal with, not just within themselves but also the people closest to them.

Irma Joubert is a quality writer who should be widely read in the U.S. and I think will be since the storylines she creates could very well translate to film, given a screenwriter and production house out there that could give it a quality treatment.

While there are times you wish the author could have given a little wider window into the thoughts, fears, joy, and sadness that both main characters were experiencing, pacing in the story is also important.  I think the balance was pretty well structured.  There is a reason this was an international bestseller.  Irma Joubert is a quality writer who should be widely read in the U.S. and I think will be since the storylines she creates could very well translate to film, given a screenwriter and production house out there that could give it a quality treatment.  Out of a 5 scale, I would give this novel a 4…one of the best I’ve read in about a year or so.

Joubert is a native South African who is a regular on the bestseller lists there and in the Netherlands. This novel The Girl From The Train is one of eight from Joubert, but likely her best known with its international appeal.

For other reviews of this same book go to GoodReads and see what others think.

Steve Linscomb worked in the news media for 28 years. Since 2012, he has served as an official spokesperson for a public school district in the San Antonio metro area and is a freelance writer.

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DIal Up Your Chances For Media Coverage In Your News Release

In an effort to help those who don’t send out a lot of news releases or invitations to events, but have something worthy of some level of media attention, let’s look at what can be done.

Last time we looked at the possible reasons a news release could bomb. They were:

  1. Another huge community event going on at the same time.
  2. Media gets diverted with spot (unplanned) news (you can’t control this)
  3. You don’t have a (good) relationship with the media.
  4. Your event is not compelling enough to induce coverage.

This is not an exhaustive list, but they are some very real reasons why media response may be less than you’re hoping to get.

So what can you do to dial up your chances for coverage?  While I’ve sent out new releases myself that ended up bringing back crickets, there are some ways to increase your chances for consideration.

“When you are responsive to members of the media for good stories and bad ones…there’s a sense of transparency and consideration that they likely will return.”

  1. Check your community calendar. Be aware of big community events that could suck the life out of your media possibilities. Look for alternative dates. But if that’s not possible, look for ways to connect it with the big event somehow.
  2. Give plenty of notice about your event. For a single day event, I would give at least a week notice with a news release and then a day-before jingle to remind them of their invitation. If it’s bigger than that, pushing out information periodically weeks ahead of time, can be effective if explained well.
  3. Work on your media relationships: The biggest reason is consideration. The “consideration roadway” is a two-way street. When you are responsive to members of the media for good stories and bad ones…there’s a sense of transparency and consideration that they likely will return.
  4. Make your news release relevant and visual: This comes back to making your event compelling. If your news release does not sell its relevancy, then all bets are off. News that impacts a large number of people or has a “hook,” meaning its relevancy has a connection to something currently trending, represents some of the low hanging fruit for media. But almost as important is depicting the visual nature of your event. This is particularly important in television. There’s nothing more difficult for a TV reporter to do than to turn what is essentially a newspaper story (nonvisual) into something visually appealing.

 

Steve Linscomb worked in the news media for 28 years. Since 2012, he has served as an official spokesperson for a public school district in the San Antonio metro area and is a freelance writer.

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So Your News Release Was A Dud? Four Reasons Why

 

I had a friend of mine one time ask me about this.

He had put a good amount of time into planning an event for his department and thought

he had a newsworthy story involving kids and their unique work.  No, it wasn’t breaking news about the next Supreme Court nomination, but it was a nice feel good story that could make the community page in the newspaper or the kicker at the end of the evening newscast.  He was left scratching his head when no media showed up and only a few people from the school district appeared.  If this has happened to you, or you’re afraid it might, consider these four reasons.

“…a huge event…can take all the media oxygen away

        from smaller stories.”

  • Another big event going on. As much as we maybe can’t imagine it, there are other important events that happen on any given day besides the one we are sweating blood and tears over. In my friend’s case, it was happening during an incredibly big event in San Antonio called “Fiesta.” The news media covers a lot of events, but their resources are limited and a huge event like that (two weeks) can take all the media oxygen away from other smaller stories.
  • Media Staffing Limited. Staff scheduling can dictate what events get covered. Unplanned news, called spot news, like a 4-alarm fire, can also undercut your coverage. In fact, using that same premise, that’s actually a way some big companies will break bad news about themselves. News releases being sent out at the same time that say a national disaster is unfolding can be a ploy of damage control. Financial guru Dave Ramsey has an example of this with a well-known bank.  CLICK HERE 
  • No Relationship With The Media. This is more important than most people realize. If they don’t know who you are…or worse yet, they DO know you and it’s not a positive impression. In either case, they don’t necessarily see your release as a top priority and it may get pushed down to the bottom of the stack.
  • Your event was not compelling enough. If there is not a good, compelling reason high in the news release that explains its relevancy, it likely will get ignored and they’ll move on to something else.

So what can you do to dial up your chances for coverage? That’s coming up next.

 

Steve Linscomb worked in the news media for 28 years. Since 2012, he has served as an official spokesperson for a public school district in the San Antonio metro area and is a freelance writer.

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Should I Answer It, Or Let It Ring?

For some professionals, seeing their caller ID show a news reporter’s name or the name of a local media outlet can make their heart skip a beat…and for different reasons. 

 

It’s tempting to answer it, especially if your ego is telling you, ‘it’s all good, right?’ Or, ‘any publicity is good publicity.’  While I have given some reasons in previous writings to say yes to a reporter request for an interview, there are times when it’s best to just let it ring too.

First of all, whether your organization is big or small, have a plan for these kinds of requests. Comments to the media have impact and if you or your industry is in crisis, preparation is critical even before there is an inkling of a storm cloud.

Have a procedure or protocol in place and follow it.

That would mean getting everyone on the same page on how to answer if they unknowingly answer a call from a reporter. Most importantly who will speak for the organization?  Will that be your Communications or Marketing Department person if you’re big enough for that, or will it be YOU…the Founder, CEO and Chief Trash Taker-Outer? You should have a contact person designated for this when stuff hits the fan.

“…don’t put yourself on the spot if it’s not necessary.”

If you are in crisis mode with your company and it has become public, you will likely get the calls.  But as I have said before you must ask the following question of yourself.

Is there something to be gained, maintained or protected by answering the call and the questions?

If you’re still in the middle of finding out facts through an investigation, it’s likely not the best time to try to answer any media questions.  They’ll likely leave a message, maybe with their question, maybe not, but don’t put yourself on the spot if it’s not necessary. Ask yourself the above question and answer it honestly.

Now…having said that I have spoken to reporters in those circumstances and told them an investigation is going on and there is little I can say except that it’s active and appropriate action will be taken if wrongdoing is found.  By the way, that would be, in my opinion, an acceptable alternative to the dreaded ‘no comment’ statement that is the kiss of death.   Even issuing a prepared statement would be preferable to ‘no comment.’  In many instances, the reporter knows you can’t say a lot, but they just want a sound bite or quotable response to show they asked the question. Just know that when the facts are known, and if you’re not in litigation over it, an explanation to media to clear your organization name or showing action was taken will be the gain we asked ourselves in the above question.

Steve Linscomb worked in the news media for 28 years. Since 2012, he has served as an official spokesperson for a public school district in the San Antonio metro area and is a freelance writer.

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Interview Or Just A Statement?

Sometimes when I’m presented with this dilemma

it reminds of the old Yogiism  “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” While only Yogi Berra himself knew what he meant at the time, we can have a clearer idea of what is the right “fork” to take when we get a request for an explanation about something difficult to address.

So, do you agree to an interview or issue a statement? If you’re dealing with a hot issue and the heat is being turned up on you, your business or organization you need to ask yourself some tough questions.

  • Is there something to be gained or maintained by opening yourself up to an interview?

  • In addition, is the issue in question directly about you or your organization or is the reporter wanting your expert or industry opinion on the controversial situation?

If it’s controversial, but you’re being tapped as a reporter-source to understand an issue, not your organization, better, I would say it depends on your confidence level.  If you’re a newbie to media interaction, I’d steer clear of the interview. If you’d still like to put in your two cents, a statement can get your perspective out there without the risk of a follow-up question that might trip you up.

“…if someone is indicting you or your organization…don’t let the reporter convince you a statement is sufficient for your side.”

In addition, when a reporter is calling a couple of days after a story has broken and they want to just “go on the record” with the story so they can say they covered it.  In other words, they’re playing catch up, that’s when I would definitely just issue a statement. An on-camera interview two days after the fact, especially if it’s a negative story, will just extend the story’s life.

On the flip side, if someone is indicting you or your organization on an issue and they give a persuasive interview backing up their claims, don’t let the reporter convince you a statement is sufficient for your side.  I’ve had this happen to me and I expressed to the reporter that if they afforded the other side an on-camera interview, which ended up being an emotional story, then I should be given the same opportunity that day to answer those claims regardless of their deadline. In this case, the statement would make you look dismissive and cold.  Your face needs to be seen as caring, but logical and rational.

Steve Linscomb worked in the news media for 28 years. He currently serves as an official spokesperson for a public school district in the San Antonio metro area and is a freelance writer.

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4 Reasons To Agree To Or Even Pitch A Media Interview

Dealing with fear and apprehension one may have in engaging with a reporter 

is important as discussed in the previous post, but having a purpose is critical too.   In fact, having purpose can take a lot of that hesitancy away and provide a foundation for confidence.  So here are four good reasons that can provide you with that purpose and hopefully some confidence in agreeing and maybe even pitching an interview idea to a reporter.

“…having purpose can take a lot of that hesitancy away.”

1. Be an expert. This can be a chance for you to shine as an industry or field expert.  There are all sorts of benefits to that.  If you are a business owner and you have a unique perspective to an emerging issue, that can add tremendous value in the reporter’s eyes and you are seen as being a go-to-guy…an insider who knows what’s really going on.

2. Answer questions you know are out there. Take for example the reasons why gasoline prices go up so quickly, yet seem to come down so slowly.   But experts in the industry or the world economy could give a plausible explanation that’s not smoke and mirrors and makes sense as it relates to supply and demand or even geopolitical circumstances.

3. The exposure to your business. Offering an opinion or explanation related to an issue positions you and your business as a leader in your field.  A story regarding how excessive rains will affect seasonal allergens can be explained by a local ear, nose, and throat doctor or allergist.  They can tell you how similar weather patterns in past years have played out, giving a pollen or allergen forecast of sorts.  That can add a lot of value to their practice because they are seen as a leader in the field.

4. Set the record straight. This seems to be one that I’ve personally dealt with a lot myself being an organization spokesperson. When the media goes out and gets an accusatory interview from someone about your business or maybe just an issue that is important to you that’s flawed or just flat out wrong, staying silent can compound the damage. If it’s not challenged, the assumption is it’s true. When you decide to challenge with good, solid, and verifiable information, your credibility can soar…while the accuser’s can sour.

Coming up next time, when it’s the best time to just issue a written statement versus agreeing to a television interview. They both serve a purpose.

Steve Linscomb worked in the news media for 28 years. He currently serves as an official spokesperson for a public school district in the San Antonio metro area and is a freelance writer.

 

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Why Should You Say Yes To A TV Interview?

Anxiety about media intervviews

Just the idea of doing a TV interview makes some people hyperventilate…or worse

At first,  the proposition of accepting a television interview might be a little intimidating. The thought of answering questions with the unblinking eye of the TV camera probing your very soul can make you curl up in the fetal position sucking your thumb.

Why is that? Probably because we’ve all seen those walk and talk interviews of TV reporters that ambush an individual in a hallway or parking lot hammering them with a series of short, blunt questions that leave them dazed and confused.

The truth is most TV interviews are nothing like that.  In fact, while there are certainly exceptions,  I would say the majority of the stories on a local TV newscast are informational or even feature stories. The investigative stories definitely have their place in the newsroom, after all, the news media is supposed to be a watchdog of sorts. But those types of stories can take a lot of resources in time, staff and even staying legally clean. In a time when budgets are tight, it’s pursued less than you think.

Usually, a local newscast is made up of essentially four types of stories.

First, spot news (fires, murders, etc.), next information about events past, present, and future, then there’s investigative pieces and lastly sprinkled in to temper the rest of the neutral to negative content are light interesting features. They’re sometimes called a ‘kicker’ placed at the end of a newscast to keep a viewer from slitting their wrists with all the death and destruction news they saw earlier.

So let’s take you and your organization out of the spot news category…hopefully you aren’t part of the murder, fire, death, and destruction scene.  That leaves an informational piece about a job fair, new business coming into town with new jobs, etc. Or a feature story regarding something you or your organization is involved in.  The investigative type is, of course, always a possibility, but unless you’re embroiled in a freshly revealed scandal, this is not likely.

Coming up in the next few weeks will be a series on the three reasons you should say yes to a TV interview…or maybe find yourself pitching a TV story yourself.

 

Steve Linscomb worked in the news media for 28 years. He currently serves as an official spokesperson for a public school district in the San Antonio metro area and is a freelance writer.

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Responding To Stealth Social Media Apps

Most of us know the impact that social media has had on our culture.  Some of it’s great and some has really led us down a slippery slope. One aspect has parents learning of a secret struggle their kids have been dealing with through stealth apps essentially with strangers.

While parents certainly can display behavior that is destructive, an increasing trend among young people is becoming both disturbing and difficult to expose.  Social media hashtags are a platform that kids are using because it immediately connects them with others with like minds or that are engaged in a similar interest or activity.  Splintering off of that though are more stealth hashtags that look either harmless or so ambiguous that they would attract little attention.  #cat is a social dialogue thread that refers to cutting behavior…it drew 44 million searches in 2014 and about 55 million in 2015 according to The Journal of Adolescent Health.  Other forums include #selfHarmm, #SecretSociety123, #MySecretFamily or #blithe.

#cat is a social dialogue thread that refers to cutting behavior…it drew 44 million searches in 2014 and about 55 million in 2015

Phone apps that disguise themselves as a useful phone tool like a calculator or recorder were outed by the recent sexting scandal in the Canon Colorado high school. That app looked like a calculator until you held down a specific button long enough. A log in page then popped up to sign in. That opened up a vault of lewd pictures that were being shared among a number of students.  Other apps like Snapchat are used because they are a picture sharing tool that typically makes the pictures viewable for only a short period of time.  But there are other ways those pictures can take on a longer or more permanent form…either within the app or by simply taking a screenshot of the picture and keeping it or passing it on to someone else.  Not a comforting thought.  Scenarios that sometimes kids don’t think about.

The important thing, like so many other teen issues, is communication with them.  In order to have that, the relationship has to be there.  No, it doesn’t have to be a best friend sort of thing, but they need to have someone they feel can be their advocate as well as their guardrail.  Love with limits is the daily goal.  When there is that relationship, learning what is bothering them, what someone said to them, what pictures were sent to them is more possible. When you are that tuned in to your child, you can likely also detect when some of those moments happen before they even tell you.

Here’s a tool that is meant for parents to monitor their child’s phone traffic. Check out the iPhone Spy App.  It comes in iPhone or Android form.

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Ann Compton: Truth and Bias In Reporting

Earlier this year, I attended a breakfast event hosted Trinity University called “Policy Maker Breakfasts.”  It’s a series of events that features speakers of note who have in the past or presently have a unique position or experience that gives them a special perspective on any number of interests or topics.  Ann Compton, formerly of ABC News, spoke at the February event and offered some great personal stories as a network news White House correspondent as well as her own views of the state of news media today and how it has changed.

Ann Compton speaking at Trinity's Policymakers Speaker Series

While the personal stories she told were interesting, it was some of the questions and answers that came out after her talk that had a lot of people raising their eyebrows.  Like for instance, she was questioned about the Brian Williams memory lapse incidents.  While she acknowledges knowing Brian fairly well through their competitive news gathering days and characterizes him as a nice and smart fellow, what he’s done does not do modern journalism any favors.  She likens the six month hiatus without pay consequence for his faulty memory as essentially the death penalty to a network news anchor.  Turns out she was partially right…Lester Holt was tapped for the NBC News anchor chair, while Williams was given a second chance as a breaking news anchor position on MSNBC. A far cry from Nightly News domination (10 million viewers).

Personally, the only thing I can remember that was as bad as that was Dan Rather’s live interview with George H.W. Bush in 1988 over the Iran-Contra issue. Check it out HERE. Especially at around 6:33 into the interview.

The other topic that was brought up through the audience questions was the perceived media bias in reporting.  While she stopped short of blanketing all media outlets as bias in one way or the other, she did say that many of the broadcast/cable news operations do come to their news gathering mission with an established tone or slant which tends to color their coverage.  MSNBC and FOX News were two examples of networks vying for niche news audiences in a culture that is increasingly going to the internet for their news.  She even fielded a question about National Public Radio that was actually asked by someone who was an avid listener of NPR. Ms. Compton’s answer I thought was honest.  She admitted that her perspective was as a competitor for many years (ABC Radio News), but said expanded or in-depth coverage of a news story, which is NPR’s format, does not necessarily mean objective or unbiased coverage.  That answer probably didn’t please the questioner, but Compton characterized National Public Radio as left of center…generally not objective. But she says many news operations have evolved their color of coverage and have developed loyal audiences because those news programs fit their political or ethical comfort zone.  As a result, while audiences may not be as big as they use to be, the audiences they do have are loyal and news producers are constantly looking for new twists, program formats and personalities to keep them coming back and maybe win a few converts now and then.

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What Kids Knew Then, May Not Know Now

I recently stumbled upon a study that I thought was interesting because it reflects the shifting of what’s common knowledge with kids. That could be a function of how much technology is consumed or it could be just a generation’s pop culture that fades and a new one replaces it. For whatever reason, here are some top common knowledge items that have become either more or less known as common knowledge with young people today.
Example one…what’s the capital of France? Back in 1980, when this study was first put out there, it was the six most correctly answered question, in 2012 it dropped to 23rd. The answer by the way, in case you don’t know, is Paris. 30% of the respondents thought Baghdad was the capital of Afghanistan.
Number two…who warned the American rebels during the Revoluntionary War with the phrase ”The British Are Coming.” The right answer, Paul Revere.
Number three…from the world of the arts. Who was the male lead in the classic film “Gone With The Wind?” The correct answer, Clark Gable fell from 68 in 1980 to 200 in 2012.
Number four…here’s something that went up in the area of terminology. Knowledge of the meaning of the word describing a severe headache we call a “migrane” went from 25 in 1980 to 6th in 2012. This is possibly due to the increased incidence of the malady among young people.
Lastly, the name of the villain captain in the story Peter Pan shot up from number 73 to 18. Such a spectacular climb was also seen by the name of Tarzan’ girlfriend Jane.
Notice a trend? Pop culture and entertainment has replaced History, and Social Studies as the drivers of what kids seek to know about our world and culture. It’s not necessarily their fault with how instant and portable technology is, not to mention the entertainment it offers. It is where we are, until as a whole, we see real usable knowledge as valued and important to know and a key to be something better.

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