Start With The End In Mind: What To Expect The Story Will Say

One thing that is helpful to know going into an interview with a reporter is what to expect in the end from the piece.

Here are just my thoughts from being on both sides.

  • Don’t expect this to be a public relations piece. Reporters are supposed to be trained to gather and explain the truth. I know that’s harder to believe these days with some of the less than factual reporting that’s been documented over the last several years, but there are still journalists with integrity. But their job is not necessarily to write a PR story about how great your company or organization is. That may come through in the end, but the mission for the reporter should be to, above all, be factual and balanced with the pros and cons of the story. Keep in mind if there is any emotion tied to the story, they will go after that as well.  That’s where the stumbling block can come in for the reporter. Some have fixated on the emotion and ended up allowing themselves to be swept away with a great story that only has a few elements of truth in it.

“Don’t Expect A PR Piece.”

  • Expect a balanced piece from the interview. Don’t be afraid of talking about challenges that you have as long as you can explain how you’re addressing them. Showing that you or your organization is not perfect, makes you more believable and credible. It goes back to the pros and cons being brought into the light of the story.
  • Expect a fair piece from the interview. Know that not everything you say can be used, so they must use clips or quotes because they have time or space restrictions. However, the reporter should be fair-minded in how they are used in the telling of the story. This includes how quotes are used in the narration by the reporter, their use of syntax and phrases that can produce a feeling or connotation.

If you don’t think the story was fair, then the reporter and possibly their supervisor need to know. But if you do that, just be sure that the elements on which you are taking them to task are itemized and reasonable.

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Preparing For A Media Interview: Some Basics

 

So you’ve agreed to an interview with a reporter… how do you prepare?

Whether it’s one you initiated or not, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of it going well.  Here are just a few basics of preparation that I’ve found helpful, whether it’s a print or broadcast interview, especially if this is your first time.

  • Most reporters will let you know the basic areas about which they want to ask questions. That should help you to pick out three points you want to emphasize in the interview. They should all connect or support one central mission message that you want to push, but they should still be stand-alone ideas as well. Write them down as bullet points to yourself if necessary so you remember them. These ideas will also be helpful to use as a bridge when having to briefly address an issue that’s less positive.

“Practice your response or articulation of your points…I mean out loud.”

  • Practice your response or articulation of your points…I mean out loud. It provides some practice, breeds confidence, and allows you to actually hear the tone and inflection of your voice which is critical nonverbal communication.
  • Professional dress and setting…especially if it’s a TV interview. I know this sounds really obvious, but I want to cover the basics here. Try to connect the interview subject matter with your interview setting. Example: If your subject is about the latest consumer cellphone plans, the setting should be in a retail cellphone store…not an office or outside. Your attire is the same way. If your interview is about issues in the farming and ranching business, work clothes, not a starched shirt and tie, is the route to go. It enhances your credibility. There are some exceptions of course, but this is generally true.

One final thought is to rely on those things that help you relax before the interview. That will come through when the talking starts.

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Cooperation With The News Media: What Stories They’re Hoping To Find

If you were a storyteller, which most journalists are, what kind of stories would you want to tell?

Those about everyday life or something out of the ordinary?

Well if you want an audience, of course, it would be the out of the ordinary…maybe even the extraordinary. While that may seem like a no-brainer, it’s not to everyone.

In the meeting I attended last spring with broadcast journalists and producers, we talked about what type of stories draw them like moths to light. So keep in mind, these are the kind of pitches that can help construct a more positive position for your organization, because you know the other kind of extraordinary stories will likely get covered whether you like it or not.

“Extraordinary stories that reporters write can apply to good news and bad news, so why not give them a reason to put your best foot forward.”

Hero stories. The boy or girl who saves another person’s life in the cafeteria when they notice someone sitting near them is choking on a chip. Because they learned the Heimlich maneuver at a recent P.E. class on campus, they put their arms around the front of their friend and pump the chip out of their throat. The hero student gets the spotlight for a moment, and the campus, teachers and school district get exposure for teaching such a lifesaving technique.

Overcoming the odds stories. Everyone loves an underdog, right? That’s why this is a favorite of reporters and news producers. It sets up the almost insurmountable obstacles in a person’s life, but then shows how they came out victorious on the other side. An example could be a successful professional athlete that excels at long-distance running reveals to a reporter their childhood with chronic asthma. Because he never gave up his dream, he found someone who cared enough to help change their diet eliminating an allergic condition, and is now a world-class runner.

Inspirational stories. These can be similar to the overcoming the odds genre, but can be just related to someone who really believed in what they were doing or what someone else was doing. For instance, a person who has experienced failure after failure professionally because they had an out-of-the-box approach to their work that just didn’t click with those who made the hiring and firing decisions. Then despite conventional wisdom, someone saw potential and innovation in this seemingly lost cause, took a chance on them and gave them time to hit their sweet spot.

Extraordinary stories that reporters write can apply to good news and bad news, so why not give them a reason to put your best foot forward.

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More Honest Discussions With The Media: When You Can’t Say Anything

Last time, we left off with what both local San Antonio news media

and school district spokespeople learned about the limitations under which they both work. More specifically what information you can release and what you cannot. To many reporters, not being able to speak about what happened to an individual, a student many times, leaves a story incomplete and worse yet, gives the impression a spokesperson is hiding something (insert a wa-wa sound effect). To be honest, when I worked as a reporter, that’s the reaction I had many times too, but you have to also make that judgment in the context of your knowledge of the person you’re asking. In other words, how much do you trust them?

“…for instance, if a student’s inappropriate behavior results in a suspension or transfer to an alternative school campus, the district representative by law is prohibited from revealing that.”

The truth is, legally, many times a spokesperson for a school district or government agency may, in fact, have their hands tied, or more accurately, their mouths zipped. The reason is, at least in the education world, student privacy laws termed FERPA, prohibit them from speaking about a student in reference to most personal, academic or behavioral information unless permission is given by that individual or it’s been revealed by that individual themselves. So, for instance, if a student’s inappropriate behavior results in a suspension or transfer to an alternative school campus, the district representative by law is prohibited from revealing that. They can say the consequence was appropriate, swift and according to policy, but beyond that, opens yourself up to legal action.

In only isolated cases have I ever been allowed to speak on the record about a student’s case to a reporter. That was only because I secured written legal permission to give the district’s side of a story. I will say that was extremely helpful, but very rare.

Next time…some useful information we picked up from the media folks about dialing up our chances for getting air time.

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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Cooperation With News Media: Takeaways From Honest Discussions

Recently, members of the San Antonio School Public Relations Association (SASPRA)

met with a group of reporters, photographers, producers, and management with WOAI/KABB-TV for a “Lunch and Learn” meeting to discuss some of the issues that seem to make the process rocky at times for both sides. I thought it might be helpful for others to see what the takeaways were, at least for me, to maybe spread some understanding among some other professionals who have similar challenges.

Takeaway one:

Reporter’s approach to “organically” get a story without going through a media liaison can hurt process. 

This was one of the more intense topics of discussion because reporters have assignments they are expected to fulfill and if they come back with less than what’s expected, they can be seen as not doing their job. What was brought to light was this; organizations like school districts have people that work with media. The reason, so a reporter can get straight to a source, if they’re available, quickly and efficiently.

Many times, the spokesperson comes from a journalism background and knows what’s needed, but open to discussion with specific reporter needs. Sometimes a reporter will call a teacher or principal directly because they were given a name or number. While this may be encouraged by a newsroom producer or even someone higher up the food chain, to possibly gain some inside information, it can be destructive too. Not cool.

“Many times, the spokesperson comes from a journalism background and knows what’s needed, but open to discussion with specific reporter needs.”

Making contact with the district’s media person is always the best start. Providing them a name and reason for doing the story is the best way. If they don’t get back to you within an hour followed by a reporter’s second contact attempt by a different way (text, email) then they at least did their diligence. Normally, this practice works well.

While reporters may feel like they can’t get the “real” story by going through a designated media relations person, I don’t think that’s altogether fair. I deal with plenty of benign or even negative stories and I will address what is necessary. Which brings me to the next point of discussion, when a spokesperson legally can’t publicly comment about an issue or question. Next time.

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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The Weight of Words

A Resolution: What To Consider Before Hitting Send

I remember growing up and seeing these Toledo scales at the grocery store in the produce department.

You weighed your food so you’d know the price to pay at checkout. In the marketplace of words, that weighing process is becoming increasingly scarce. Words have weight and in the end, have impact and sometimes a price. There’s a lot of talk about civility, but whether it’s about politics, personal relationships, or lifestyles we seemed to have lost a basic sense of being respectful to the marketplace of ideas and expression. After all, isn’t that one of the advantages of living and working within a diverse country like America? It’s a reason to make a personal resolution that can make a difference.

I want to just put out there 4 steps of respectful communication that I cannot take credit for, but would like to relay to anyone willing to listen. They come from Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ recent book Before You Hit Send. They are pretty simple and common sense questions to ask yourself about what you’re about to say before you send or post.  Ask yourself:

Is it true?

Is it kind?

Is it necessary?

Is it clear?

Is it true? This may seem a bit ridiculous to some people, but truth has become a real issue with a lot of what is written and spoken these days. It’s an issue in emailing, social media, blogging, public relations…even the news media has shown in recent years that facts shouldn’t get in the way of a good story, especially if there is an agenda in the works.  This is obviously the most important of the four.

Is it kind?  If you think this is too soft, replace kind with civil at least.  Ask yourself, what is the reason for speaking the truth? Changing people’s mind? Setting the record straight? Defending yourself or someone else? If you speak the truth like you’re a walking hammer and everyone else is a nail, you won’t win too many converts or build your credibility because it’s too hard to get past the blunt force trauma of your attitude. Sure there is certainly a time and a place to be concisely blunt…but if you do it all the time, it loses the effect and fewer people will take you seriously.

“If you speak the truth like you’re a walking hammer and everyone else is a nail, you won’t win too many converts…”

Is it necessary? I’m sure that most people think what they have to say is always relevant, helpful, and concise.  But not everyone needs our assessment of a situation or evaluation of a person’s performance or intelligence.  Sure, there is a lot to be said that is necessary…sharing information and news is beneficial and even critical to everyday life, and yes even our subjective opinion, when shared professionally and with tact, can be of good use. But is it information pertinent to the situation?

Is it clear? This can be a tough one for some who tend to use a lot of words to explain a simple idea. Call it a focus issue or just a style of communication, it remains that taking the scenic route to explain a fairly simple idea or story can confuse people and even annoy them. Focusing on important details people need, makes what you say pop and they’ll get your point most every time.

While our emotions can motivate us to speak our minds, checking the weight of words with just some basic filters, can make a huge impact in the marketplace of ideas and in turn calls people to listen…isn’t that what you wanted in the end anyway?

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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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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