Monday, December 11, 2006

How to Talk to the Main Stream Media

Authors Note: This is the second in a weekly series of "How to talk to Diaries".

Last week, in "How to Talk to Fear Mongers", we discussed terminology and tactics for conversations with our friends who believe that Republicans do a better job handling terrorism than Democrats would do. We also talked about how to counter their memes.

From some comments I have received, both here and elsewhere, it appears that I didn't do a good job explaining the goal of this series, and perhaps used not the best examples to get my point across. Thank you all for your comments and suggestions. I shall take them to heart as we proceed in this series.

Today we are going to do something a little bit different in this series. In talking to the Main Stream Media, our goal is a little bit different than it will be for most of the rest of this series. The goal here is to persuade the MSM to publish articles that you want to see published, or to cover stories that you want to see covered. You may ask questions that you want to see asked, or to get the MSM to use words that you have suggested to them. Does this sound like a tall order? Well, it really is not as difficult as it might seem. But, you have to know the rules of the game...

Defining the Overarching Strategy

Here our goal is slightly different than in other conversations we are going to have. We are not trying to persuade the MSM that our party has the better candidate or the better ideas. Here we are going to try to get the MSM to do that for us. They will not do it because they believe that we have the better candidate or the better ideas. They will do it if you can get them to think it is what they ought to do.

If this appears manipulative, well, that's because it is. The MSM is manipulated by others on a daily basis. On DailyKos, we see complaints literally daily about the MSM this, or the MSM that. Instead of just complaining about it, we are going to do something about it. We are going to do this because we value Community and Honesty.

As much as we like to think that the MSM is becoming less and less relevant, the fact remains that the MSM still has tremendous influence in our society. Here is but one example. In an AP story published on the web last week , Media company E.W. Scripps Co. reported

it anticipates 2007 newspaper revenue growth in the low single digits, with most
of the growth coming from newspaper internet enterprises.Revenue from the
Scripps Networks unit is seen gaining between 10 percent and 13 percent for the
year. Scripps Interactive Media, which includes Shopzilla and uSwitch, is
expected to show a 2007 profit between $80 million and $85 million.Revenue at
the company's television station group is expected to decline between 3 percent
and 5 percent next year due to significantly less political advertising revenue.

Scripps newspaper revenue is still growing at greater then the rate of inflation. Its online enterprises are expected to add $80 million in revenues next year and its television stations revenues are growing at a double digit rate. This is but one media conglomerate. With this kind of cash flow, the MSM is not going away anytime soon.

Define the Terminology

This section is also different than other parts of this series. Here we must learn to play on the other guy's turf. Once we become proficient at that, we can maneuver them onto our battlefield. First, though, we must engage them on their own playing field. I order to do this effectively, we have to understand the rules of their game.

The first lesson you must learn is to understand the pressures on the different parts of the media. A daily newspaper has a different news horizon than a weekly magazine, which is different still from a television station or a network news operation. Cable news operations have different news cycles as well.

Some of your better media companies will hold public seminars on this topic from time to time. They do not do this for purely philanthropic reasons. As they have struggled to compete in this electronic age, they are relying more and more on community input for their original news sources. There is no reason that you can not be an active member of this community input group. There is every reason that you should.

In order to keep this brief, here is a quick rundown on the different ways you can influence newspaper coverage:

· Daily newspapers, as their name implies, have a one day horizon for news events. Columnists, editorial boards and investigative reports are not so tied in to this cycle except when they come up on deadline for publication.
· If you have a press release announcing an event you want to see publicized in advance and then covered as a news event, there are some things to keep in mind:
· You must get your press release to the paper in time for the editors to consider including your announcement on a timely basis. It does you no good for your release to reach the paper after it has been "put to bed" the day before your event.
· You must find a way for your release to stand out from the many others received at the larger newspapers every day.
· You should write your press release in the form of a news story. Get familiar with the style of the newspaper where you are sending your release. Attempt to follow that style in your release. Newspapers are operating with less and less staff resources than ever before. The less work the paper has to do with your release to get it ready for print in their paper, the greater the likelihood that your release gets published.
· If you want your event to get press coverage, you must organize your event in such a way as to distinguish it from the everyday "dog bites man" story. Try to understand the newspapers theory of what news is. If you can have a celebrity participate in your event, so much the better. If you want to put a celebrity or public official on the hot seat, that works as well.
· If you wish to influence news coverage, here are some other things to keep in mind:
· Develop relationships with the reporters.
· Provide them with insights into the story that you know and they may not.
· Introduce them to people who would be of interest to them.
· Never lie to or mislead a reporter. This will destroy any credibility you have built up with them. Credibility is like a savings account. Providing useful information to reporters increases your credibility account balance. Being less than honest with a reporter is the quickest way to overdraw your credibility account.
· Provide them frames you would like to see in print.
· There are many ways to develop relationships with reporters.
· Most newspapers will publish the email address and phone number of the author of a news story or column. Send an email complimenting the good work of a reporter or columnist. If you can, try to include some piece of information relative to the subject that the piece did not mention, and the author may have been unaware of. Do not start off a relationship with a critical email or phone call.
· When you go to events, try to strike up a conversation with a reporter. They are usually pretty easy to spot. They will be the people in the back of the room with their notebooks and / or tape recorders in hand. Often they will be wearing their credentials. If you don't spot them right away, look for the gaggle of folks surrounding the news maker after the event. Chances are there will be reporters among them.
· Be mindful of the daily work cycle of the newspapers.
· Editorial Boards meet in the mornings to consider what stories they will assign to reporters that day for publication in tomorrow's paper. If you want something reported on, make sure you get the information to the newspaper at least one day before.
· Late afternoon Editorial Board meetings decide what will be in the paper the next day, and where they will be placed.
· Late afternoon and early evening is when reporters are bumping up against their deadlines. Don't call reporters for relationship building between 4 and 7 P.M. Interrupting them when they are trying to meet their deadline is not a way to endear yourself to a reporter.

For the sake of brevity, dealing with TV stations and weekly news magazines will be left to part II of How to talk to the MSM.

Mangling the Memes

MSM types are not universally stupid. In fact, there are some very bright, if skeptical people, working in the MSM. At some point in your relationship with them, they will accuse you of two very common memes. These are the "spin" and the "talking points" memes. You must be prepared to defend yourself from these accusatory memes.

To counter the "spin" meme:
· Make sure that your "spin" is fact based.
· Be ready to refute the "counter spin".
· Do not become known as a hopeless spinner. Be willing to concede the weak points in your side of a story.

To counter the "talking points" meme:
· As with the "spin" meme, make sure your talking points are reality based.
· Be ready to refute the other sides talking points on the issue.
· Try to avoid becoming known as a talking point spouter. Re-word or paraphrase the talking points. Try to paint them in a new light, instead of the same old, tired talking points on a subject.

The MSM is still an important player in the development of attitudes and policies in this country. In fact, many diaries here often are sparked by some event reported in the MSM. The MSM is manipulated all the time. They expect to be manipulated. If you can make yourself reliable and useful to them, they will end up calling or emailing you for your take on a story. Good communications people are always trying to "make the story better" for the view point or candidate.

Be careful to avoid being known solely as a "spinner" or a "talking points spouter". Your usefulness to the reporter will be greatly diminished if that becomes the perception of the reporter. They expect those things from official spokespeople. Your value to them is going to come from your "non-official" take on people and events.

Go out there and make the story better.


gatordem said...

Don't be bashful. Let me know what you really think!

Michael Hussey said...

I have no major points to add. I talk to reporters and other bloggers off-the-record. There was certain stuff abouyt the Ralph Arza story I couldn't publish that were in emails. Don't burn people on off-the-record.

gatordem said...

I didn't get into the on the record, off the record points. I'm thinking about that for my second part of this piece.

I think it is personal preference and that's how I'm going to lay it out for folks to think about.

For myself, I much prefer off the record.