With a career of over years in radio and television, Leigh Hatcher is one of Australia’s most respected and experienced broadcast journalists. In this guest post he tackles an issue that has long been important to senior executives but appears to be of growing importance lately - what to do if the media spotlight suddenly turns on you. For more on Leigh's background and excellent work please see www.leighhatcher.com.au.
Prepare to be shocked. Journalists are just normal people doing a job!
I should know, I’ve been one for 44 years. But that’s not the real me. Away from the newsroom, the microphones and the cameras, I’ve been married for 40 years this year, we have four children and four grand-children with another one on the way. I do bonsai, I’m an avid fisherman, a flight simulator nut and given half a chance I’d tour the world for six months of the year with Steely Dan, The Eagles or The Doobie Brothers - playing bass, guitar or drums (not all at the one time). For now, I have to settle playing in our church band each week! All that’s the real me.
Though we journalists are often regarded as the devil incarnate, and sometimes thoroughly deserve the criticism that frequently comes our way – we truly are normal people just doing a job. Understanding this is the key to knowing ‘what to do when the media spotlight turns on you’. If you see the journalist as an individual with a life way beyond their job, it will take a lot of the fear out of encountering them. Yes, they can be powerful – and mischievous – but it’s important not to fear them. Respect them and their power, yes – but don’t be afraid.
As with any skill in life you have to learn it and develop it. When you consider both the risks and importantly the opportunities of dealing with the media, you’ll understand the need to be trained in it - and learn a few tricks of the trade.
I once knew the head of an organisation who asked if I ever did media training. I said yes, anyone with the slightest chance of ever encountering the media must be trained. He eagerly replied that he’d book a date. He never did, though each time we bumped into each other he’d say ‘Must book that media training!’
Then late one afternoon I got a desperate call from him, sorry that he hadn’t done his media training, but there’d been a very bad accident in the building, and with media at every entrance - what should he do? Though I tried my best to give him five minutes of media training 101 over the phone, it all ended up being a very bad and costly experience for him and the organisation.
So – ‘what to do when the media spotlight turns on you’.
First – understand about the world of modern media. Journalists are operating under unprecedented pressures with the rush to digital and social media. More and more is being demanded from them on fewer and fewer resources. Add to this the advent of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’. Modern news media is in the midst of a rolling crisis from which I fear it may never recover.
Second – considering all this, there’s never been a time like this to ‘be your own broadcaster’ – independent of the major media players and journalists. Last year I produced an uplifting video of an aged care arts course purely for social media. Within four days it had got 400,000 ‘views’ on Facebook – and after 10 days the number hit 1.2 million! It’s never been as easy, cheap and accessible to reach such a vast and global audience.
Third – understand (and be trained in) a range of dynamics you can utilise for a good media performance, if the media spotlight ever turns on you.
To begin with, have a plan. Draw up a single page plan for any and every interview you do, where you: Identify ‘the big idea’ of the interview. Work out the journalist’s objectives – (often it will be conflict, but they might also just be wanting to tell a good story). Then list your objectives and write out three key points that you want to convey in the interview, no matter what the questions.
Henry Kissinger, the famed U.S. Secretary of State in the 1970’s once walked into the White House press room and began with these words: ‘Ladies and gentlemen good morning, are there any questions you’d like to put to my answers’. He had a plan!
Next, attitude. They say 80% of the boxing match is either won or lost in the dressing room. Because you have a plan, you can go into a media interview with an attitude of proactive confidence. It’s actually an opportunity for you!
You should also recognise that you’re the expert. It’s highly unlikely that the journalist knows more about your interview than you. That gives you a great deal of power, long before the interview begins.
Any good media training will also train you in a range of physical dynamics that are essential for a good media performance – how to use your voice (undoubtedly your most powerful tool in my strong view), gestures (more is less), posture, breathing, eye contact, dress, body language (you’ve got to get this one right!), the power of ‘the pause’, the power of ‘the personal’, dealing with interjections and the way to use words for impact.
Two final bits of advice I pass onto my media training clients:
Watch the experts. Once they know some of these ‘tricks of the trade’, they’ll watch the multitude of interview programs we have on TV and YouTube with entirely different ‘goggles’.
Finally – tell the truth - always. This is probably the most important piece of advice I offer. Richard Nixon lost the American Presidency, not because of the Watergate break-in – but because of his lies and deceptions that followed it. I can guarantee you from a wealth of experience in journalism and observing journalism, that when you get caught out lying (and you usually do!) it will be a much bigger, and for the journalist, better story!
And lastly, if you remain unconvinced that journalists truly are normal people just doing a job’ – google ‘YouTube news bloopers’ – where you’ll find countless numbers of very funny videos. Have a good giggle at our expense!
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