My dark secret

I have to let you in on my dark little secret.  Before I retire, perhaps at a point where my credibility is completely shot – over the hill and far away – I want to test a theory of mine about the media.

From 20+ years as a news shark, waking up every day to feed the hungry beast I called a news service, I know how much the daily feeding frenzy needs so called peak-body groups to survive.

Grab any journalist’s contact book and I guarantee it’ll be stacked with names and contact numbers of organisations available to make comment on anything and everything.

Let me explain and you’ll have to forgive me if the example is a bit dark.  Back in the 80s, my city had a string of horrible crimes against young women.  There was fear and outrage.  And there was Citizens Against Crime.  Or at least there was one bloke called Bob, the President – at least that’s what my (and every other journo’s contact book said).  A day after police had issued their last appeal for information, we needed something to keep the story going and Bob always obliged.  Dial the number, set up the interview and voila: We had what we needed – someone calling for the return of the death penalty for murder.

One quiet afternoon a group of this were discussing this in the newsroom and someone asked:  Has anyone ever met another member of Citizens Against Crime?  None of us had.  The point was we didn’t care.  For all we knew this group consisted of one name only: Bob.  Perhaps at one time they were a truly representative body – but while the group faded, Bob’s name and the need for news commentary lived on in our contact books.

Nothing has changed.  The news cycle is still the same.  In fact, its gotten worse – much worse.  There used to be a rule in journalism about checking facts and comments with the primary source – not any more, especially with web based news services.  An issue breaks, an incident occurs.  After the initial facts, the media still needs commentary and there are plenty of Bobs about.  Except now they have blogs and email addresses. 

So to my secret: I’m going to set one up – an “interest” group, I mean.  I’ve got 20 bucks that says I can get at least one journo to interview me.  I’ll find a sexy issue, develop a catchy name – acronyms work well: AGRO – Australians Get Rubbish Out!  Haven’t you heard of us?  We’re opposed to the development of a nuclear waste facility in your backyard.  I’m the president by the way…available for comment anytime.

Twenty bucks anyone?

Exploding a media myth

The myth about media relations is that by influencing journalists you can control the issue.

But targeting the media is a bit like treating the symptoms rather than the disease.

The key to issue management is building relationships with stakeholders.  This is even more the case in the world of Twitter and Facebook where opinions fly thick and fast and the media's influence, while still strong, has faded in the midst of the crowd.  Just take a look at what is occurring in the Middle East: While guns and bombs still dominate political debate,  well organised pressure groups are begin to show that- at least in some cases- the pen or mobile phone can be mightier than the sword. 

Here in suburban Australia it is the same.  Politicians and journalists are still powerful. On talkback radio and on the internet, however, an articulate pensioner from Balcatta can give the Canberra press gallery a run for their money any day.

If your issue management strategy is solely focussed on the media, you're fighting a losing battle. 

Why do journalists get it wrong?

Time after time surveys show that a lot of people who deal with journalists don’t trust them to accurately report the facts of a matter at hand. Why is that?

Contrary to the views of some of my clients, I’ve rarely encountered a journalist who deliberately sets out to present a false picture - but that doesn’t mean they often don’t get it wrong.