Archive for the ‘Media Training Analysis’ Category
Many university presidents have found themselves in hot water recently for dispensing what they thought of as “common sense” campus safety advice to students. Seemingly innocuous pieces of advice, such as “be careful how much you drink,” are increasingly being perceived as “victim blaming.”
I’m not an expert in this area, so in an effort to learn more, I spoke with Katherine Hull Fliflet, the vice president of communications for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
First, you’ll find several examples below of university heads who have become embroiled in controversy due to their comments on sexual assault.
George Washington University
“Without making the victims responsible for what happens, one of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave.”
He later defended his comments by saying:
“You need to educate the men but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to arm your women with the ability to defend themselves…It doesn’t shift the blame, ultimately, but you have to be wise and street smart.”
The president of Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University, Robert Jennings, resigned in November after saying the following, as summarized by The Huffington Post:
“Men treat you, treat women, the way women allow us to treat them. We will use you up if you allow us to use you up,” he said, adding that men will “marry the girl with the long dress on.”
Donald Eastman, president of Florida’s Eckerd College, wrote the following in an open letter to students and faculty in November:
“You know that these incidents are almost always preceded by consumption, often heavy consumption, of alcohol, often by everyone involved in them…No one’s culture or character or understanding is improved by casual sex.”
University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department
In an October crime prevention tip sheet, the UW-Madison police department wrote the following, according to the Wisconsin State Journal:
“If you present yourself as easy prey, then expect to attract some wolves…If you make yourself a hard target, one who is aware of their surroundings, you take away two elements of a crime: desirability and opportunity.”
The department quickly revised the tip sheet after being accused of victim blaming.
What Should University Leaders Say?
First, one thing appears rather obvious in some of the examples above: Any time safety advice is couched in the language of “moral” sexual behavior, it crosses into being broadly perceived as unacceptable victim blaming.
But what about the question of educating students about the potential perils of alcohol abuse as it relates to sexual assault? Wouldn’t it be wise for university presidents to address that issue? “It’s too narrow,” says Ms. Hull Fliflet of RAINN, who argues that putting that much emphasis on a single risk factor diminishes the broader conversation.
“It’s more effective to speak to the student body as a whole about risk reduction for reducing crime on campus in terms of friends having roles to play as opposed to directing the advice to an individual student.”
University leaders can use a RAINN fact sheet called “protecting your friends” to educate students about the need to keep an eye out for their peers in social situations, step in and create a distraction when “a situation doesn’t feel right,” and enlist others as “reinforcements.” As examples, a group of female students can keep an eye on one another, but male students can also look out to make sure their male peers aren’t engaging in potentially risky behavior.
Another suggestion: Hull Fliflet says it’s critical to communicate this advice in a gender-neutral manner since victims aren’t always women. She also wonders why, as in so many of the examples above, authorities focus on “don’t drink” as their key piece of advice instead of “don’t rape.” More broadly, she argues that university presidents must communicate that they take these issues seriously—and bolster their policies to match their rhetoric.
With so many leaders being singed by touching this hot topic in the wrong way, I suspect that many university heads would rather stay away from this issue altogether. Hull Fliflet says that’s the wrong solution. “This is a real opportunity for a college president to make it clear that all reports of sexual assault will be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly,” she says. “They just need to be honest that their school isn’t immune.”
A Few Final Thoughts
University leaders who fail to pay attention to these sensitivities (or go well beyond them, as in some of the examples above) must learn about and remain aware of the potential landmines. My suggestion? Before speaking out on these topics, consult with outside experts, make sure you understand where sensitivities exist, and work collaboratively to develop a set of public safety suggestions that achieve your goals without repelling the very people they’re intended to help.
Please leave your thoughts below. I look forward to learning from you.
h/t Huffington Post
Tags: Katherine Hull Fliflet, RAINN, sexual assault
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 1 Comment »
New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet decided last week not to run images of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons so many people found to be offensive.
Marc Cooper, a journalist and associate professor at USC Annenberg’s School for Communication and Journalism, disagreed with Baquet’s decision and took to Facebook to register his complaint.
I’m not going to pretend that the word “asshole” is so shocking to our delicate sensibilities as to require an entire blog post. But I would like to make a few other points about this exchange.
First, Mr. Baquet was right that Mr. Cooper looked self-righteous. I suspect that was abundantly clear to many people, so Baquet didn’t need to be so heavy handed in his response to win this exchange. That’s especially true because he made a solid case for his decision not to publish.
According to Dylan Byers of Politico:
“Reached via email, Baquet told POLITICO: ‘Lots of people have disagreed with my decision. Some of them are in The Times. I get that. Mr Cooper’s comment was nasty and arrogant. So I told him what I thought.’
Baquet’s decision to forego running the cartoons that provoked terrorists to raid the offices of Charlie Hebdo, killing 12, have been heavily scrutinized. On Thursday, Baquet said he made his decision primarily because he did not want to insult the paper’s Muslim readers.
“’We have a standard that is pretty simple. We don’t run things that are designed to gratuitously offend,’ Baquet told POLITICO…[I] don’t expect all to agree. But let’s not forget the Muslim family in Brooklyn who read us and is offended by any depiction of what he sees as his prophet. I don’t give a damn about the head of ISIS but I do care about that family and it is arrogant to ignore them.’”
Why didn’t he simply say that in response to Mr. Cooper instead of lapsing into distracting name-calling?
Whenever a word like “asshole” is used by an executive, it’s almost certain to draw attention. That can be a mixed blessing. If it’s an issue the executive wants to become a big headline but is struggling to find any other way to make newsworthy, name-calling like this can actually be part of a strategic communications plan. I don’t suspect that was the case here.
Mr. Baquet also seemed to forget another cardinal rule: He should have treated his response as an opportunity to speak directly to other readers who shared Cooper’s position instead of treating it like a personal communication with Mr. Cooper.
Finally, I wonder what message this sends to his newsroom. On one hand, it’s easy to imagine that journalists who work for him deeply appreciate a boss who stands up for their editorial decisions. But on the other hand, I wonder if this gives license to reporters to engage with their critics in a similar manner, something I can’t imagine would be productive.
Baquet should expect criticism for these types of decisions. In my view, he should react to them by making his strongest case — which in this case, he had — and leave the swearing for his critics.
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Tags: Dean Baquet, Marc Cooper, media training analysis, The New York Times
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 1 Comment »
According to The Toronto Star, a Toronto news anchor has been suspended due to concerns about a possible conflict of interest:
“Global Television news anchor Leslie Roberts has been suspended from the network after a Toronto Star investigation found he is secretly the part owner of a small public relations firm whose clients — lawyers, small businesses and others — appear on his show.
Roberts helps clients with pitches and media training and has tweeted positive comments about some of the clients to his 20,000 followers on Twitter. In one instance, during a morning show on which supermarket shopping was being discussed, he blurted out the name of one of his firm’s clients and suggested viewers “check it out.” At no time did he disclose to viewers his connection to the companies or his public relations firm: BuzzPR.”
“‘At Global News we take matters of journalistic integrity very seriously,’ Global spokesperson Rishma Govani told the Star. ‘Mr. Roberts has been suspended from his duties indefinitely as we conduct a full investigation into this matter.’”
The Star presented its findings to Roberts early this week. Roberts said he had done nothing wrong but would resign from BuzzPR, the public relations firm he owns with a partner.”
This post isn’t specifically about Mr. Roberts. Instead, I want to use this incident as a launching pad to a broader question: Should working journalists simultaneously serve clients as media trainers?
That’s not a theoretical question. I’m aware of firms who boast that their media trainers are working journalists. (I’m not disparaging those firms—at least one I know of that employs working journalists has a terrific reputation.)
From a client perspective, I can see the advantage of working with someone who’s still in the game. But how about from a journalism ethics perspective?
I suppose there are some exceptions for journalists who don’t train clients who fall within their coverage area. A sports reporter who trains a lifestyle expert, for example, probably wouldn’t raise too many flags—although I wonder if even that comes at too great a risk to the public perception of their journalistic neutrality.
But a general interest reporter who might be called upon to report on one of the people or businesses he or she has trained? How is that even remotely appropriate?
UPDATE: JANUARY 17, 2015
Mr. Roberts has resigned from Global Television. In a resignation letter, he wrote:
“I am resigning my position as News Anchor and Executive Editor of Global Toronto effective immediately. I regret the circumstances, specifically a failure to disclose information, which led to this outcome.
Over the past 15 years, I have worked within a news organization and among colleagues who are the best in the business. For that privilege, I will always be grateful.
Tags: Leslie Roberts, media training, Media Training Industry, The Toronto Star
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 6 Comments »
Anita Lopez, a Democratic mayoral candidate in Toledo, Ohio, likes to prepare carefully for her media interviews. She requires her staff to ask questions of reporters before any interview and to complete a form containing details about the story.
So far, I’m on board. That’s a rather typical media strategy, and it’s the kind of responsible due diligence that any smart candidate would employ. But The Toledo Blade suggests she’s going overboard:
“Among the information Ms. Lopez wants in advance is a list of the reporter’s questions; if anyone already has been interviewed; who else will be interviewed; what the other sources said to the reporter; if she can use visuals, and if the reporter is knowledgeable.”
In The Media Training Bible, I warn spokespersons dealing with hard news reporters to avoid asking for questions in advance—and Ms. Lopez shouldn’t insist on questions as a pre-condition for an interview. But the rest of her interview prep looks like the type of typical media relations policy that many businesses, organizations, and candidates employ as a standard operating procedure.
Although that may seem obstructionist, there are legitimate reasons for requesting information in advance. Knowing a reporter’s focus can help a candidate find key statistics or details that may not be top of mind, give the candidate warning that the reporter is on an unwarranted fishing expedition, and prevent them from committing the type of “gotcha” moment that sells newspapers but destroys reputations.
The Blade also knocks Lopez for using “bridging” statements. That’s a cheap shot. Those statements are used by virtually every experienced spokesperson in the country. Perhaps you don’t think politicians should use them—but singling her out for their use is journalistic hackery.
But the most ridiculous comment in the piece goes to Independent Councilman D. Michael Collins, who maintains that the truest response is “one that is extemporaneous.” Any experienced public figure should know the hazards of making it up while you go along: just ask Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, Mitt “47 percent” Romney, or Barack “cling to their guns and religion” Obama. According to his logic, no one should ever practice a speech again.
The bottom line is that it’s a good idea to prepare for interviews in advance. Perhaps it requires a defter touch than the one Ms. Lopez has been using. But many parts of The Blade’s piece feel like a highly selective singling out.
Of course, this is a bit less defensible.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: Anita Lopez, media training analysis, Toledo Blade, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 9 Comments »
A surprising number of our clients share with me a piece of advice they learned from a media trainer somewhere along the line: “Don’t answer the question the reporter asks you. Answer the question you want to answer.”
I’ve met several of my industry peers—and have read articles, blogs, and books from some of those I haven’t—and I’ve yet to encounter a professional media trainer who offers that advice to their clients. So I really don’t know where that bad advice is coming from.
What I do know is that it’s pervasive. Many clients, who work all over the country and have never met one another, have heard that bit of hackery somewhere along the line. And if they take that advice into their interviews, they’re going to create a disaster for themselves.
Perhaps that advice comes from an earlier era, one in which reporters were less likely to air the full raw tape of a spokesperson dodging a question. To the degree that era ever existed, it’s over. Journalists regularly (and rightfully, in my view) shame spokespersons who refuse to answer direct questions by exposing their evasions.
As an example, check out this video of British Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband, who pretends that the journalist is invisible.
Naturally, there may be times when you don’t want to answer a question. Perhaps the reporter is asking you about something off-topic instead of the thing you really want to be speaking about. Maybe a journalist wants to know an embarrassing detail you’d rather not reveal, or about a confidential detail your lawyers have banned you from elaborating upon. (Read more about “Commenting without Commenting” here.)
Even in those moments, it’s almost always better to answer the question directly—and briefly—before transitioning to something else. In some situations, you may even be able to answer the reporter’s query with incomplete sentences and responses in which you don’t cite the subject by name (“DUI” becomes “that issue”), to make your answer more difficult to quote. But answer the question.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say a reporter is asking you about a campaign staffer who was arrested for DUI. You’ve decided not to fire that employee, and you already answered questions directly about his arrest yesterday; every major newspaper, website, and news channel covered the story extensively today. You’re reluctant to continue speaking about it, as your detailed responses will only lead to additional news stories that will take you far off your campaign’s message.
Reporter: “A lot of people in the media are asking why you didn’t fire Bob Smith yesterday? You’ve been speaking about the need for personal responsibility throughout this campaign, and your refusal to fire him seems to contradict your message.”
You: “You know, I addressed that question and several others on this topic yesterday. My answers haven’t changed, and there’s nothing new to add. Many members of the press have already spent a full day covering that story in detail. Given that we only have three weeks left in this campaign, I’m going to spend today speaking about the important issues voters consistently tell us they care about most.”
That answer doesn’t share any new information. It doesn’t give reporters any juicy quotes to add to their news story. But it does address the specific question that was asked.
So ignore that pervasive but pernicious piece of advice. A direct question deserves a direct answer—even if it’s not the direct answer the reporter hopes to hear.
Learn more about the best ways to answer media questions in The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Tags: Ed Miliband, media training, Media Training Industry
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 6 Comments »
Reporters for the college newspaper The Daily Princetonian are no longer allowed to conduct interviews through email. Neither are reporters for The Stanford Daily or The Oracle, the University of South Florida’s paper.
What’s behind this seemingly urgent push for “no email interview” policies? To find out, writer Mark Lisheron wrote a thoughtful and well-researched piece for the April issue of the American Journalism Review. (Disclosure: I’m quoted in the article.)
Unsurprisingly, his investigation revealed deep passions on both sides of the debate. Supporters of the email ban argued their side thusly, as summarized by Lisheron:
“E-mail deprives the reporter of all of the sensory advantages of the other interview styles. Facial expressions, gestures, posture. The sound and the cadence of the voice. The emphasis on words or phrases. The pauses.
As fast and convenient as they are, e-mail interviews are never really conducted in real time. The timing of the response, the allowance for measured and edited replies create an artificiality readers recognize.”
The then-editor of The Daily Princetonian, Henry Rome, explained his decision to ban email interviews by writing:
“Interviews are meant to be genuine, spontaneous conversations that allow a reporter to gain a greater understanding of a source’s perspective. However, the use of the email interview — and its widespread presence in our News articles — has resulted in stories filled with stilted, manicured quotes that often hide any real meaning and make it extremely difficult for reporters to ask follow-up questions or build relationships with sources.”
On the other side of the debate are those who make the case for email interviews. One past president of the National Information Officers Association said this, as summarized by Lisheron:
“Reporters, he says, have no inherent right to a statement from him. He reserves the right to ask for questions in writing and provide answers in writing, usually through e-mail.
Departments like his are trying harder to control the message, not because they are deceptive and evil, but because relationships with the media have changed.”
And another public information officer told him that getting questions in writing is:
“…not only a way to form more complete and accurate answers, but to be better able to parry inquiries designed to elicit specific responses.”
So who’s right? Both sides have a point, and the truth is somewhere in the middle. Like anything else (say, PowerPoint slides) the problem is less with the tool itself than with the way that tool gets used. That said, far too many spokespersons rely on email. They think they’re maintaining control by only offering written statements—and sometimes they are—but too often, they’re unnecessarily undermining their relationships with the press.
You can read more about my view on this issue in my article called “Three Reasons to Interview by Phone Instead of Email.”
I hope you’ll read Mark’s excellent article in full. You can find it here. And please leave your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.
Tags: American Journalism Review, Mark Lisheron, media analysis, media training analysis, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 5 Comments »
Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, recently appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote her new book, Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead.
Ms. Sandberg had many terrific communications traits. She made an articulate and persuasive case, used her body language to reinforce her verbal points, and laughed heartily at Mr. Stewart’s jokes.
Something about her interview bothered me. I wanted to like her and agreed with every point she made—but I had a difficult time connecting with her. It took me a week and three viewings of her segment to figure out why.
If you can’t view this video on your mobile device, click here.
First, and perhaps most glaringly, she oversold her book. In a six-minute segment, she mentioned Lean In five times (Jon Stewart also mentioned it at the beginning and end of the segment; the name of the book also appeared in a giant on-set graphic, an on-screen book graphic, and a lower third graphic).
In total, viewers saw or heard Lean In no fewer than 10 times in six minutes.
It may surprise you that a media trainer who encourages people to remain on message was chagrined by that. But there’s a fine line between selling and over-selling, between being on message and over-messaged.
Mentioning her book title a couple of times would have been fine. But her continual mentions had the effect of pulling me out of her interview and reminding me that she was there to pitch a product, which compromised my ability to relate with her. Perhaps part of that wasn’t just the repetition—it may have just been that Ms. Sandberg didn’t pull it off without sounding a bit forced.
That leads me to my second point. Sandberg sounded a bit too rehearsed. And that’s a shame, because she did a lot of things right. Her anecdotes were tight and effective (e.g. “Pretty like Mommy” t-shirts, her friend’s five-year-old daughter), and her sound bites were great (e.g. “Men still run the world. And I’m not sure that’s going that well.”)
If I was working with her, I’d advise her to stop trying to deliver her lines as she rehearsed them and to start delivering them like she was talking to an elderly neighbor or a high school friend instead. From her less rehearsed moments in this interview, she appeared to have that ability. She should use it more often. She should be going for “real,” not “polished.”
The bottom line? Ms. Sandberg did a great job with the precision of her words, but didn’t do as well in terms of relating with the audience. (I’ve written more about that common challenge here.) The good news for Sandberg is that she’s really, really close. And with a little more work, she can do a better job of making that all-elusive audience connection.
If Facebook doesn’t shut down my account after writing this story, please stay in touch with me at www.Facebook.com/MrMediaTraining.
Tags: Facebook, jon stewart, media training analysis, Sheryl Sandberg, The Daily Show
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 5 Comments »
As my husband rocks our 5-month-old daughter back and forth in his arms to give me some time to catch up on work, I can’t help but think about Frank Bruni’s column in last Sunday’s New York Times.
Mr. Bruni has a lot to say about today’s parents. He’s “confounded by the boundless fretting, as if ushering kids into adulthood were some newfangled sorcery dependent on a slew of child-rearing books and a bevy of child-rearing blogs.” He says we’re too permissive, we bargain with kids, and we give them too many choices.
Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Bruni, his argument is hurt by one glaring fact: He’s not a parent.
Until he knows the awesome responsibility and love that goes into raising a child, the constant worrying about his or her future and the – let’s face it – fear of failure, Mr. Bruni is really in no position to criticize today’s parents. His attempt at mitigating that fact by mentioning the time he spends with his many nieces and nephews just doesn’t suffice.
Mr. Bruni’s column raises an important question for PR professionals trying to identify the right spokesperson: How credible is the person as a spokesperson? For example, are non-parents the best people to deliver messages about parenting? Are men the best messengers to deliver messages about women? Are Democrats the best envoys to deliver messages about what they see as necessary changes within the Republican Party?
Take, for example, last year’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on religious liberty and contraceptive coverage. In a hearing that was incredibly important to health care for women, the first of two groups to testify that day consisted of all men. As a result, three Democrats walked out of the hearing, Planned Parenthood circulated a photo of the all-male panel and the Democrats’ narrative that Republicans are insensitive to women’s causes was furthered.
Choosing the right messenger can make or break your reputation, as Brad wrote in this blog post and in The Media Training Bible. The same principle applies when your organization deals with sensitive issues. Don’t let the corporate hierarchy be the sole determinant of who the right organizational spokesperson is. If your CEO isn’t the best person to speak on a specific issue, find someone lower on the food chain who will appear more credible to the public.
Do you share my view or do you think I’ve gotten it wrong? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. In the meantime, please follow me on Twitter @PMRChristina.
Christina Mozaffari is the vice president of the Washington, DC office for Phillips Media Relations.
Photo credit: Earl Wilson/ The New York Times
Tags: media analysis
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 7 Comments »