Many people have fantasized about their opponents in the media being put out of business. But most of them have the good sense not to give voice to their dark wishes.
That didn’t stop Rutgers University Athletic Director Julie Hermann from publicly fantasizing about the demise of her media nemesis, New Jersey’s Star-Ledger. According to Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi (and originally reported by Rutgers University student website Muckgers):
“If they’re not writing headlines that are getting our attention, they’re not selling ads – and they die,” Hermann told the Media Ethics and Law class. “And the Ledger almost died in June, right?”
“They might die again next month,” a student said.
“That would be great,” she replied. “I’m going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive.”
Now that’s a new one. Giving such a juicy headline in a quote about not giving the newspaper a headline?
Worse than the quote itself is Ms. Hermann’s timing. Last week, the Star-Ledger laid off 167 staffers. That a local college official appears to be dancing on their professional graves during a tough economy makes her look vindictive, petty, and small.
Worse yet, Ms. Hermann’s response isn’t much better than her original comments.
According to The Detroit News:
“The university said in a statement that Hermann’s remarks to a media ethics and law class in February came before she knew about deep layoffs at the Star-Ledger…Rutgers said her statements were “intended to give the students some understanding of the challenges she has faced” and were not expected to be made public. She did not apologize.”
Ridiculous. That Ms. Hermann had any expectation for privacy in a public setting is ludicrous. (How many times have I written about this already?)
Plus, what kind of message is that to send to a media ethics class—that if you don’t like the coverage you’re receiving, you should wish for the news organization’s demise? Ms. Hermann owes the newspaper—along with the men and women who work for it and the students she was lecturing to—an apology.
Thank you to the anonymous tipster who forwarded this story to me. Have a tip? Send it to Contact@MrMediaTraining.com.
Due to their spontaneous nature, question and answer exchanges can be more memorable than the presentation itself. Sharp audience questions often add energy to your talk—occasionally even a sense of danger—and audiences tend to be keenly interested in what their fellow seatmates have to say.
Even with its risk of unpredictability, you should view the question and answer exchange as a critical asset for you as a speaker, not as an unwelcome interruption. Questions help reveal what your audience cares about, remains confused by, or continues to resist. They allow you to offer responses that align your content with their concerns, clear up any lingering confusion, and persuade people that your ideas are sensible.
The Q&A period also allows you to demonstrate your competence. Directly answering challenging questions with poise and confidence sends a message to your audience that you’re capable of leading, executing or managing whatever initiative you’ve presented.
Beginning tomorrow, we’ll run three in-depth posts on managing the audience Q&A.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, you’ll learn seven rules of engagement for managing the Q&A period.
On Thursday, I’ll write about six things to do when you’re stumped by a question.
On Friday, I’m taking a nap.
In the meantime, I’ve included a few links below from previous posts on this topic:
General Motors CEO Mary Barra testified to Congress this week regarding her company’s delay in recalling faulty vehicles that are responsible for at least 13 deaths.
Ms. Barra is new to her position—she became CEO less than three months ago—and she’s trying to usher in a new era of transparency. But as last night’s Saturday Night Live noted, the multiple evasions during her testimony won’t help her in that effort.
SNL often reflects—or sets—national sentiment. To be their target in an opening sketch is not going to help GM’s crisis management efforts at all.
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As you’ve heard by now, talk show legend David Letterman announced his retirement last night. What struck me about his retirement announcement was that he chose to frame it within an anecdote.
Letterman told a lengthy story about spotting a rare bird while fishing with his son. He didn’t know what breed of bird he had spotted, so he spent his next day at work trying to figure it out.
When he got home and his wife asked him how his day was, he told her what he had learned about the bird. When his wife asked who was on the show that night, Letterman shrugged. He couldn’t remember.
It was at that moment, it seems, that he realized he had lost the passion to host his show. When the “How was work?” question led to a bird tale instead of conversation about the show itself, he knew it was time hang it up.
When making his announcement, Letterman could have simply said, “I’ve lost my passion for hosting,” or “It’s time.” Instead, he chose to frame that message within a story. As a result, his retirement announcement was a lot more colorful, memorable, personal, and understandable.
I’ve written about this topic before—about looking for “smaller” stories to help make a larger point. It’s a great device, one you should consider for your own presentations.
Here’s a post I’ve written about telling small stories.
And here’s a wonderful example of a TED Talk that accomplishes that beautifully.
In Shakespeare’s Othello, Othello is tricked into believing that his wife, Desdemona, cheated on him with his Lieutenant. When he confronts Desdemona, she weeps—a sign, Othello concludes, of her guilt. In a rage, Othello murders her, only to learn shortly thereafter that she hadn’t committed adultery after all.
Othello made the mistake of assuming that he understood the source of Desdemona’s anguish. He assumed that his wife’s sobs when confronted were a sign of her guilt; he didn’t understand that her grief was rooted not in guilt, but in her knowledge that there was no way to convince her husband of her innocence.
That tragic mistake—what psychologist Paul Ekman dubbed “Othello’s Error”—teaches us that just because someone exhibits an emotion doesn’t mean we understand the root cause. “Emotional signals don’t tell us what brought them forth,” Ekman writes in Emotions Revealed.
As an example, let’s say you’re about to deliver a talk and you’re feeling nervous about the proposal you have to present. You believe that a few people in the room actively oppose your idea, so you’ve prepared rebuttal arguments just to be safe.
During your presentation, you notice a man in the front row—a key decision-maker—who’s furrowing his brow and crossing his arms. He looks unhappy with your proposal, confirming your worst fears.
At the end of your talk, he approaches you to thank you for your talk and ask you a question about how he can follow up with you. “I’m surprised you’re interested,” you say. “I was convinced that you didn’t like my proposal because you looked skeptical.” “Nah,” he says. “My wife tells me I look that way when I’m thinking. I thought your proposal made sense all along.”
That type of scenario happens all the time. And it happens, in part, because we’re conditioned to see that which we expect. According to Dr. Ekman:
“Our emotional state, our attitudes, our expectations, what we want to believe, even what we don’t want to believe can all bias how we interpret an expression or more specifically what we think caused the emotion shown by the expression.”
In other words, if we’re nervous about an audience when presenting, we’re more likely to interpret a man’s “thinking” face as his “disgusted” face. We’re more likely to assume that his seemingly disinterested expression means that we’ve failed to persuade him. We’ve committed Othello’s Error.
Othello’s Error doesn’t mean you should stop trying to read your audiences. You can often glean important clues about their moods and attitudes by remaining attentive to nonverbal cues. But it does suggest that before solidifying any assumption that they’re against you, you should ask a clarifying question instead (“It looks like a lot of people are thinking hard about this proposal. May I ask what you’re thinking about or what questions you might have?”).
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Australian rugby player Andrew Fifita recently made a comment that cost him a four-year, $3.5 million contract ($3.2 million U.S.).
The 24-year-old announced that he would be changing teams, from the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. But before he even put on his new uniform, he expressed disloyalty to his new team. Here’s the story via news.com.au:
“On Friday he let slip in an interview that he wished he’d chosen rugby union [a different league] instead. Then yesterday, the Dogs effectively said fine, forget the whole deal.
Oh, the Bulldogs cited a bunch of legalese. But reading between the lines, they appeared to be saying “You’ve got no loyalty? Then we don’t want you.”
What caught my eye were comments made by his teammate, Paul Gallen, who offered this solution:
“I think he’s really going to have to be micromanaged, I really think they have to get him some kind of media training or something.”
The columnist agreed:
“Gallen is right. If Fifita doesn’t have any natural humility, he desperately needs a slick professional to drum it into him.”
Both Gallen and the unnamed columnist have a distorted view of media training.
A media trainer’s job is not to “drum” humility into someone. Good practitioners are not slick professionals who attempt to create personality traits where they do not exist (we can help people emphasize traits they do possess). Doing so would be doomed to failure, as the public can usually tell when someone is faking it.
We can only be successful when working with somewhat self-aware people who have a desire to change. If Fifita is not naturally humble, I would never try an approach intended to make him fake humility.
What would I do? I’d focus on helping him reduce the likelihood of a future “seven-second stray.” I would try to accomplish that by invoking his competitive spirit and analogizing his public comments to rugby. Every time he prevents himself from making a potentially controversial comment, he should award himself a point. Every time he makes one, he should view it as voluntarily allowing the other team to score.
That’s it. No drumming false humility into him. But by getting him to be as competitive with the use of his words as he is during play, it might serve the same purpose—he’d learn to bite his tongue more often, which might result in him genuinely appearing more humble. And it wouldn’t take a “slick” professional to help him do it.
That’s my take. What’s yours? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
This is an excerpt from my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Although this section has dealt exclusively with crisis communications, it’s important to note that not all bad press results from a crisis. Sometimes, a reporter gets a key fact wrong, a columnist takes an unfavorable view of your political stance, or an arts critic disapproves of your museum’s new exhibit.
Lessons 91 and 92 will help you respond to negative media coverage that doesn’t result from a full-fledged crisis but that has the potential to negatively affect your brand. This lesson focuses on how to respond to bad press before the story runs.
You can’t always respond to stories before publication, since some run without reporters contacting you in advance. But reporters will often ask for your perspective before the story runs, and their questions may make it clear to you that they’ve drawn incorrect impressions. If you think you’re about to be the recipient of bad press, consider these five actions.
1. Detail the errors
Make a list of the reporter’s errors and explain why the story is wrong. Provide the reporter with the accurate information and cite your sources.
2. Ask to meet with the reporter
Little is more disarming than a spokesperson who asks to meet in person. It sends a message that you have nothing to hide and may make reporters reconsider their perspectives.
3. Take it up a notch
If you’re getting nowhere with the reporter, speak with his or her boss. That person bears greater responsibility for running accurate stories.
4. Get your lawyers involved
You may be able to get a story delayed, revised, or killed if you can demonstrate to the news organization that it is factually incorrect and could lead to a costly lawsuit.
5. Beat the press
In extreme cases, you might consider releasing your story before the reporter can. That may mean offering the story to a competing (and fairer) journalist or releasing it through your own social media channels. By beating the journalist to the story, you’ll be able to get your version of events out first and help control the narrative. But beware: If you pursue this strategy, the reporter may punish you in future coverage.
Tread carefully when considering lawsuits against news organizations, since legal cases often attract more headlines and keep damaging information in the headlines that much longer.
Can You Sue a News Organization for an Incorrect Story?
If you’re the target of an inaccurate news story, you may be able to sue the offending news organization. The information below comes from Erik M. Pelton & Associates, a law firm specializing in intellectual property and social media issues.
Libel and slander are legal terms for injuring another party by making harmful misstatements. Libel relates to statements made in print or online; slander applies to oral statements. Both are difficult to establish in the U.S., where the person suing has the burden of proof. Claims are easier to prove in many other countries, since the person accused of libel or slander has to prove that the disputed statement is true.
In order win a lawsuit in the U.S., the statement must have been negligently made and resulted in harm to the person defamed. Public figures have an even higher threshold to meet, and must show the person making the statement knew it to be false or had a reckless disregard for the truth.
To avoid being sued yourself, be sure that any negative statements you make about a specific individual or business are accurate—or are clearly identified as your opinion.
Click here for more information about The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.
Last summer, media critic Jay Rosen announced he would no longer criticize CNN. “As of today, I have retired from criticism of CNN for falling short of some sort of journalistic standard that news providers should maintain. That activity no longer makes sense.”
Rosen argued that since CNN no longer holds itself to news standards, it would be pointless to do so himself.
I agreed with much of his premise at the time, but wasn’t ready to give up on my former employer quite yet (I worked at CNN from 1999-2001). I cherish the role that CNN should be playing—a straight-up-the-middle news outlet—and wanted to believe that the network would eventually wander back to its roots.
Instead, with its saturation coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, CNN has taken a giant step backward in its evolution from well-respected news outlet to The Jerry Springer Show.
The coverage reached its nadir during Don Lemon’s newscasts. First, Mr. Lemon speculated that the supernatural could be responsible for the plane’s disappearance:
“Especially today, on a day when we deal with the supernatural, we go to church, the supernatural power of God. You deal with all of that. People are saying to me, why aren’t you talking about the possibility—and I’m just putting it out there—that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding?”
Next, he wondered whether a black hole could have somehow sucked the plane out of the universe, a suggestion his guest batted down immediately.
Not to be outdone, CNN’s sister network, CNN Headline News, hosted a psychic who said she doesn’t like to rely on facts (the passengers are alive, she claimed).
Psychics. Black holes. Supernatural forces. Baseless speculation. This is CNN.
As atrocious as CNN’s coverage has been, the network’s ratings are up. That prompted Piers Morgan’s executive producer to tweet this:
Wald appears to be conflating popularity with quality. That’s like saying McDonald’s sells the best burgers since it sells the most hamburgers. No, quality and popularity aren’t inextricably linked. Wald’s suggestion otherwise offers a discouraging view into the network’s ends-justify-the-means approach to news.
Yes, CNN still has some quality journalists working for the network, some of whom are friends and former colleagues. But that misses the point. The network is only as good as its least responsible programming, of which there’s an intolerable amount.
Like Jay Rosen before me, I’m tired of expecting more from the network. I’m choosing to click away and find my news in places that exercise more journalistic restraint. I’m just sad that the once-respected 24-hour news network has become little more than a 24-hour network.
Jon Stewart’s takedown of the shameful cable news coverage of Malaysia Air 370 is worth watching.
What are your thoughts about CNN’s programming? Please leave your views in the comments section below.