There are some very simple principles when it comes to working with the news media. But it’s amazing how few individuals and organisations get it right.
The three principles for working with the news media
- Principle number one is Be Honest
- Principle number two is Be Straightforward; use language that we can all understand.
- And as social media plays an increasing role in newsgathering and setting the news agenda, there’s principle number three: Be Quick. It’s an old adage in journalism that a lie is halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on, and that is especially true now.
The news waits for no one
So, how can you get prepared for the onslaught if you or your company find yourselves in the eye of the storm?
You need to understand the media world you are in, and that will be different for different industries and organizations. Get to know the journalists who regularly cover your business and find out who you can trust and who you can’t.
Try to understand what journalists regard as news so you will know where they are coming from. News is always about people; you and me and our families. And what journalists want to know is how a policy or a particular development will affect us out here in the everyday world.
Think about what you need to say, what you want to say and what you really don’t want to say. It’s always better to explain why you don’t want to, or can’t, give an answer to some questions. But neither journalists nor readers, viewers or listeners like to be fobbed off with a “no comment”.
Not all news is bad news, although the main role of journalism is to hold people to account and dig out what they don’t want to tell us. So, you will often have to talk to journalists if you are hit by a crisis. Have a crisis plan in place and always, always make sure that someone is contactable 24/7. The news waits for no one. All journalists accept that you can’t answer everything immediately but, if you say you will get back to them, make sure you do.
Your ready-to-go message
Sadly, many who deal with journalists are bruised by the experience. Journalists - especially the tabloids - will have a pre-conceived idea what the story is and nothing you say will persuade them otherwise. All you can do is your best in this situation. Have your messages ready to go, deliver them clearly and don’t hesitate to complain if you feel hard done by.
At least this way you can sleep at night and try to accept in your own mind that, despite its many faults, life is better with a free media than without one.