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The straight goods on the biggest misconception about Media Training

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Last weekend, I posted a blog related to the coverage of the movie theatre shootings in Aurora, Colorado. Then to draw attention to it I tweeted the teaser question “Is mainstream journalism going downhill because of pressure from citizen journalism?”


This prompted the response tweet “No it's going downhill because of spin doctors who train public figures to bullshit the media”.


I assumed because of the reference to training that the lady who posted this message was referring to media trainers. It's not that odd a response because it is indicative of a perception of what media trainers do. Not odd, but quite inaccurate.


I appreciate that several people who have actually gone through media training weighed in to tell this woman, who obviously had not, that she was wrong. But she's far from alone in that belief. There is not enough room in this blog to discuss everything that proper media training is about, but it is an opportunity to at least offer some clarification on the biggest misconception – that it is about training people to avoid answering questions, or to use the vernacular of the lady who responded to my tweet, to bullshit.


First of all, like reporters, there are good media trainers and there are others that give the rest of us a bad name. It's unfortunate but I know there are some, very much a minority, who instruct not to answer questions.


Most do not and with very good reason. It doesn't work. It is obvious when someone is avoiding a question. We have all seen it. It diminishes our respect for the politician or CEO or whoever. And we are left with the impression they are hiding something. How can this possibly be a good thing?


Good media trainers do not advocate this strategy.


Our philosophy on this is straightforward. If it is an honest question it deserves an honest answer. There are times when for various reasons you shouldn't answer a question, but there should always be a legitimate reason. In these cases, simply give the reason. There are exceptions, but they are specific and rare.


However, there's more to it than just answering or not answering the reporter's questions. It's about taking control, or more accurately as much control as possible.


That doesn't mean you don't answer honest questions, but it does mean you don't just answer the question and stop. Just like the reporter has an agenda, whoever is being interviewed should have an agenda too, and that should be to effectively communicate his or her key messages.


For example the reporter asks, “Is you company responsible for this massive traffic jam?”


Assuming it is, you could simply answer the question “Yes”, and stop. Or you could go a little further. “Yes, but let's put this in perspective. Our company runs 400 trucks that average 1000 kilometers a day, and this is the first breakdown we have had in ten years. We realize that's cold comfort to people who have been inconvenienced, and we regret that, but our track record shows we take our truck maintenance seriously, but more importantly right now, we are working as quickly as we can to get that truck out of the way and get traffic moving again.”


The point is, and some will call this “spin”, it is about showing your company or party or association in the best possible light, but doing it in a way that is honest and answers the questions asked.


In subsequent blogs, I'll discuss other aspects of media training, including when you shouldn't answer a question, even if you know the answer. And the reason isn't what you think.


For information on BissettMatheson Media Training workshops, click here 






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