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Inside a Reporter's Mind -- A Scary Place

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Believe it or not, reporters would probably find it as scary to be in your mind as you would to be in theirs. The catch is that they're paid to be in yours and will do their best to get there.

Traditional journalists may, in fact, come into interviews with a bias -- personal, based on their own experiences and belief system, or "employer-based," reflecting their media outlet's political leanings, attitude towards certain types of organizations, etc.. However, with rare exception, they are not usually out to "get you." They're merely doing their job and trying to receive as much recognition for it as possible. Just like you, right?

Citizen reporters -- e.g., bloggers without editorial control -- are another story, for another time.

A reporter wants a story that's newsworthy, that appeals to his/her editor and audience. There is a journalistic code of ethics, but it allows for behaviors you may or may not deem acceptable while in pursuit of a story. And journalists probably don't review that code very often. Still, as I reported on HuffPost in the past, it can be a formidable weapon used to defend yourself against ethical abuses.

Your job is to tell your side of the story. You are in conversation; you have to know to whom you're speaking. The reporter is asking you questions he/she thinks the audience will want answered. That means you must speak to your stakeholders through the interviewer, giving your stakeholders what you want them to know in terms that will be meaningful to them.

By being media-trained, you will improve your ability to balance a story -- but remember that "balanced" does not equate to "the story came out the way it would have come out if you had written it." It means you got a fair shake, even if people who completely disagreed with you also were treated fairly. By definition, a totally balanced article is still only half "your side" of the story. And true balance is as rare as honest politicians.

You may find this surprising coming from the author of a media training manual, but as a crisis management professional I advise clients that the traditional media is not your most important stakeholder group, because it is the least reliable means of accurately communicating information. However, media outlets are an important stakeholder group and one gateway to those who matter most to you - typically your employees, customers, investors, community leaders, the general public, etc. In some specific situations, such as natural disasters, the traditional media can be a particularly important method of getting your messages out. And it's true that whether you cooperate or not, reporters will write their stories -- so why not do your best to optimize the results?

[The preceding was excerpted and adapted from Keeping the Wolves at Bay - Media Training]