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Dealing with the media: how to be as productive as possible

From his relatively recent role in mainstream television journalism, Torben Akel, now a senior account manager, provides some useful guidance on dealing with the media to make their job and yours as productive as possible.

With the rise of streaming services like Netflix and the move to “digital-first” newsrooms, there’s a lot of talk about broadcast TV being a sunset industry, and therefore that TV reporting is a soon-to-be obsolete occupation.

Certainly the nation’s newspapers seem to be trying hard to prove they too can get out and film the news. However, with much of their video still so rough it looks like it was shot on their phones (which it probably was), and around a million Kiwis are still tuning in to at least one evening TV news bulletins, it seems safe to say that TV reporters will be around for a few more years yet.

With that in mind, here’s what I recommend PR professionals be aware of whenever they’re working with TV reporters:

1. Time is not on their side


Their deadline mightn’t be till six and their stories only 90 seconds long, but just getting to that point is often an exercise in pressure-cooker logistics. This includes quickly getting your head round stories while finding people willing to comment on-camera, coordinating their interviews in different parts of the country, and then boiling it all down into a 300-word script.

Thus, anything you can do to save them time will be appreciated: For starters, if someone in your organisation has an “expert view” on a story and is happy to be interviewed, let the newsroom know – all it takes is a call or email, not a carefully drafted release. If the reporter’s keen too, see if they’d like any supporting info sent through ahead of time. Be open to doing the interview outside or in the foyer so they don’t have to lug everything upstairs, or even drive to them. Ensure there’s a carpark available and filming has been cleared by security. And once the reporter arrives, spare the preamble and just let them get on with the interview. Keep answers to 30 seconds max and don’t be offended if all they seem to want to do is get themselves out the door!

2. Pictures, pictures, pictures


Unlike their print and radio counterparts, TV reporters need pictures to tell a story, and lots of them. Yes, they can dig into their network’s archive or repeat the same new shots or fill their report with graphics, but compelling, vibrant pictures are the essence of television. They add a thousand more words than the 300 that a TV news story typically gets.

Hence the last thing the reporter wants is a written statement or a phone interview (unless there’s no other option). Post-interview, too, they’ll want shots of the interviewee talking to them and/or “doing something” – the easiest options being a stroll past camera or reading a book or using the computer. To avoid such clichés, see if you can prearrange a “set up” that’s relevant to the story or your organisation, quick to film and visually interesting, e.g. a meeting or a product being inspected.

Alternatively, more and more organisations are investing in filming their own video for internal or marketing purposes. If a minute or two of this can be packaged for use by reporters, without any music or narration, it will help ensure your organisation is shown in a positive light, visually at least.

3. Left on the cutting room floor


More so than other media, TV news stories are influenced by all the other people who are involved in getting them to air, and none more so than the producers. Summarising a complex story into a 90 second report that still has substance can be a challenge, and the producers who subedit reporters’ draft scripts love nothing more than shaving seconds so they can fit more stories into the bulletin.

The casualties are often the interviewees’ soundbites which can be reduced to as little as two or three seconds, even if what’s being cut out is the part that qualifies their answer. Often interviewees don’t even make the final story. Sometimes entire stories are dropped from the bulletin completely. That despite all the time, money and effort that everyone has poured into it, including yourself.

At the end of the day (literally) if you’re not happy with what goes to air, or doesn’t, let them know but bear in mind all of the above. Their reply may not be satisfactory, they may not reply at all, but at least they’ll know why you or your organisation mightn’t be as receptive to their next approach.

Conversely, if you are happy, let them know that too. In what can be an overly negative job it’s nice to know your hard slog hasn’t gone unappreciated, and not every reporter subscribes to George Orwell’s adversarial view that that unless they’re publishing what someone doesn’t want published, all they’re doing is PR.

 

Image credit: Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_hemeroskopion'>hemeroskopion / 123RF Stock Photo</a>


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  1. Courtenay 6 Aug, 9:54 a.m.

    Great insights Torben. So good to hear what goes on, on the other side of the interface.

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