Sunday, March 29, 2009

Welcome to the public sector

A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
March 29, 2009

By Bill Kraus

Now that you're a have two new rules to follow in your dealings with the press.

The Ody Fish rule: When you are asked a question, never, never, never, ever lie. There are three acceptable responses:

I don’t know the answer. I do know the answer, but I cannot tell you what it is. And the answer is....

The Owen Coyle rule:

Regard everything you say to anyone anywhere in any circumstance as something that will appear on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.

There are a few other things that are worth knowing about the status that attaches to becoming a legitimate “beat.”

You now have a new constituency. The public. The press is the connection to this new constituency.

There are two major components in journalism. Editors assign reporters, write headlines, decide how prominently stories will be displayed. This will range from above the fold on page one to buried somewhere near the classified ads in the least prominent part of the paper. You have no control over this placement or these headlines and neither do reporters.

Reporters may get the story wrong or misquote sources, but editors are invisible and the real bane of your existence.

Reporters like candor and will respond viciously when overdosed with “no comments,” which are actually comments by their very nature.

Reporters are only as good as their last story and their beats are their life blood. It’s hard to think of them sympathetically, but not keeping their needs and priorities in mind is a big mistake. They need you more than they will ever admit. This need can be reflected in accuracy if not affection. They misquote. You clam up. They suffer.

Editors overreact to what they decide are big stories. Think of all the stories that didn’t get reported in New York while reporters and photographers were massed in front of Bernie Madoff’s apartment building on 64th Street.

Reporters have an incurable instinct for the capillary. They think, for example, that everyone but them is overpaid, and will pounce on anything that smells of big money going to places and people who they regard as undeserving. Take the money and the perks if you wish, but in your quasi-public status be assured you will pay a price in unwelcome publicity.

If you or your organization become sensational enough to attract the attention of the talk radio screechers, you will have entered a whole new coverage zone. These people are in show business. They take the information produced by journalists and blow it so far out of proportion that it is unrecognizable.

They are a blight on the information landscape. They are not journalists.

You are in a more exposed but not uncontrollable position. You can be candid. You cannot be stupid. You will survive.

Good luck.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus

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