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Most journalists just want to report the news - so give them a good news story!


You've probably seen those 'occupation trustworthiness' surveys that appear in the media every so often. They're usually fairly predictable: doctors, nurses and emergency workers at the top; and car sales reps, politicians and journalists at the bottom.


Having worked in the media, I’ve always been puzzled by the public's distrust of a profession whose role includes exposing the misdeeds of public officials.


Maybe it’s because people don't like to be told that , yet again, they've elected incompetents and crooks. Yet when a scandal hits the headlines, it's the hot topic of conversation!


Anyway, enough about bad publicity.


If you've always wondered why some people and organisations get more than their fair share of positive publicity in the media, it isn't rocket science. You just need to understand how the media works.



First let's debunk some common media myths.



Wealthy industrialists invest in media outlets primarily to make a profit, just as they do in any other industry. Sure, the media has a higher public profile than, say, paper products, but only a fool goes into business with the intention of losing money.


Newspaper and TV and radio station owners are kidding themselves if they think they can sway people's voiting habits by ramming their opinioins down their readers', viewers' or listeners' throats. Politicians are among the least popular media subjects, so unless they qualify as one of the three ‘Fs’ (we'll get to them shortly), readers and viewers are likely to turn away in droves.


To be profitable, a commercial media outlet must rank highly in its category, be it TV or radio ratings, newspaper or magazine circulation, or website 'hits' (visits). The higher the ranking, the more it can charge for the advertising  that contributes the lion’s share of commercial media revenue.


Newspaper editors and radio and TV current affairs producers know from experience what grabs public attention, and what doesn’t. In current affairs jargon, topics must be one of the 'three Fs': Fat (diets), Freaks (celebrities) or Finance (money-saving tips).  Check out your favourite current affairs show - you'll find it’s pretty close to the mark!


So don’t worry about media owners trying to influence public opinion. It doesn't work, and they're more interested in making money anyway.



Media journalists are no different from workers in any other industry. Some of them are incompetent, but most of them do a pretty decent job.


Generally they’re not paid a lot, especially those who work for low-circulation publications. Some of them work their way into media management positions, or – like yours truly – tire of the daily grind and head for the greener pastures of corporate communications.


Those who remain have to accept modest remuneration and the unpaid bonus of a byline (“By [insert journalist’s name here]...”).


Good journalists sniff out real news, which was famously defined once as a story that someone doesn’t published. But with media owners slashing staff levels there just isn’t time to follow-up every story lead.


Consequently journalists are spending more and more of their working hours at their workstations, preparing commercial news releases for publication. Sometimes there isn’t even time to rewrite the copy. It’s just cut and pasted into the page, as is.


Some journalists have social agendas, and there are dreamers at both ends of the political spectrum, but in my three decades as a media journalist I never met a colleague who was out to ‘get’ anyone for personal reasons.


When all is said and done, the media follows the public agenda, not the other way around.



Believe it or not, journalists are human beings with the same sensitivities as everyone else. When a journalist wants to interview someone for a story, nine times out of 10 they’ll give a sympathetic hearing providing they get prompt and credible answers to their questions.


Even if the story isn’t all sweetness and light, journalists usually give the benefit of the doubt to people who give direct answers. But a journalist who gets evasive answers is like a shark in bloodied water. And “No comment” is tantamount to saying, “I’m guilty.”


The simple rules for keeping the media on-side are:

  • Always accept interview requests, whether they’re formal or simply a journalist standing within arm’s reach.
  • Answer questions promptly, politely and directly.
  • Thank journalists/editors/producers for any media ‘mentions’ you receive.


See? It isn’t hard at all!


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