Five misconceptions I find during media training

The curious thing about media training is that so often you come across candidates with strong beliefs based on no evidence at all. They are stunned when they find they are mistaken. Here are some of my favourites.

If you tell the journalist something you shouldn’t have, you can always call up later and say it was off the record. Well, you could, but it won’t do any good. Our job is to say what happened and what’s going on. If you don’t want something to appear, don’t say it. It’s often safest to assume “off the record” doesn’t exist.

You can tell the journalist exactly what to write. No, we don’t work for you. We are accountable to our editors and ultimately our readers, so as long as we are accurate and fair we can say what we want about you. It’s your job to tell us a compelling, accurate story so we have an incentive to publish your version rather than something else.

Journalism is basically PR and marketing. From your point of view that’s probably right, and it’s where you’ll write off any expenditure in your budgets. But if journalism really is just PR then Nigel Farage should sack the lot of us immediately, and I don’t think the profession did President Richard Nixon any service in the early 1970s. By all means there are some product puff stories out there and I’m always amazed that my colleagues feel compelled to write about it every time Apple releases a new phone. Mostly though we remain strictly independent and will report your bankruptcy or your quadrupled profits with equal detachment.

You’re the expert in your business and therefore don’t have to prepare for interviews. I get this from people who would sooner die than go into any business conversation unprepared except those that can be seen or heard by thousands of people. You need to prepare. You know everything about your business but that’s probably too much for my article. You need to consider what you’re hoping for from my readers and what exactly you need to tell them to stimulate that reaction. Then you need to make it compelling enough so that I believe they’d be interested and write it.

Journalists will write what I tell them if I pay them.  A colleague actually heard this once. And if you sponsor an article, which is clearly labelled “advertising feature” or something similar so the readers know what they’re getting, then yes we will, although we’ll still want to write something worth reading. Mostly, though, you can’t buy editorial. The readers value its independence and we will be offended or horrified if you suggest money in exchange for it.

Were any of your misconceptions on that list? Or if you’re a journalist, can you add some?

To find out about Guy Clapperton’s media training offerings, click on this text – and here’s a picture of me tutoring just to prove it. The rather nice jumper is now in Poland I believe, following a press trip, unless anyone happens to have found it…


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