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Why you *should* talk to the press - and how.

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by Trebor, Sep 8, 2007.

  1. Trebor

    Trebor Senior Member

    Feb 15, 2003
    This is in response to "I was just contacted by the media," but I thought it deserved it's own thread.

    I used to work as a reporter (radio and newspaper) and I have a degree in Journalism. I'm also a shooter, instuctor, and RKBA advocate, so I have a different perspective then most of you.

    You guys seem focused EXCLUSIVELY on the risks that the reporter will "twist my words around" and that he's basically "out to get you" so he can write an anti-gun story.

    Yes, that can and sometimes does happen. But, if you just focus on the worst-case scenario, you are missing out on a lot of opportunities to get out the pro-RKBA message.

    If you are just "Joe average" gun owner, you can always decide to never talk to reporters, and nothing much is lost. But, if you are the president of your local club, or very active in local RKBA politics, or own the local gun store, or are a local instructor, you may be approached by a reporter and if you can get across a pro-RKBA message, you should.

    There are ways to manage the risks and ways to get your message across at the local level. If you can develop some relationships with reporters at your local newspaper, radio, or TV station, you can become their "go to guy" when they need someone from the pro-gun side for a story. That gives you many opportunities to get out a pro-RKBA message even if it's just by coming across as a credible, intelligent, person who is a "good face" for local gun owners.

    First off, at the local level, the biggest problem isn't with "reporter bias" it's really with "reporter ignorance." Most reporters have no first hand knowledge or experience with guns and only know what they've learned from the movies, TV news, and other mass media. (The national level media is a whole different thing and there is, obviously, a culture of disinformation for pro-gun control purposes at that level).

    If a local reporter wants to talk to you, this is your opportunity to actually educate them on the realities of firearms and gun ownership. If you do it right, they won't even realize what you've done.

    The key is to be accessible, be personable, stay on message, and realize that your goal is to just get across the factual info and be a good representive for gun owners, not to try to "win the argument."

    In most cases, a local reporter is just looking to get another source or perspective for his story. He's not looking to do a hatchet job on anybody or deliberately try to make anyone look bad. Mistakes in the final story are going to be due to ignorance or misunderstanding, not malice.

    One thing to realize is that not everyone is going to be comfortable talking to the press or be able to do so effectively. You do need to be reasonably confident and articulate and willing to take the risk that you might look bad in the end.

    Here's some tips for working with the press:

    Be polite and professional. If nothing else, present yourself as a good image of how you want gun owners to be seen. This may be an opportunity to challenge any sterotypes or preconceived notions the reporter has. (Leave the camo at home, unless it's hunting season and your talking about hunting).

    Be personable. Not everyone is "warm and fuzzy," but you want to come across at least as "friendly" not "prickly" or "paranoid."

    Realize that EVERYTHING you say, even in casual conversation or as a joke, is fair game to the reporter. It's NOT "Nothing counts until the OFFICIAL INTERVIEW starts." Instead any part of your conversation can be used from the time you first talk to them to arrange the meeting until the last time you talk to them before the story is written. This is what can trip you up if you aren't careful. Just be aware you are "on camera" the whole time and don't say anything you wouldn't want repeated in the newspaper the next day.

    The only exception is if you specifically say something is "off the record" and the reporter agrees. Really, I can't think of any time you'd need to go off the record in most circumstances. But, those are the magic words if you need to tell them something that you don't want in print.

    Treat the reporter as a competent professional. This is where the ideas of "taping the interview for your own safety" and "asking to see the story before it's in print" can bite you in the ass.

    If you tape the interview, you're just telling the reporter that you don't trust him and are lookng for something to use against him if you don't like the story. It comes across as kinda paranoid, and that's not the impression you want to give. Even if they misquote you, what are you going to do with that tape anyway? Sell it to the local TV station? Not likely. Even if you think it would help you win a libel case, the odds that they misquoted you to the extent that it's libelous are so very low.

    Asking to see a copy ahead of time is not as bad, but still questions their ability. Most reporters won't let you see it anyway and most newsrooms have a specific policy against it as well.

    What you can do is say something like, "You can see what a complicated subject this is. Did I do a good job explaining XXXX?" and then go over the main point you wanted to get across in slightly different words. By rephrasing the topic slightly you give the reporter another chance to understand the message.

    Let the reporter know they can contact you when they are writing if they need to clarify anything you said. Make it sound like you didn't trust *your* abilty to communicate the info, instead of questioning *their* ability to comprehend the info.

    Stay focused on the topic and on the message you want to send. Don't get sidetracked or digress on other issues. When the reporter contacts you, ask what the story is about. Then when you talk to them, stick to that topic.

    If you are the club president of a campus firearms club, talk about the club and it's members how it fits into the campus scene. Don't talk about the DC vs. Heller court case or a new AWB or the Virginia Tech shootings.

    If you *are* the president of a college gun club, and the reporter asks how you can promote guns to college students after Virginia Tech, just say something like, "That really has nothing to do with the topic we are talking about. Our club is about the safe and responsible use of firearms" and don't let them sidetrack you.

    One of the best ways you can develop some good relationships with reporters and get your message across is by contacting them first. If your club is hosting a special event, say a Youth Shoot, or a Women on Target event, try to get some media to attend. Send out press releases ahead of time and follow up by targeting some editors and reporters individually. Events like these are really the best chance you have to get some pro-RKBA publicity.

    If possible, try to get the reporters to shoot. We had a female reporter shoot at our last Women On Target event and even though she wrote that she was "Scared of guns" the article was pretty positive and got us some publicity. I've had people tell me they plan to attend our next event just because they saw the article.

    If your an instructor, invite a local reporter out to your class sometime. Look at the features section for ideas of who to contact or contact the features editor.

    Now, there are times when you don't want to talk to reporters. The most obvious one is when you *know* this particular reporter is rapidly anti-gun. I wouldn't return a phone call to Mitch Albolm, for instance. Another example would be right after some tragedy involving a firearm. If your a self-defense instructor, then maybe, but if you're the president of your local campus shooting club or you own a local gun shop, I'd stay out of the press in those cases.

    The last thing I'll say is that you really have no control over how the final article will appear. All you can control is how you present yourself and what you say.

    If there are honest mistakes, contact the reporter privately and point them out, if they are worth mentioning.

    If the article was factual and fair, even if you disagree with some of the viewpoints, contact the reporter and thank him for doing a good job. He'll be likely to remember you the next time.

    If they distorted your words or took them out of context in an obvious effort to make you look bad, complain. Contact the editor and explain that you were manipulated, misrepresented, or lied to (whatever is appropriate) and ask for a correction or clarification. No matter what you think, there are professional ethics in the newsroom, and outright distortion is a violation.

    Remember, your local newspaper and other media are you best way to reach the majority of the people out there who are really uninformed or unengaged in gun related issues. It's those undecided folk in the middle who we need to tilt our way.

    If all the pro-RKBA people are too scared to talk to the reporters, the only messages that are going to get out are the messages from the anti-gunners. Don't let that happen.
  2. Lucky

    Lucky Senior Member

    Jul 12, 2005
    Calgary, near Rocky Mountains - Canada
    Trick I saw, not just for talking to press, but to anyone, is to not answer the question they ask. Instead you answer the question you WISH they had asked. Politicians do it ALL the time, and your answer will resemble a normal response to their question.
  3. Regolith

    Regolith Participating Member

    Jul 2, 2007
    Nevada & Oregon
    Lucky: it can also come across as dissembling (which is what it is, actually), and can be seen as disingenuous to anyone who's watching for it. I know I can get fairly erked when I hear a point blank question asked of a politician (or anyone else for that matter) and the answer has nothing to do with the question. About the only time dissembling of that nature should be used is if the question is a deliberate set-up, made to get an answer that makes you look bad no matter what you say.
  4. Feanaro

    Feanaro Senior Member

    Mar 29, 2003
    Leeds, AL.
    Another thing to keep in mind: if you are in a "quotable position"(head of a shooting club/2nd amend organization, gun store owner), you may not be able to refuse. "X refused to comment" rarely looks good. The threat of printing this can cow many government and business officials into saying something, anything. "Would you like me to print that you had nothing to say on these very important issues, Mister Politicio?" There's always the chance that you will say something stupid but that's why you should be prepared.
  5. Dr. Dickie

    Dr. Dickie Participating Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Jacksonville Beach, FL
    Actually, it is both.
    I worked for 15 years on the radio so I too have some insight into these reporter types. It is bias, it is ignorance. They have ignorance of the subject, so they fill the gaps with their bias. If it is radio or television (never did newspapers) you have to answer with 10 second sound bites--that is a tough order with a complex question like guns, especially when the question hurled at you is ripe with bias and ignorance. The trick is, forget the bias if you can and answer the question the reporter tried to ask, not necessarily the actual question he asked--as you can not overcome their ignorance in the time alloted, nor will they appreciate the education.

    Let's be realistic :neener:
    Remember, reporters are humans, and humans are lazy. They want what they want, and they want it quick and easy. Their bias comes out primarily because they are too lazy to do the work to learn. So, they fall back on what everyone else says. Make it simple and as easy as you can, or your words will not see the light of day. They like to pretend that they have to keep it simple because the readers and viewers are simple, but the fact is it is simply easier to do that than write something that informs and entertains (it must entertain, as that is a must in this attention deficit age).
    Good stuff Trebor. Hearts and minds one at a time (the real fight for gun control--I want to keep control of mine).
  6. Guntalk

    Guntalk Active Member

    Jan 20, 2003
    Excellent discussion.

    Another tool to have available is the "bump and run."

    When asked a question that's off topic (and YOU decide what the topic is that you are there to discuss), use the bump and run.

    If you agreed to the interview to talk about the shooting program at the local range, and the question is about a criminal shooting which just happened, rather than say "I don't want to talk about that," try this approach.

    "No doubt the police will be investigating that, but here at the Central Shooting Club, we work with young people to introduce them to shooting in a safe environment, and we even have one young shooter who wants to try out for the Olympics."
  7. Thin Black Line

    Thin Black Line Senior Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Amerikan Twilight Zone
    I've talked to the press a few times over the years --not just RKBA, but some
    other issues as well. Basic rule is know the slant of your local press and act
    accordingly. If you're in unfriendly territory, keep your answers short and to
    the point. If the question put to you is going to skew an answer in a way
    that is not supportive, it's always ok to ask the reporter to rephrase his/her
    question. Simply asking them "What was that?" will often get the same
    question repeated exactly the same way back at you. It's ok to ask them
    directly "can you re-phrase that?" or "I'm not sure what you're asking, can
    you explain that to me?". This comes off really well from the grandfatherly
    type of interviewee. However, all too often it's someone in their 20s or
    early 30s who's a bit of a type A and has something to prove. In that case
    it's ok to slow down, take a drink of water, check your pulse and breath
    slowly before answering the question.

    Imagery in the media is often more important than the words. During the
    90s, anything RKBA-related was often coupled with negative militia agitprop.
    We could have 100 people out on the street with signs in support of CCW
    pre-emption, whatever, and the camera always seemed to find the one
    guy who looked like he just rolled in from a MOM meeting --camos and all.
    I have no problem w/ camos, but the atmosphere at the time especially
    where we were in a "liberal university town" instantly went to the paper or
    the nightly news and fueled the propaganda machine that was just as
    actively working against us both in RKBA and hunting. We instituted a
    "no-camo" rule when it came to public activity since the general public had
    no clue anyway that wearing mossy oak in November in the midwest was not
    an indicator of terrorist activity!
  8. 1982fxr

    1982fxr New Member

    Aug 1, 2007
    Trebor: Thanks for the information. You raised several points I hadn't considered before.
  9. Blackbeard

    Blackbeard Participating Member

    Jun 16, 2007
    Behind the Daley Curtain (IL)
    It's been my experience that journalists, at least the ones that make it to national prominence, don't write about things that happened. They write dramatic tales and use select facts to pepper their story with a bit of truth. Any facts that contradict their tale are glossed over or ignored completely.

    Most stories they write follow the framework of:

    A) Here's what happened somewhere,
    B) Here's how it might kill your children,
    C) Here's who to vote for to stop it from killing your children.

    So your story will probably be:

    A) Here are some guys who like guns
    B) Guns kill children
    C) Vote for X, who will stop guns from killing your children.
  10. pax

    pax Mentor

    Dec 24, 2002
    Washington state
    What an excellent post, Trebor. Thanks for putting it up here. :)

  11. xjchief

    xjchief Member

    May 25, 2007
    People's Banana Republic of Hawaii
    I disagree. Dealing with the press should be left to professionals who know how to deal with them. Would you talk to a judge without a lawyer? Same concept.
  12. Trebor

    Trebor Senior Member

    Feb 15, 2003

    We had *67* women show up for our Women on Target event we held today.

    Our previous record was 18. Why the increase? What made the difference was that we had a reporter attend our last event in July and she wrote a story about shooting a gun for the first time. It ran in the special features supplment for the local paper. My wife ran the registration table and asked everyone how they heard about the event. At least half of the women specifically mentioned that article and how much fun it made shooting look.

    Tell me again why we shouldn't talk to the press? If we "leave it to the professionals" we're never going to get our message out.

    We probably gained several new club members today and I *KNOW* we've gained several new shooters, most of whom had never touched a gun before. I had college age women with no previous shooting experience asking me how they could buy a gun and if they could join the club. I think that's worth the risk.
  13. xjchief

    xjchief Member

    May 25, 2007
    People's Banana Republic of Hawaii
    Yes, but aren't you a professional? I'm assuming that you spent some time talking to the reporter... I'm not saying to shut them out, only that I think it's a good idea to refer them to someone who has experience in dealing with them- a guy like you.

    BTW, congrats on the increase. It's always nice to see more people getting involved.
  14. Trebor

    Trebor Senior Member

    Feb 15, 2003
    The reporters never talked to me after the initial phone call to find out the details of the event. Although I was the coordinator, and sent out the press releases and was the initial contact, since this was a "Women on Target" event they naturally wanted to talk to the women involved.

    At the last event the reporter worked on the range with both myself and the female club member who was also doing instruction for the event. The reporter only interviewed the female club member and the final story came out quite well.

    At this event, the reporter interviewed my wife (who was running the registration area) and other female club members and female participants. None of those people are "professionals" in terms of dealing with the media.

    We'll see how this story turns out. Based on what my wife said, I think it will be just as positive as the last story and will get our club, and the shooting sports, some good publicity.
  15. Trebor

    Trebor Senior Member

    Feb 15, 2003
    The *national* media is a whole other beast. Notice that I'm focusing on dealing with the *local* media. There is a heck of a lot of difference between the local newspaper, radio, or TV station and, say, CBS NEWS.

    If you think back about the stories about guns that have really set up gun owners to look bad, you'll probably remember that most of those were national level stories. I have no doubt about the outright bias and "disinformation" campaign being conducted at the national level.

    But, if we focus on the *local* level, that is where we can be heard and where we can make a difference. That's where we can recruit new shooters and change public opinion in our communities. That's the fight we should fight.
  16. newman32

    newman32 New Member

    Jun 5, 2003
    Great topic - thanks for posting it!

    Here's a question. This "off the record" concept - if something is said "off the record" and the reporter agrees to it, but then goes and prints it anyway, what happens then? Is there some recourse, or is it more of an honor thing?
  17. Rembrandt

    Rembrandt Senior Member

    Feb 1, 2003
    Some years ago our Hunter Education group was approached by the Local ABC-TV affiliate to film our youth Hunter Ed training program. Unfortunately the Jonesboro school shootings had occured the day before. The TV reporter let it slip that ABC-NEWS (Corporate) was encouraging their local stations to get coverage, thus linking Hunter Ed with a crime story. I declined the interview and told them we would gladly do a piece on Hunter Education at a later time, but felt the timing and linking this crime to our efforts did a disservice to the Hunting community. They never came back to do a good story about us.....what do suppose that says about their agenda.

    Trusting that someone in the editing room is going to use your comments in context is foolish. Ask yourself this...."Do you have more to gain, or more to loose?" by doing an interview, especially when the news producer is attempting to link good actions with that of a crime.
  18. rbernie
    • Contributing Member

    rbernie Senior Elder

    Jan 21, 2004
    Norra Texas
    A fine post, Trevor, and a good reminder that we are always ambassadors for our hobby/vocation.

    But in all fairness, the previous thread being referenced wasn't about inviting a friendly local reporter to an woman's shooting event. It was about being contacted for a dialogue (verbal, and then written) by a reporter working for a publication known to have an editorial bias.
  19. Trebor

    Trebor Senior Member

    Feb 15, 2003
    It's a professional ethics/honor thing.

    Seriously though, when would you want to go "off the record?" Going off the record is for when a source has info they can't share officially, but they think the reporter should know anyway. Often it's just an excuse to get the reporter looking in a certain area so the reporter can then develop the material "on their own" and use it anyway in a way that can't be traced back to the original source.

    When you are dealing with the local media, just be aware that *anything* you say is fair game,unless you *specifically* say it's "off the record." But, like I said, I can't really think of many situations where you'd want to go off the record anyway.
  20. Trebor

    Trebor Senior Member

    Feb 15, 2003
    True enough. But, their were plenty of posters who said essentially, "Never talk to the media under any circumstances." That's what I'm trying to address.

    And I think the original request for more info about that campus shooting club was a pretty innoucous request. They contacted the club president and asked for more info about the club. Here's his chance to say who the membership is, what the club goals are, and maybe have a chance to recruit some new members.

    Of course, a lot depends on the focus of the final story, but I can't see any of that basic background about the club is going to be twisted against the club. Even if they write a negative story about the club, just stating the membership numbers, goals, etc, doesn't really give anyone ammo to use against the club.

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