After I delivered a speech a while ago, an aspiring journalist in the audience approached me. She graciously offered her thanks for one particular item I pointed out during my remarks—the need to view reporters with a positive attitude. She noted that, in her newsroom training, a disturbing number of subjects expressed a distinct loathing for reporters.
I’ve witnessed the same phenomenon in many a media training workshop. Some leaders operate under the mistaken assumption that reporters detest them, as well as everyone else they interview. That’s not necessarily so (unless your past transactions have led to heightened tensions). If a reporter writes something negative about your organization, it’s not personal. This is a business deal.
The truth is, the media thrives on conflict, not a like or dislike for your endeavors. Why? Conflict sells newspaper and magazine subscriptions, boosts radio and television ratings, and leads to more online traffic. But that does not mean you, as a news source, need to buy into the notion of conflict. Part of your job is to radiate a positive attitude toward the press.
People who are successful in dealing with the media understand that “opportunity” is a word they must keep uppermost in mind when entering into this “business deal” that we commonly call an interview. You owe it to your organization to seize the opportunity to broadcast your message in a favorable light every time you exchange ideas with a reporter. This tactic will help you stay away from needless conflict.
We need look no further than the front page of our daily newspapers or the lead stories in our local newscasts for proof that conflict drives the media. Congress vs. the president? Check. Oil shale interests vs. environmentalists? Definitely. One set of religious fanatics against another? Yessir.
Rational discourses about the value of one political approach, one oil transmission method, or one religion’s tenets are shunted into the background. The media conversation zeroes in on winners vs. losers—conflict.
Why is conflict the order of the day? Simple. It sells. Readers and viewers love it. Let’s face it, how many of us would sit glued to the TV news night after night if the content consisted of scholarly debates about the arcane aspects of the day’s issues? (Those of you who, like me, regularly watch the PBS NewsHour are excused).
The knowledge that conflict is a main driver for reporters gives you a fuller understanding of where the reporter is coming from and what she needs from you as a source. It also leads to the realization that you need to enter into the business deal with your positive attitude shining.
Remember, reporters love conflict. They don’t hate you.