Handling Journalists Isn't Very Hard
A short guide to dealing with most of them
Every once in a while, I’m amused to hear a politician or public figure is afraid of the media. They got burned a few times and don’t want to talk anymore. Their staff doesn’t answer press requests and they go online to fulminate about how their boss is getting treated. The pols might promise to do end-runs around reporters entirely—to talk directly to the people—and communicate fully through various social media channels. Or, if they’ve found a favored news source, they’ll speak to them and freeze everyone else out.
All of this is stupid. It’s not stupid because I’m a journalist and I want politicians to talk to me. I’ve reached a point in my career, thankfully, where access isn’t all that crucial. I’ve certainly written about mayors and governors who don’t like me. It’s not personal. A good enough reporter can figure out a way forward. There’s a whole wide world out there and much of it gets livestreamed anyway. Were I, or anyone else, barred from press conferences—Ed Koch once did this to the disfavored—it wouldn’t matter to a great degree. I’d watch on my laptop if I cared enough.
But I’m intrigued by the other side—not because I want to work there, and not because I once spent a strange time trying to turn myself into the people I write about today. I’m intrigued because so many just don’t get it. And it’s not that hard! If you’re a press secretary, an operative, a flack or the actual principal, it’s not hard, over time, to get your way with the media. Members of the media, in turn, must understand how they’re being played. Journalists like getting played more than you might think.
What’s the secret then? How to master the media?