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A Question?...and a Warning! - - JOURNALISTS

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A Question?...and a Warning! - - JOURNALISTS

Old 2nd Apr 2003, 20:14
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A Question?...and a Warning! - - JOURNALISTS

How many of you out there know how to react when approached by a journalist asking questions about your job or employer? Or perhaps more to the point, who has been instructed by their employer on what to say and/or do? And if so, what are those instructions?
As a journo myself I can guess the answer, but as a fellow pilot I suggest everyone here would do well to consider such a likelihood and their own circumstances. Many a well-meaning employee has gotten themselves into deep doodoo with their boss when all they had done was given truthfull answers to reasonable questions. And the helicopter community's recent spat with the Daily Mirror newspaper offers lessons, too.
So let's hear it. And NO, I'm not going to do a knife 'n' fork job on your words, or use them in any way. Those that know me from the Rotorheads Forum know I'm one of the good guys.
Dantruck
(aka Dan Coughlan)
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Old 2nd Apr 2003, 20:16
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As an employee in Aviation ive been told not to speak to press and now as an employer i give the same recommendation to my staff.

Im saving all i know for my book !

rt
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Old 2nd Apr 2003, 20:22
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Dan, virtually all aviation employers (if not all employers in general) have a clause in either their contract of employment, or (in the case of many airlines) their Operations Manual, that expressly prohibits a staff member from talking to the press without permission of a senior manager. This then gives them the ability to dismiss the employee for Gross Misconduct, should they break the rules. Ignorance is no defence as it implies that the employee never read the Ops Manual/contract. BALPA reinforce this, in advice about what to do in the aftermath of an accident.

Apart from which, common sense dictates that it is unwise to speak, on the record, to a journo!

It's really a bit of a no-brainer...
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Old 2nd Apr 2003, 20:54
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Interesting

I speak to journos on most days, but it's about stuff like the latest euro zone jobs data, retail sales, or an ECB rate cut.

They're from the wire services. I trust them and have had the odd beer with them. If The Sun called up asking for stuff, I'd not talk.

You can't say all journos are the same, just like all pilots are not the same.

That said, Raw Data is right in that if you've never met a journo that cold calls you about something sensitive -- clam up.
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Old 2nd Apr 2003, 21:01
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Talking to hacks is a game with rules. Establish the ground rules before conversing on the topic in hand and you should not go wrong. Get clear beforehand what you want from the menu:
1) to be quoted by name
2) to be quoted anonymously
3) to talk on a background basis with no names or quotes.

If you want mixtures of the above, you have to be absolutely explicit when you are going on or off the record.

If you do not establish the ground rules before you speak, many journos will take that to mean that you are speaking on the record (i.e. name and quote). The more unscrupulous among them might not let you express your conditions at the end of the conversation, making it vital to get the rules right before you speak.
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Old 2nd Apr 2003, 21:30
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Don't clam up - reffer up!

Speaking as a PR consultant Id say clamming up helps no one.

A persistent journalist WILL keep calling around your company; it is after all their job. Eventually he or she will get a result, someone either foolish enough or vain enough to talk on a subject when they should not.

If you are called and are not authorised to comment be helpful, take a name, number and commit to calling back, ask for the journalist's deadline and try to find out who else has been spoken to. Then call your PR contact (It's in the manual right?) and pass on the details, get them to call back or provide you with a set of agreed words or if the situation dictates a statement to read.

The key is to manage the process. Refusing to comment, ducking questions, guessing or worse lying are all at best unproductive at worse commercial / professional suicide. Providing timely accurate information will help squash scare mongering and reduce "an industry source" type speculation.

Any company involved in aviation would be well advised to build press relations into their crisis management plan. You should ideally practice implementing this - including involving local journalists - firstly this adds realism for your team, secondly its good training for the journalists (!), they will know where to come, who to expect to talk to etc and finally it's good to build the relationship.
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Old 2nd Apr 2003, 22:22
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Unless your job requires you to interface with organisations outside your own company (eg the press, suppliers of goods for which you authorise expenditure etc.) then you have no business attempting to represent your company (eg talking about what is going on, asking for goods to be supplied etc).

Common sense requires you to check your response back with appropriate mangement BEFORE you enter any agreement. Don't attempt to manage anything - if a journalist approaches you then direct him/her to the PR department, no more, no less. If anyone knows who you work for and is asking you questions there could be any number of reasons why you are being approached, none of which you have any idea about.

Delicate negotiations, personal difficulties etc can all be made much harder by un-informed, if well-meaning, gossip.

No harm in you asking some questions, though. Feed it back to the appropriate people and you may well be helping keep you, your colleagues, your jobs etc. safe.

Journalism must be fascinating and demanding - but do journalists control what happens to the story after it has been given to the editor ? Where do their loyalties lie - to you and yours or their own ?
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 01:08
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I'm a former Fleet Street news editor with 30 years in the game, tabloid and broadsheet, on three continents.
My considered advice to anyone - not just anyone in aviation - who is approached by a journalist is to say nothing. If they persist, tell them to f*** off. Not 'no comment,' they can print that.
No journalist is there for your benefit, or that of your company or industry. Nor are they there to enlighten or educate the public. They are there to profit by creating the most saleable story possible from a set of circumstances, and their presence can never improve any situation. They almost always get almost everything wrong, only occasionally through ignorance, and the broadsheets are worse than the tabloids.
I have many, many friends in journalism and not one of them would honestly disagree with me on this.
As a helicopter instructor I've signed a document which debars me from speaking to the media, and I was happy to do so.
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 01:42
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Good post t'aint natural - sums up the modern journo beautifully.
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 01:51
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Memetic,

There is no way I would do what you suggest. We are told on the pre-line brief that the policy is to tell journalists to call media relations. That's all. That's the company policy and so that's what I would do. Anything more and I could lose my job. Why should I go to the trouble of ringing anyone back and doing all the legwork as you suggest? That's ridiculous. I would never, in a million years, speak to a journalist regarding aviation in any sense.

Lazlo
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 02:32
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T'aint and Soddim...you're right. Of course you are.
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 02:45
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Hello All,

What is the story about the Daily Mirror and the helicopter community? Did they publish an inaccurate story?

Thanks for your answers!

Rwy in Sight
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 07:36
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t'aint natural tells us that for acurate reporting the broadsheets are worse than the tabloids (!!!)

Well, I think that any adult or child of above meagre intelligence will immediately recognise the level of accuracy in this statement, and perhaps detect a serious chip-on-shoulder there too.

Just what does this tell us about the "tainted" levels of honesty in journalism?
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 14:58
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Rwy in Sight

Check out the Rotorhead Forum thread of about a month ago for the full story.
Essentially, a Mirror journo and photographer anonymously hired a light helicopter for a pleasure flight along the London Heli Lanes. The next morning they ran a scare story claiming they could have been terrorists, that their identities and bags were not checked, and that they could easily have over-powered the pilot and flown the craft into any building they wished. The Mirror's front page featured an aerial photo of the Houses of Parliament, the seat of UK government, together with a claim that they hovered there for five minutes.
The Mirror, spurned on by quotes from an exposure-hungry minor politician, also claimed it had exposed a major gap in UK home security. A letter of response sent by the well-regarded operator concerned was ignored.
Dantruck.
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 17:48
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"Never talk to journalists" and "They never know what they're writing about" seem to be two themes here.

I wonder if they are related?

R

(a journalist, who doesn't recognise what he does for a living from the thread so far...)
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 18:30
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t'aint natural

I always thought the fact that junior trainees and burnt out hacks were always desperate for a story was a secret, now everyone knows.
Fos
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 19:11
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Hmmm anti-journo thread on pprune imagine that....

Clearly, it was a complete waste of time spending a week flying a cumulative 16,000 ish miles, interviewing two airline CEOs, one FAA administrator, three Chief Pilots, two test pilots, three design engineers, doing two demonstration flights and four hours of sim time (all in the name of doing some good and...gasp... accurate stories) . When I could have stayed in the office made it all up and then gone to the pub. Bollux. Still after all this time you'd think I'd have worked how 'real' journos do it....

Not defending them in the mainstream though....
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 19:48
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Red face

Ace Rimmer and SLF, discussing another matter this morning with Sick Squid, he coined the expression a "rhinoceresque skin". Being what you need to enjoy PPRuNe.

Journalists seem to be bearing the brunt of it at the moment, but many other professions regularly get picked on and villified by posters.
Lawyers, flight attendants, and pilots (shock horror) come to mind without any effort. It's a fact of PPRuNe life that we always seem to know very well, from the comfort of our computer chair, how the other guy/gal should have done the job.
What's the American term, monday-morning quarterbacks?

That things (in any particular field) are often vastly more complicated in reality than they seem to the unitiated observer is another matter that often gets brushed under the carpet here. Why let the truth get in the way of a high-feel-good-factor-blow-your-top post?

Cultivate the thick skin and keep putting out the truth about how you do your job.
That's my survival tip of the day.
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 19:54
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Lazlo

There is no way I would do what you suggest. We are told on the pre-line brief that the policy is to tell journalists to call media relations. That's all. That's the company policy and so that's what I would do.


If that's the policy for your job role then I cannot disagree with it.

Anything more and I could lose my job. Why should I go to the trouble of ringing anyone back and doing all the legwork as you suggest? That's ridiculous. I would never, in a million years, speak to a journalist regarding aviation in any sense.
But someone needs to actively deal with that call.

Letting the PR team / management spokespersons do this is best - and a good career move! (We PR people are after all expendable if we say the wrong thing - even when that "wrong thing" was agreed in advance with management!)

However I would urge you to call the PR team, even if the manual does not demand it - perhaps it should - as you could provide useful info to them on the journalist's approach to the story - even if it is just a "heads up" that extra 5 minutes can make for a smoother response and a better result for your employer.

My point was that companies need to be prepared to deal with media enquiries - not automatically clam up. Some of the worst PR received by major companies has been the direct result of refusing to talk to the press, being evasive or dishonest.

It's the nature of the press that bad news always lives longer than good, if you make the press drag it out it can become a zombie...

Last edited by Memetic; 3rd Apr 2003 at 20:05.
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Old 3rd Apr 2003, 22:19
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Flaps:
I actually didn't mean it to come out as a rant... it was supposed to be a little tongue in cheek picture (although an accurate representation of the last road trip coupla weeks back) of the lengths that a lot of journos (aviation ones anyway, like I say I don't defend the mainstream types most of there stuff is bollocks ) go to to get an accurate, timely, and readable story...
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