Lying to the Media. Your Organization Hates Reporters # 4-Why I wrote “Success With the Media”
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Thirty-five years of award-winning media relations, over fifty national and regional awards.
Fourth in a series of articles on organizations and the media.
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After thirty-five years of talking to reporters while representing national and state governments, and after a lifetime of conversing with spokespeople from all sectors of society, I believe that most feel their organizations are their biggest impediment to beneficial news coverage and harmonious media relations.
How many times have we heard, “I hate the media. I mistrust reporters and I’m not going to cooperate with those scumbags?”
This is the forth in a series based on my book, “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization” (Amazon-https://amzn.com/151948965X) to examine the dynamics of organizational relations and what it means when the media comes calling.
In short, what does it take to keep your boss and coworkers from sabotaging an issue and build good media relations?
“Success With the Media” is a groundbreaking book that covers all aspects of media and organizational relations.
In this article, we examine the perception of dishonesty, lying, and how the media and public view your comments.
The Perception of Dishonesty
The last major point deals with dishonesty or the perception of dishonesty. I have told friends in the media that they are the most suspicious people (beyond street cops or corporate auditors) I have ever met. You could have a reputable organization engaged in an honest discussion of issues and have the whole thing blow up because of “fumbles” that lead reporters to wonder about the purpose or motives of your actions.
An example is the spokesperson taking several hours or days to respond to a simple media inquiry. It leaves the reporter wondering if you have something to hide. Having precise lines of communication and knowing your subject matter well go a long way in combating perceptions of dishonesty. Honorable organizations make honorable mistakes. Honorable mistakes are survivable. What is not survivable is purposeful dishonesty.
It is inconceivable to me that there are people (in all organizations according to veteran spokespeople) who advocate lying to the media.
Some will criticize me for the use of the word “lie.” In their minds, they are simply defending themselves against an unscrupulous media.
Regardless of how it is said and how it is offered, all lies remain lies. Unless you enjoy the prospect of watching an entire organization implode, avoid dishonesty at all cost.
This is said with the full realization that many who read this book will disregard my advice. It amazes me (and many veteran spokespeople) as to how many people think that they can get away with lying.
I guarantee that the media will, in time, discover any purposeful attempt to lie your way through any situation. I guarantee that you will place yourself, senior staff and maybe your entire organization in grave jeopardy (remember all those disgruntled employees?).
The media and the public will forgive a mistake (I’ve made many). The media and the public will probably understand the contradictions of multiple spokespeople during an emergency or breaking news.
They will understand if you quickly point out your own mistakes, apologize for them, and then state the correct the position. But you can avoid all of this by examining your lines of communication, being prepared in advance and keeping your spokespeople to a minimum.
But for media that have experienced negative events with an endless series of organizations and witnessed the missteps that many make while trying to defend themselves, their cynicism seems to have no end. That distrust in many ways is perfectly justifiable after witnessing organizations being clumsy or disingenuous.
A Very Basic Decision
All members of the media must make a very basic decision when covering a story, how vigorously to pursue the issue and your organization. How many stories? How many front-page articles? How many editorials? Do they “go for the throat” or do they “slice it right down the middle?”
Decide to lie or mislead, and you have made their decision for them.
It is amazing to me how fair the media can be if you approach the negative event not only honestly but without fear. This is best done through the reputation you have built for yourself over time.
The bottom line behind this philosophy is the fact that you are an honorable person doing an honorable job, and if you have made a mistake, you acknowledge it and offer solutions.
If you can legitimately build such a reputation for you and your organization, then you have created the best possible defense, the respect of the media and the public.
Veteran spokespeople told me a long time ago that it makes a great deal of sense to think through these issues, to be prepared and to keep your lines of communication crisp, clean, open and honest.
How do you ensure that the circumstances I described do not happen to you and your organization? The chapters that follow will guide you.
Forthcoming articles will examine the organizational process further and offer suggestions for success. But be forewarned, there is little you can do to get people to change their minds or opinions about the media. There must be an examination of the process and pragmatism regarding what’s best for the organization.
For more information on good organizational and media relations, see “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization,” available from Amazon at https://amzn.com/151948965X
See my website at http://leonardsipes.com for the entire series.
Contact me at [email protected].