Your Organization Hates Reporters#2-Why I Wrote “Success With the Media”

by admin on August 17, 2016

Success with Media_Book front cover

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Retired national award-winning spokesperson for state and national organizations. Graduate-Johns Hopkins University.

Your Organization Hates Reporters#2-Why I wrote “Success With the Media”

The Smoke Blowers-Second in a series of articles on organizations and the media.


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 second in a series based on my book, “Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization” (available from Amazon) 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?

Do We Trust the Media?

Many within any organization, and most of the public (per polling data) don’t like or trust the media. How do you introduce the subject when all people want to know is how to survive a media interview without destroying their career?

But knowing how to “handle” a media interview doesn’t help much when a key person gives you misinformation or your boss is talking to the same reporter without telling you or your organization doesn’t provide you with the data you need.

I can train people as to great interviewing skills but watch them crash and burn when they are misinformed, stymied or discouraged by the people they work with.

Organizational Relations

When we address media relations and interviewing skills during a crisis, or when an organization mishandles news inquiries and subsequently crashes and burns, we wonder why they could be so stupid. When we dig deep, we often discover mistrust, misunderstandings and miscommunications between hierarchy and spokespeople based on organizational fear of the media. It happens all the time.

Picked Apart

Members of the media realized a long time ago that organizations can be easily picked apart. It’s not that difficult to do. The function or establishment you represent does not matter. Many organizations are terrible at handling or responding to new and aggressive media inquiries. There are plenty of businesses that have done nothing wrong but are incapable of defending themselves. Their response is woefully slow and inadequate. They give the media (and everyone else) the impression that they have something to hide. Their lack of response allows detractors (every organization has them) to speak endlessly and often. Social media blows up and politicians chime in looking to score points with the media and the public.

The Society of Smoke Blowers

There is a well-recognized society known to public affairs professionals. I have caustically referred to mine as the “Society of Smoke Blowers.” All public affairs professionals joke about staff who get on their knees and proceed to blow smoke up each other’s derrieres until they are convinced of something that’s not true. The Society of Smoke Blowers exists in every organization (including the media).

The first thing you have to do when bad news hits is to keep your perspective. We within the organization tend to internalize events. We tend to dwell upon the negative as if every reporter and every citizen remember every event forever. They do not. New and breaking stories will quickly replace your “crisis.” Remember this and hold onto it as you deal with the latest issue.

How you handle the current event, as negative as it may be, may even enhance your reputation rather than detract from it, as long as the organization has an honorable reputation and does not do anything stupid. This is what I call, “taking a hit.”

Taking A Hit

“Taking a hit,” means not getting flustered over the current negative event.

“Taking a hit,” means not giving in to the Smoke Blowers.

“Taking a hit” means that you have the ability not to make a negative situation any worse than what it has to be.

Those of us who represent cumbersome agencies take painful pride in our ability to “take a hit.” We recognize that negative news, like the sunrise, will happen. We fully understand that we do not represent the United Way, the successful local professional sports team or the Sisters of Charity. We know how to “take a hit” because we understand that our objective is to win the war, not the battle.

Battles are an everyday part of our lives. Negative news happens. Organizations can crumble over negative news. I’ve seen establishments put themselves at risk because they overreact to bad news or they do not react at all or they take forever to craft a statement.

Rather than simply admit that they were at fault (or at least partially at fault) and apologize to the public for their indiscretions, they fuss and fume and fight with the media. Too many top executives feel that their honor or performance has been questioned and will not allow public affairs professionals to put out the fire. They make things much worse than they have to be and then wonder why they are the recipients of widespread negative news coverage.

“Taking a hit” often means that we acknowledge the problem and that the organization will implement measures to fix it.

Move Quickly

I’m not suggesting that organizations take blame for something unfolding where they are not sure of the facts. Yes, it takes time to assess and investigate. Telling the media that you take the situation very seriously and that you are moving as quickly as possible to gather all the facts is fine.

Just move as quickly as humanly possible and be careful not to deny what you do not know.

Yes, I understand that some organizations are unfairly implicated in issues that may not be of their making. If you are sure of your position, then fight back (but please remember the Smoke Blowers).

I do understand that some reporters are unfair. I also understand that we exist in a world that assigns blame regardless as to justification.

Defend yourself if you are truly blameless (strategies forthcoming). You have every right to point out the positives and to make your case to the media and the public. You need to establish your primary communication objectives, and hammer away at these at every available turn.

But you do not have the right to unjustifiably endanger your organization by using inappropriate means to justify your position. I also understand that the main purpose of the spokesperson is to make sure that the organization and its leadership and its mission continues, thus winning the war.

Saving Leadership

Few organizations thrive through constant turnover of senior staff. The confidence that accompanies long-term executives and their multi-year missions are often vital to the well being of the organization and the public it serves. In my 35 years of talking to the media, I have never lost an agency head to bad publicity.

I do not expect all readers to fully accept the implications suggested by making sure that the “leadership” continues. I assume that many would feel that a bunch of bloated government or corporate bureaucrats are hardly worth saving. Sometimes, a change in top leadership is good for the organization, many would assert.

Maybe, but I would disagree most of the time. Assuming that the “leadership” is made up of honorable people with the necessary skills, the organization often takes on their personality and goals. Research is full of examples of successful initiatives that could not be replicated because the key factor was different management.

If you choose all-out battle as your philosophy for every media problem that comes along, then you are going to lose, and you’re going to endanger management. The media and the public have little tolerance for those who cannot acknowledge at least partial responsibility, however unfairly you think that the burden is assigned.

A Supportive Bureaucracy

All of this takes a supportive bureaucracy that understands good media relations and the role the spokesperson plays.

But after talking to spokespeople representing many organizations, it’s clear that organizational relations and perceptions are our biggest stumbling block.

Forthcoming articles will examine the process 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

The first article in the series is available at

Contact me at



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