Media Minute: You’re the villain

Media Minute: You’re the villain
By Jerry Brown, APR

Hoodie with a blank faceWhat do you do if the media decide you’re the villain and don’t give you a fair shake when it comes to your side of a story?

Tell it anyway if it’s important for you to do so. But don’t rely only on the media to make your case.

Like a lot of Americans, I have strong feelings about the Trayvon Martin shooting. But I’m not going to join that fray here. It’s beyond the scope of the Media Minute. And I wouldn’t change any minds among those of you who’ve chosen up sides.

But I will say I’m concerned that news coverage of the incident has become so polarized. Much of it has turned into advocacy for one side or the other. Both sides have complained about not getting a fair shake from the media. And both sides are right on that score.

The Trayvon Martin story’s gotten enough coverage and discussion that anyone who really wants to can sort through the various versions to come up with a pretty good approximation of what happened.

But most stories don’t get that kind of coverage. And that means it can be pretty hard to get anyone to pay attention to your version if the media decides you’re the villain.

What should you do if you find yourself in that situation? I don’t know of any one-size-fits-all answers to that question. But here are some suggestions.

  • With blogs, email and the social media, you have the option to reach out directly to the audiences important to you. If you feel it’s important and worth doing, use those tools to share your side of the story with them.
  • If the story warrants it, consider enlisting third-party advocates to tell / support your side of the story. But don’t keep a story alive that’s ready to die naturally. Keeping a story alive with repeated denials or rebuttals is a common mistake.
  • If you feel you have a strong case to make, schedule a meeting with the editor and/or editorial board of the news organization(s) involved. Most of these meeting don’t work. So, don’t bother unless you have a strong case and have factual documentation backing up your side of the story. The fact that you don’t like the way a story was written because it didn’t take your side isn’t a good reason for scheduling a meeting.
  • Consider keeping quiet. “Negative” stories often have less reach and less impact than the parties involved believe. Waging a counterattack may simply spread the bad news.

Here’s the bottom line: If the media portray you as the villain of a story, you’ll have a hard time convincing the rest of us that you aren’t. If it’s really important, though, it’s worth a try. But pick your fights. Don’t argue about every “negative” story. And don’t base your argument on “the media always focus on bad news.” It’s a losing argument.

And ask yourself this important question: Is there a good reason why you were identified as the villain? Is there something for you to learn — and change?

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

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2 Responses to “Media Minute: You’re the villain”

  1. John Wren Says:

    When I was in graduate school, it was my privilege to help Karl Rove lead a couple of sessions of the College Republican workshop for campus organizers, part of which included how to respond to attacks by the press, student newspapers and others.

    Karl suggested that whether there was substance to the attack or not, once it was in print an immediate response was a good idea. If true, accept it as such and detail what corrective actions have been taken. If false, deny it, offer proofs. From then on if a question is raised, just refer to this release saying, “that issue has been fully addressed.” This prevents a continuing dialog that gives the story continued life. When I was working for the old Denver Symphony and the old Sentinel Newspapers here in Denver I had the chance to try this technique, and it seemed to minimize the bad news. Mistakes are made by everyone, when they are discovered, especially, what matters is what you do next.

  2. Jerry Brown Says:

    Thanks for your comment, John. I especially like the closing sentence: “Mistakes are made by everyone . . . what matters is what you do next.”

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