You’ve probably suspected for years that the media doesn’t care about you, and you’re probably right. But there are some things the media does care about, and it’s probably a good idea that we all know what those things are. Here’s a handy bunch of information about what the media does and doesn’t care about:
The media doesn’t care:
1. The media doesn’t care that you moved here for the rural quiet. It was much quieter here before your house was built on the vacant wooded lot next door to the editor’s house.
2. The media doesn’t care that the new development that you don’t like is in violation of your town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan. You’re lucky if the media knows what a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan is, and you can be reasonably well-assured no one in the media has read that 400-plus page document. Half of the recommendations in an LWRP are often inconsistent with the other half of the recommendations in it anyway.
3. Don’t ever complain to the local media about the business practices of one of their advertisers. They don’t care. The advertisers pay their bills. You don’t.
4. Don’t ever invite anyone in the local media to go to an event and then ask them to pay the full ticket price. They are used to going everywhere for free and they believe they are entitled to this treatment everywhere they go. If you try to shake them down for money, they will mock you mercilessly the moment your back is turned, and they won’t ever forget the day you treated them like a normal paying customer.
5. Don’t ever complain to members of the media when they misspell a common word. They are above worrying about misspelling common words. There is usually one woman on staff who has been in charge of reading every word in every issue of the newspaper for the past 30 years and it’s her fault that word was misspelled because it was her job to catch the mistake. If you complain to the media, they will make her life hell for the rest of the day. You wouldn’t want to do that to her, would you?
6. If you are in error in accusing the media of misspelling a common word, you’d best delete all public references to you that can be found anywhere in the world. If the media can find a photograph of you (and they usually can), they will pin it to their dartboard for at least a year, or they will write your name all over the foosball in the foosball machine they’ve set up in the middle of the newsroom and bat you around mercilessly. There is no more sure-fire way to end up with your complaints filed away in the morgue with all their dead 50-year-old newsprint.
Now, there is some good news. There are some sure-fire ways to get the media’s attention. One of the best ways to get the media’s attention is to say you’re being poisoned by something in your immediate environment — this could be anything from telephone poles to the trucks that drive past your house to radiation from satellites in orbit around the earth (local news reporters wish these satellites were in our immediate environment, because it would make our lives more interesting).
You could even say you are being poisoned by aliens and probably get some traction. This is because poison is both a volatile verb and an eye-catching noun. It also only has six letters, which fits very well into any headline format.
The good news about telling the media you’re being poisoned is that you can tell them anything about the ways you’re being poisoned and there’s a good chance they’ll believe you. Very few news reporters have any training in toxicology and even fewer know anything about pathways that poisons take when entering your body.
Just don’t tell them you’re being poisoned by the media, because this is an absolute non-starter when talking with reporters.
Sometimes this can backfire on the media. Once, back in the dark ages, I received an assignment that involved one of those big groundwater-cleaning towers that you see behind just about every gas station around here, if you’re looking.
Those towers are placed there to help the volatile organic compounds from gasoline that leaked in the groundwater vaporize into the air. The gases then rise above the level where you and I are breathing and supposedly no longer pose a public health threat.
It just happened that this gas station was across the street from an African-American neighborhood and my editor thought for some reason this would make a good story. I knocked on one door, directly across the street.The woman who answered was pretty skeptical.
“What are we being poisoned with now?” she asked me, rolling her eyes. I explained why I’d been sent there. She told me that she was a hydrologist and she wasn’t worried about the gas station thingamajig and she had public water anyway, so it wasn’t any threat to her.
“I really don’t want to have any part in the narrative you’re constructing about my life,” she said, and then shut the door. I sat down on the curb looking at that gas station, realizing that the public was on to us.
“We’re a sham,” I thought of us. “We’re just about as trustworthy as Congress and we have the approval rating to prove it.”
I threw my pen in the gutter and walked away. I guess a good reporter would have investigated who would be poisoned by the ink in that pen in the gutter, but I was just fed up.
I never wanted to be a reporter. I just wanted to put food on the table for my family, just like everybody else. I’d have been better off joining the crew on a wicked tuna boat, where everyone tells you what they really believe and no one hides behind high-minded ideas about the public trust, whatever the hell that is.
Now around here, the local media likes engaging in an annual intermural contest held by this organization called NYPA. Early each spring, this group holds a three-day convention in Saratoga Springs, where members of the media do what they do when they’re home going to town board meetings, only their wives don’t know about it: They drink plenty of liquor and play games that involve using the muscles of their buttocks to fling quarters through the hallways of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s getaway spa.
If Franklin Roosevelt had known this would someday happen, he likely never would have considered a career in public service and we would probably all be speaking German, digging ditches and eating government cheese today instead of living in the land of the free.
Anyhow, if you want to get the media’s attention, the very best thing to do is to study the guidelines for this media contest, which involves a series of dozens of self-congratulatory awards for things like “coverage of agriculture,” “best news series,” “best real estate section” and “best use of social media,” and pitch them a story idea that fits into one of these categories.
Of course, the best use of social media is to post videos of cats doing funny things, and these awards are the perfect catnip ball for an industry hell-bent on self-congratulation. The only catch is, it can get pretty pricey to place an entry in each of the more than 60 categories of awards. But, with more than 4,000 entries into the contest each year, it’s best for newspapers to just pay their entry fees, no matter the cost, in the hopes that they might just win points in a few categories that no one else can afford to enter.
I hope these tips will help some of you out there develop a better relationship with the local media. They never worked for me, but I’m a perpetual cynic. Good luck!