Being media-savvy

The latest fiasco over Ms Lee Bee Wah and the removal (sacking, termination of contract of, removal, whatever they’ll call it) of the table tennis team manager for the Singapore team is not only a grim reminder of timely release of information, people management skills but also of media-savviness.

Singapore being such a small place, it’s only a matter of time before you’re approached for an interview by the press. You need to be aware of how to deal with the press when they come talk/hound/hassle/cajole you.

As an ex-journo, I have two pieces of advice on this, depending on who you are.

1. For the general, unsuspecting public.

Don’t say a single thing. Why? You’re not sure who you are dealing with or how your quotes will be used. The older generation was afraid of talking to reporters largely because they thought the Gahmen would come after them. Well, today I’m more wary of how my quotes will be taken out of context by some intern. Of course, very senior journos tend to be more trustworthy as they know better than to screw their newsmakers. 

I was once interviewed myself for a TV news interview on how legal betting would affect soccer matches here. I did it for fun, not revealing that I was a fellow press corps member.

I said: “Well, all matches are probably fixed to some extent anyway. This is happening through out the world lah. Players could always do with more money right? I don’t see how legalised betting could change things very much.”

Reporter: “So how do you think it’ll affect local S-League matches?”

Me: “Erm, I don’t really know what to say about that. I don’t bother to watch S-League matches”

Guess what was broadcast?

Me looking a bit blur and ONLY saying :”Erm I don’t really know what to say about that.”

2. For the guy who needs to be in the limelight (company spokesman, politician, lawyer, crook etc)

Say only what needs to be said at that point of time. Too many spokesmen talk too much, inadvertantly blurting company secrets and so on. But above all, be honest. You can withhold information, but you’d better off dead if you decide to lie. The best journos are able to drill down to the truth and tear off any contradictory statements with ease.

Pray you never meet them, but if you do, make them your best friend by feeding them choice quotes that won’t get you fired from your job. Or giving a really good story lah. I’m pretty annoyed by both newsmakers and journos who have forgotten that the media is there to serve good stories to the public, not some boring exposition on why the latest Gahmen policy will do miracles for the public.

Politicians often get so used to talking to political beat journos, they think that all media think and talk the same way. Well, it’s very different when you meet finance, tech, lifestyle or sports reporters. Some are more hungry to get a good story than others, and if you feed them info that fits their story angle, well, pray the story turns out in your favour!

In any case, always keep your quote short and simple. Don’t spew the official PR line written from the top – always paraphrase and make it sound more casual without changing the meaning.

Each quote should mean something useful for the journo. There’s no point saying you’ve sold 100m units of product A when you don’t explain what that figure means to the general public (eg “You can now share all your media with 100m other gadget users over the air!”)

More importantly, you should ask the journo how he intends to write the story and how your interview would help the story have more meat. The minute you do that, you help frame the questions and answers that will follow, while making it very clear that the QnA is a mutual, equal and friendly two-way process, not some interrogation session.

Will write more on journalism stuff when I have the energy to do so again.

5 Replies to “Being media-savvy”

  1. You know Mr Tan,

    sorry if this is the wrong forum, but just wanted to throw in my thoughts.

    One obvious media question that the journos could have asked Ms Lee Bee Wah was:

    “What would you have done if you knew that one of the coaches fell sick at the very last hour?”

    Or

    “What would have been the right decision in that situation?”

    I don’t believe I have heard her explain what was so wrong about the team manager and head coach’s methods of handling the situation.

    They had a small crisis, they did what they could to address the problem — and obviously, they did so with the proviso that nothing should affect the training of the women’s team.

    And if we blame them for giving the likely medal hopes the priority instead…..well then, forget about sitting at the front of the Hippo Bus waving to the crowds and hogging the limelight in the Good Morning Singapore show and the Channel U evening news.

    What questions would you have asked her?

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