Ninjutsu and the Media
If you've ever been the subject of a media story, whether print or electronic, chances are you were disappointed with the result. Somehow, your story didn't get told, or your most telling points weren't included. Sometimes this unhappy result is because a reporter went into a story with a preconceived notion of how the story was going to turn out. More often, the problem is closer to home. The information you gave the reporter may have been in a form they could not understand. Or, your most important points might have been made in a form not suited to the needs of the media. Say what? Information is information, isn't it? It's either true or isn't true, right? Substance is more important than form isn't it? If we lived in a perfect world all of those statements would be true all of the time. Unfortunately, when Working with the Media, packaging your information properly is the only chance you have of getting your message across.

Going into an interview you must keep several factors in mind. Reporters spend most of their time covering stories for which they have no specialized training. For example, most of the reporters covering the O. J. Simpson trial are not lawyers. This is not to say that reporters are ignorant or stupid. In extreme cases a reporter might cover a school board meeting in the morning, a fire in the mid day and the opening of a county fair in the evening. The reporter has to grasp the central core of the story, understand what makes that story news and put it into a form the public can understand, often under intense deadline pressure. Reporters quickly learn to spot a hook they can hang their story on. The hook is something they find interesting, easy to understand and easy to put into story form. The problem you have, is that if you are the subject of the story, the reporter's hook may not be the one you would choose. Remember, the reporter may be friendly, honest and sincere, but they don't work for you!

The best way to get your story told is to understand what reporters from each of the media need to put a story together. In addition to a hook, they need information. The information must be in a form they can understand and, more important, must be in a form they can put into their story.

I must digress here for a moment. After spending almost my entire journalistic career in television and radio, I believe that what works when dealing with the electronic media also works when dealing with the print media. The impact of the electronic media grows every day. With that growth comes a shrinking of the average attention span.

Consider that the goal of every political consultant during a presidential campaign is a ten second or less piece of sound called a bite that sums up a candidate's position on a particular issue. You don't believe that? George Bush won the 1988 election with one phrase: "Read my lips, no new taxes!" That took about 4 seconds. (Of course that same phrase cost him the 1992 election after he made a deal with the Congress that raised taxes.) That phrase not only sounded great on radio and TV, it made great reading in the next day's papers. The bottom line: if it sounds good on radio and TV it will look good in print.

So how do we go about preparing for media interviews? Pick up a stop watch and a portable tape recorder and get to work. A friend can help by asking you questions that might come up in an interview. Have your friend play reporter and ask you why you practice Ninjutsu. Answer as quickly and concisely as you can. Then try to guess how long it took you to answer that question. (Keep in mind that a 10 second is your ultimate goal.) You'll probably be appalled when you realize that answer is far longer than that! While 10 seconds is the goal, radio and TV often use bites that are 20 or 30 seconds. Just remember that a 10 second bite makes the reporter's job much easier. It also gets you labeled as someone who is media friendly. This means that you will be at the top of the list when a reporter needs an expert to comment on a story you are qualified to talk about. It may also mean the reporter will call you for an easy story on a slow news day to help meet their story quota!

The exercise I've recommended will help you deal with most reporters. Believe it or not, most of them are honest, hardworking and underpaid. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. How would you answer if someone asked you this loaded question: "How many ways do you know to kill someone?" In a case like this, what you have to do is deflect the stupid question while answering one you want to answer. Instead of calling the reporter a jerk for asking such a dumb question, you might point out that killing people isn't really what Ninjutsu is about and explain what Ninjutsu really is about. Easier said than done, but then that's life, isn't it?

Whether you've been interviewed or not, you should be able to come up with a list of questions you can expect a reporter to ask. For example: How long have you studied martial arts?; Are Ninjas really assassins?; Where did you learn Ninjutsu? As you prepare your practice questions, keep in mind the journalist's 5W's: Who, What, When, Where, Why? and sometimes How? The better you understand the journalist's job, the better chance you will have of getting your story told.

Mike Hennessy
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