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Print Media: What You Will Encounter?

By Allan Bonner

Many books have been written to prove that print was a dead medium. They’re all good books and frankly, most are still around, but then, so is the print medium.  

Readership is down to be sure, but there are still many good reasons to pay attention to your campaign through the eyes of the local newspaper medium, the least of which is that the same piece of print medium is read by many more than one person.  A family might buy one paper, but that could be an average of four readers. In fact, one person often provides the article to others to review.

In addition, influential people read newspapers. Influencing influential individuals and organizations is good campaigning.  If you get a favorable report or editorial in the newspaper, you can photocopy it 1,000 times and mail it throughout the district where the paper is considered a source of reference.

Most newspapers are now on-line, including video clips of the newsmakers they interview. Cross ownership means newspaper columnists are also radio and TV reporters and commentators, so cooperating with them may mean multiple exposures.

Here are a few of the newspaper venues and types of people you’ll encounter during your campaign or while in office:

Editorial Board
I once asked a good reporter at a successful tabloid who was on his editorial board.  He replied, “Whoever’s wearing a tie on the day somebody wants to meet with us.”  Some boards are formal and set policy for the paper.  Others are informal and just want to get something topical written that day.  You’ll encounter all kinds in an editorial board.  Don’t be surprised at the thorough academic approach or flippant questions.  You will probably spend at least an hour in discussion.  Your answers should go into some depth and breadth in order to be taken seriously. 

Many editorial boards also invite in columnists or specialty reporters, depending on who is speaking to them.

It takes all kinds, but straight print reporters usually have a little more time and are more interested in the facts than a performance from you.  A clever turn of a phrase is good, but substance is better.  Unlike radio and TV reporters, a print journalist isn’t part of a show or putting on a show.  You may not get feedback such as nodding or tone of voice to let you know how you’re doing.  You need to summon up enthusiasm from within yourself, not from the energy of the interviewer.

Beat Reporters
New beat reporters may not know much about their beat.  They have to learn somewhere.  Some major newspapers like to change assignments drastically to obtain a fresh approach.  I know one reporter who did stints in China and on the arts beat. 

However, for the most part a beat reporter has been covering the area (politics, business, the legislature, etc.) for a long time.  This can mean she/he’s gone “native” as anthropologists used to say.  This reporter may be jaded, bored and thinks she/he knows more about the issues than you—which may be true.  The other reaction to being a long time on a beat is to be quietly intrigued by the issues and extremely well informed.  Both kinds of reporters can be challenging in their own right.

The more of a character and the better known the columnist is, the more spin she/he puts on the story.  Don’t be surprised if you get no quotes, but your personality is reviewed in detail.  Act accordingly.  Be guarded, but be authentic.

Section Reporters
A political campaign can be covered by half a dozen different sections of the newspaper.  The sports section might want to know your memories of going to football games as a kid.  Or it might want to get pictures of you throwing around a football.  Be careful, you don’t want to look awkward. 

The lifestyle section might want to know about your fitness routine, hobbies, or diet. The city section might want your views on urban sprawl, architecture, or parking problems.  The business section will be interested in interest rates, capital cost allowance, or your business experience.  The general news section will take your message of the day or your reaction to the day’s news.  Political editors will want to know the logistics of the campaign, including fundraising.  The homes section may do a feature on the kind of dwelling each candidate has. 

Page Make Up
How a page of a newspaper looks used to be a result of someone fiddling with a pot of glue and bits of paper and pictures.  Today, even in the smallest of weeklies, it’s usually done on computer.  It’s still called page makeup and the person doing this picks pictures, writes cutlines underneath them and may write headlines.  In big newspapers there may be a separate photo editor, headline writer, and cutline writer.  You don’t usually get to interact with these people unless you’re on a tour of the newspaper.  If so, go shake some hands.

Editor is a general term which can apply to someone who edits copy or edits a section of the newspaper. A section editor might handle the weekend features, sports, business, politics, lifestyle, or other matters.  Sub-editors assist or edit copy.  Managing editors run the paper day to day.  You normally won’t encounter these people unless you are pitching a big story or complaining about your treatment.  Be careful on both counts.

There are professional publishers who sit at the top of the pyramid in a newspaper because the owners have hired them.  Then there are owner-publishers such as Lord Conrad Black, Rupert Murdoch and the late Robert Maxwell.  They’re part of a grand tradition going back to William Randolph Hearst in America and Canadian Maxwell Beaverbrook in the UK.  Most get into the game for money, then influence, then fame.

These are the ones that will skewer you! However, I have never heard of anybody who even knows one or has a strategy to influence them.

And finally, you should remember that radio and TV reporters don’t want to admit it, but most read the major newspapers, partly to decide what might make a good story for their media outlet.  Whether you’re good or bad in the paper, you will probably get a second “kick at the can” from the electronic media.

Allan Bonner has coached 8 heads of government
and several dozen cabinet level politicians.
He is the author of several books on communication
and can be reached at
Click here to contact this Author.

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