Recently, I attended a wedding where I was the only person who didn’t work for a campaign or political organization. Worse, I’m a journalist-which meant by the end of the night, even the DJ was calling me “the enemy.”
But the relationship between members of the media and politicos doesn’t have to be so frustrating and cold. Here’s how to warm up your media relations:
Don’t Take It Personally.
Like anyone else with a passion for their trade, staffers often get lost in the moment and take unflattering reports on their candidate as a personal hit. Similar to your tricky approach of answering questions with non-answers, we too are just doing our jobs; our editors just want the story and they want us to press you until we get it. As in any relationship, holding a grudge won’t get you anywhere. When the bad news hits the web, TV or newsstands, do damage control and shake it off. If you’ve still got a chip on your shoulder the next time that reporter phones you, it won’t come off well when her story reads: “We attempted to contact the representative’s office, but our calls were not returned.”
Don’t Cry Wolf.
More than once in a campaign, the press secretary puts out a release that might cause the media to expect the Dalai Lama to show up or a senator to admit to relations with a polar bear. Then we trek to the press conference, only to learn there’s no real celebrity and no real news, just Penn Jillette announcing he’s throwing his support behind your guy. The next time an announcement that warrants a breaking-news banner pops up, the press may think twice about how “urgent” your press conference really is. Side note: Only teenage girls and advertisers should be allowed to write with exclamation points.
In 2006, I was covering a New York congressional campaign. The incumbent, Republican Sue Kelly, was also the chairwoman of the page board during the Mark Foley page scandal. Every time I pressed, Kelly backed away as if she had something to hide—until finally the 70-year-old congresswoman literally took off running (in heels) to her car. The video hit YouTube, other stations picked it up, and the campaign began a downward spiral, from which it couldn’t recover. From there on out, the worst mistake made by the campaign was ducking and hiding from the press. Every time I reported on the race, I had to say, “Our calls were not returned.” Constituents took notice. Lesson: Always have an exit strategy that doesn’t include sprinting.
Karen DePodwin is a television reporter based in New York.