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Thoughts on talking to the media

by Brian Flemming Saturday, Mar. 22, 2003 at 10:30 PM 213 384-5666 2505 W. 6th St. #808

Some thoughts on what to do when a TV reporter suddenly sticks a mic in your face.

I'm getting emails from people saying, "It was my first protest," and there are few things more inspiring than that. I can't believe how fast L.A.'s protest community is growing.

Got an email from a guy named Richard about an interesting problem new protesters (and old ones) can experience: What to do when a reporter suddenly sticks a mic in your face?

Here's what he wrote me about yesterday's action at the Fed Bldg, and how I answered:


Richard said:

As I left a TV reporter interviewed me. I'm afraid I was rather inarticulate, as I was sleep-deprived and hadn't really reflected much further than "This war is wrong and I can't just sit by and let it happen."


Yep, nothing like having a mic in your face to make you think about forming a PR strategy, eh? I've been there. TV is very high-pressure. It feels like this...

"You have fifteen seconds, Go!"


In my writing and talking with others, I've been concentrating on this theme: The United States has broken international law, and this unprecedented breach could spell the end of the United States.

It's a great way to appeal to patriots, a group I consider myself to be part of. The premise is that the United States is a great country, with the *potential* to be the greatest influence the globe has ever known, but this clear act of lawlessness has turned the world against us, and that could spell the end of the U.S. So reversing the present course is about preserving this great nation.

I have a lot of other feelings about the U.S. and its role in promoting injustice overseas (and at home), but for now I'm pushing those to the background. I try to imagine someone out there in TV land watching the protests and wondering, How on earth could anyone call this patriotic? The reaction I'm going for with my message is that someone pauses for a second, nods slowly, and says, "I don't know if I agree with that logic, but there's something to think about there."

There are many many other viable PR strategies and goals, but these are what I've chosen. The key to making it work, I think, is starting off with the "America is a great country" part of the statement. I want these protests to bring America together, and I don't want to provide conservatives with an excuse to ignore us. Disagree with me all you want, but don't say I don't love America's potential.


I know the strategy I'm employing will be anathema to some others, but it is important, I think, to think about what you'll say if you get the opportunity to talk into a TV microphone, which is an extremely powerful device.

I tend to look at it this way:

1. Who am I imagining is the audience? I have no control over this--KNBC has KNBC's audience, and there's nothing I can do about that.

2. Therefore, I must tailor the message to the audience, or a chosen segment of it (i.e., conservatives, liberals, men, women, single moms, the disabled, veterans, families of troops). TV producers and editors WILL categorize me as they select sound bites for the evening news stories, so I might as well control that myself.

3. Finally, and most often overlooked, I need the message to be expressed in a few seconds. I have no control over an iron-clad law of TV--it's all sound bites. For that reason, it makes very good sense to write down the message and rehearse it, and get it down to as few words as possible. It's like writing a haiku--say the most with the least. Make a serious game of it.

Just some thoughts. I've been caught unprepared when an opportunity to get a message out on TV appeared, and it leaves you with a crushing feeling of regret. "If only I would have said..."

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