Media Training Coach Tip: The Facts Don’t Matter

One day, as a joke in the newsroom, I uttered the phrase, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” We all laughed. A colleague was pushing for a story to make the evening news, but there were lots of holes in the story and I wanted my story to be the lead story. I won and got the lead story. The colleague’s story was killed.

Over the years we used the joke several times daily just to raze each other. But then we began to realize that way too much of what made the news at our TV station and at those of our competitors, made the news regardless of the facts. Ultimately, it was one of the reasons I left the news business after a great 15-year ride.

But let’s be honest. How many news stories are filled with facts? The truth is, not a lot.  Newspaper stories will always have more details than TV and radio news reports. But TV stories, especially, are driven by visual images. The example that I always use is that if the story is about a brown cow, I need video of a brown cow. If I have no video of a brown cow, I can’t put the story on the evening news.

Another example I always use is the mixed metaphor that says, “If a tree falls in the woods and it is not on video, is it news?”

When I used to cover hurricanes in the ‘80s and ‘90s I was always upset when I didn’t have video of something blowing away. I needed the visual on video to tell the story.

I laughed a few years ago when there was a news report about a landslide in Japan. A highway traffic camera captured trees sliding down the side of a hill. It was only news because there was dramatic video. Trust me, as a guy who has worked around the world and extensively in the Pacific Rim, there are landslides all over the world every day. This one happened to be captured on video and therefore became news.

A print reporter will likely write only a 12-20 sentence synopsis, a radio reporter is only writing 6-8 sentences and a TV reporter is only writing 10-12 sentences.

The average person tries to give way, way, way too many facts in a news interview. Take this comment with a grain of salt, but the reporter doesn’t really care about you or the facts. Sure, they seem interested in you, but their report is more important to them personally than your facts.

A news report is a puzzle. Certain pieces must fit exactly together. In a TV report, quotes make up one-third of the story. The lead and the conclusion together make up one-third of the story. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but can you guess how much room we have in the story for your facts? In a TV news report, that equals 4 sentences. In a print report that equals 8-12 sentences.

If there is no room in the story for a bunch of facts, why would you spend so much time giving lots of facts to the reporter? Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

So… The new International Media Training No-No

Gerard Braud - Crisis Communications - Media TrainingSoooooo…. I’ve noticed a new trend. Soooooo…. it appears people think every sentence needs to start with “Soooooo….” Soooooo…. stop it already!

I first noticed this alarming trend while teaching media training to a global defense contractor in Los Angeles in 2010. One engineer — a lead engineer –started every sentence with “Soooooo….” It was driving me nuts and I worked with him to eliminate it.

When I came back to Los Angeles for their annual media training class one year later, “soooooo….” had spread like an epidemic. Much like corporate jargon spreads like a virus, so had soooooo…  In the 2011 refresher course,  nearly every engineer was saying soooooo…. as the open to every sentence.

Normal people don’t talk like that. But it is spreading, not like any ordinary virus, but like a global pandemic. I was teaching media training in Europe recently and a petroleum engineer with a major oil company had the same bad habit. During our media training role playing on camera, she began every answer with “Soooooo….”

As best as I can tell, this bad habit is rooted among engineers and IT (information technology) employees. If you hear it, please try to put a stop to it. Otherwise the pandemic will infect every conversation and media interview in the future.