Three Tips to Avoiding Media Traps

JoAnn Alumbaugh
( Farm Journal )

The following commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of AgWeb or Farm Journal. The opinions expressed below are the author's own.

Are you prepared if a reporter from a national media outlet comes to your farm and wants to interview you? Even farmers who’ve had media training can fall prey to tactics that may be designed to trick you.

An Iowa pork producer leader told me recently about an encounter with the national media he’d had in the last few weeks. A major network came to his farm to interview him about how the tariffs were affecting pork producers. He said the television crew was at his farm for four hours, but they only aired about 20-seconds of the interview. He said the first questions they asked was, “So, what do you think of Trump?” Clearly, they wanted him to say something negative about the president.

Jeff Ansell, president of Jeff Ansell and Associates, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, explains that sometimes reporters are just looking for a story. However, when it’s a story that’s controversial, “they have a few tricks up their sleeve to get you to say something you hadn’t meant to say,” he says. “One good way to hone your media communication skills is to think like a reporter.”

Ansell, who spoke at the 2018 Iowa Swine Day, says the skill comes down to the ability to manage context. “Influencing the edit is what’s important,” he says. “At the end of the day, we’re only as good as our weakest quote.”

1.  Use the Value Compass
“When an accusation is made, there’s a presumption of guilt, even before you have a chance to speak or tell your story,” Ansell says. “They frame the story: When media drive the narrative, they polarize the perspective.

“Ask yourself a very straightforward questions: What’s the right thing to do?” he adds. “Use the value compass to filter everything you say: Think of words like honest, empathetic, accountable and forthcoming.”

2.  Take Your Time
Just because a reporter might want an immediate answer to a question doesn’t mean you have to provide it. The more quickly you respond, the more likely you are to say something off-the-cuff or controversial. Give thoughtful, careful consideration to your responses. Take your time, and know when to stop talking (it’s probably sooner than you think).

Ansell says you need to know what you want to see yourself saying: “Every message you create and deliver to the media needs to be so simple that someone with English as a third language would understand it.”

Get the Help and Training You Need
You don’t have to go far to learn more about how to speak to the public and to the media. The National Pork Board’s Operation Main Street (OMS) program provides training so you can speak out on behalf of the pork industry.

According to the OMS website, in addition to public speaking training, OMS provides: prepared speeches and PowerPoint presentations that you can customize for your own community or operation; constant support from schedulers who will set up speaking engagements for you that work around your busy schedule; updates on industry issues via a newsletter and access to a website with additional speaker tools and industry information; and refresher training to help you brush up on skills and learn from other speakers.” 

The program was launched in 2004, and to date, more than 1,300 volunteers across the country have been trained to share the “pork industry’s story of innovation, quality and stewardship,” the Pork Board says.

This summer, OMS will reach the milestone of 10,000 presentations. The program benefits those who participate, in addition to those who listen to the presentations.

According to a survey of 55,761 audience members, 69% of the audience “left the presentation with a positive impression of the pork industry," the Pork Board says.

There’s no better way to showcase the pork industry than by showcasing the farmers who raise pigs.

Be Clear, and Look for Clarity
Having producers speak on behalf of the industry is more important now than ever. As a long-time journalist, it saddens me greatly when I see the national media resort to soundbites, clickbait and sensationalism – doing whatever it takes to get the viewers’ attention. I try to use my “internal filter” to determine whether a news story is truly factual or if the reporter is manipulating the information to make me feel a certain way.

It’s not easy, but all of us should try to look a little deeper, and not take what we see and hear on the news at face value. As that Iowa producer mentioned earlier found out, they may not have your best interests in mind.

Editor’s Note: Join the OMS team by contacting the Pork Checkoff Service Center at (800) 456-7675 or Ernie Barnes at [email protected].