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A Quick Primer On Working With The Media

By Dick Knapinski

At one time or another, nearly every EAA Chapter will work with the media. As one of the organized groups of aviators in your community — sometimes the only one — you are a vital link between general aviation and the public. A good relationship with the media can pay great dividends in promoting, enhancing or even saving aviation facilities and activities in your area.

Most of your dealings with the media can be split into two parts: 1) When you need the media or 2) the media needs you. The ideas and suggestions presented here are by no means all-inclusive; it does give you an idea of the possibilities when dealing with both print and broadcast media, however.

WHEN YOU NEED THE MEDIA

This occurs when you have activities, fund-raisers or special recognition that you believe are worthy of news coverage. Although you can’t control the weather at your fly-in or Young Eagles rally, you can control the amount of public awareness generated. Buying advertising is an option each Chapter must decide on its own, so we’ll deal with generating free publicity and coverage.

First, establish a list of media in your area — newspapers (daily and weekly), free papers, radio stations (especially news/talk stations), TV stations. Maybe you have cable TV access channels available. Get the phone numbers and addresses of each. If possible, get the names of the editors (print media), news directors (radio) or news assignment directors (TV).

Secondly, what do you have to offer the media? What’s going on at your event that would be of public and news interest? Young Eagles flights, Vintage airplanes, homebuilts, warbirds, a chance to get an inside look at an airport … all of these items could be a good news “hook” to draw media coverage. If you’re looking to build interest prior to an event, are there any interesting stories in your group? You might be able to get an advance story. Things such as a 10-year homebuilt project finally completed or 1,500 Young Eagles already flown are good examples.

Third, get your information together. Make sure you have the important items, such as: Date, time, location (be detailed – “at the airport” is a big area) Feature items (airplanes, pancake breakfast, Young Eagles flights, etc.) Contact person (name and number of person(s) the media can call for more information)

Now, contact the media. A mailed or faxed release is fine, a call to the editor works well or even a visit to the papers or the stations can be effective (you might want to arrange that in advance). A rule of thumb is: the bigger the media, the less time you’ll have to make your pitch for coverage. Be positive, highlighting why your activity would be a good place for news coverage. Offer any help that may be necessary for the media to complete its story. If an editor is undecided, offer to call back later if that would help. Don’t promise things that won’t happen or won’t be there. Reporters don’t forget quickly.

Also, if your local media has a calendar of events page or program, make sure your event is part of it.

When the event arrives and the media turns out to cover it, make their job as easy as possible. If they need to find a certain pilot, for instance, have somebody get him/her. If they need explanations of technical terms, explain them in layman’s terms. In most of our such dealings with media, we emphasize safety, fun and a sense of accomplishment in flying.

When they media departs, thank them for coming out. When the feature is printed or aired, and it’s a good story, a note of thanks never hurts future coverage.

WHEN THE MEDIA NEEDS YOU

This one is often more complicated and not always as pleasant. When you strive for media coverage, remember that reporters will remember to contact you for all sorts of aviation events, good and bad. How you react in the bad times will influence how you’re treated in the good times (i.e., when you need the media).

Many times the media will call after an airplane accident. There’s a good chance, since the aviation community is rather small in many places, that you may know the pilot. A Chapter President, Newsletter Editor or Technical Counselor may be among the first to be called by reporters. A good idea may be to have one or two designated people who speak for the Chapter in such matters. It may be someone who has a good background in aviation, or who is used to impromptu public speaking.

After an accident, a reporter will have many questions, but here are some fairly common ones (how would you answer them?): Did you know the pilot? Was he/she a good pilot? What about the airplane? How safe are these airplanes? What do you think happened?

Some quick hints about the above questions:

Do NOT volunteer the pilot’s name unless the reporter already knows it; there’s a chance the family doesn’t know about the accident yet.

This is a subjective question, open to interpretation, but if you’re confident of the pilot’s experience then answer honestly.

Again, quite subjective. It’s better not to offer personal opinions about aircraft, since they have a tendency to taken out of context. If it’s a factory built airplane, it’s easy, since all of them are type certificated prior to construction.

This is a “gotcha” question. A well-built and maintained airplane in the hands of a well-prepared and alert pilot is extremely safe; in this case we don’t know what happened.

It’s easy to fall for this one, with human nature wanting to be helpful. We’re not sure what happened, but I’m sure the investigators will eventually find out. Anything else is pure speculation.

If a reporter does have the name of the pilot already, he/she may request if the pilot was member of the Chapter, had flown at the airport for how long and other basic information. While it’s OK to be guarded, being dishonest is not a good idea. Answer the factual questions in good faith, but there’s no need to volunteer extra information if it wasn’t requested. If you don’t know an answer, admit it. Feel free to correct any obvious errors the reporter is making — there are many reporters who know little about aviation, especially general aviation. If the reporter requests factual information that you, as the Chapter spokesperson, doesn’t have at your fingertips, offer to call back with the info. Then do it.

If there are questions that you’re not comfortable with, it’s OK to admit that. Please remember that EAA’s Media Relations staff has dealt with many of these questions before. We’re a resource that you can call upon to help. Even offer our phone number in Oshkosh for more background information.

Reporters have different styles for getting information. Some are good, some are not. Regardless of the reporter, treat them as a professional. Some good things to remember:

Be honest. Be positive. Be consistent. Don’t get too technical. Do NOT place blame.

IF YOU HAVE A GRIPE…

We’ve all seen aviation stories reported by the media that are at best inaccurate and at worst are slanted or damaging or just plain wrong. It’s important to let the media know when such a story appears, especially if there are factual errors. Some may not believe this, but nearly all reporters work hard to be fair and accurate. There are times, however, when time constraints, lack of information or personal biases may create a story that is not fair and accurate. How do you as an aviation enthusiast react?

Contact the offending media. Give a call to the reporter or the editor and identify yourself — unsigned letters or anonymous phone calls are almost always ignored.

DO NOT start by demanding a retraction or correction. Reporters and editors deal with many people who are just mad because a story didn’t present them in a good light. A media person will more likely listen to someone who says there was an inaccuracy in a story and has facts to back it up. Have those facts ready.

If it’s a national media story that is inaccurate, feel free to contact us at EAA Headquarters with the source of the story and where you saw it.

Finally, don’t just call the media when you have a gripe about a story. Make sure they hear from you when a good story about aviation appears — and don’t start off your compliment with, “Well, you guys finally got one right…” Bad move.

Establishing a good working relationship with the media can have a big payoff. Your local Chapter gets publicity, people are more aware of aviation’s impact in the community and you develop a rapport with reporters that can come in handy later. Most of all, working with the media gives us a chance to create a better perception of aviation with the public, who pays for airports, runway improvements and all those things that allow us to fly.

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