During a recent newspaper interview about the management of the local airport, the reporter stopped me and asked for clarification. “I’m sorry, “ he said, “What’s an FBO?”
“FBO stands for Fixed Base Operator,” I answered. “The FBO is the primary business on most general aviation airports.” The reporter appeared curious, so I expanded on the concept. “The FBO traditionally provides four core services,” and I ran down the list quickly.
“Can you repeat those services?” the reporter asked.
“Sure,” I said. And this is where I made my mistake. “The FBO typically provides fuel sales, aircraft maintenance, aircraft rentals, and flight training.”
That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Well it certainly does to you and me. You’re an aviation enthusiast. You know what each of those terms means. Just as I do. Just as I assumed the reporter did. But I was wrong.When the story showed up in the Sunday paper, the FBO was described as providing, “Fuel cells, maintenance, aircraft rental, and flight training.” Three quarters of the description is accurate, but there is a clear indication that the reporter and I were not entirely on the same page when we spoke. Not even on the points that I would have thought were basic.
There’s a lesson to be learned from that interview.
When talking about aviation to a reporter from any media source, you have to keep in mind the reporter is human. They are reticent to admit ignorance, as we all are to some extent. However, a confused or ignorant reporter does no favors to the subject of the story, and might even inadvertently misinform the public. In the worst case scenario, an inaccurate story might even damage the movement it was intended to explain, or even push forward.
In the future I will remind myself periodically to check facts before the interview ends. While I have always made it clear that I would be happy to answer follow-up questions by phone if the reporter needs it, in the future I will make sure that I revisit key terms and concepts before the reporter and I part ways — just to be sure the reporter has a clear understanding of the answers I gave.
Years ago I remember I saw a newspaper story that mentioned seaplanes. Except the reporter incorrectly spelled the term, “C-planes,” indicating to anyone with an aviation background that the reporter had no idea what they were writing about. They were just rushing to meet a deadline and had taken to putting random words on the page in order to meet the editor’s requirements — an editor who clearly had no idea of the story details either.
I thought that was funny back then. I’ve lost that aspect of my sense of humor, I guess. Today I’m going for accuracy that accompanies an open exchange of information. If a reporter calls, I talk to them. In fact, I never say, “No comment.” I’ll just have to remember in the future to include a more detailed explanation with my answer.
I hope I can accomplish that goal without being boring.
Ahh, another challenge. Good!