Be specific when talking to the press

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!


  1. R Jacobs says

    Mike .. as a journalist, I can assure you the bottom line IS getting the facts straight. It seems the uninformed prefer to kill the messenger rather than get all the story. The original intent of this piece was clearcut and then segway’ed into mild distortion calling into question the accuracy of the media. Rather than staying with the original question, it quickly turned to the weakness of the reporter.
    This happens when one doesn’t want to hear the truth.
    Give me what I want to hear – or give me nothing at all.

  2. says

    Mike and S. Heintz have good points. Just this morning I did a segment on Fox & Friends concerning a potentially wasteful spending issue, that was featured in the Summertime Blues report from Senator’s McCain and Coburn (see item #30, that was my issue). You can see the clip here:

    To my surprise, the host introduced me as the commissioner who accepted the money, when I am in fact the commissioner who balked at the expenditure. My solution…correct the record. I have no problem being honest, even if that blows the segment by depriving the anchor of an argument.

    I’m a firm believer in speaking the truth, admitting when I suffer from ignorance, and correcting errors that make it out into the public forum. Granted, I don’t win them all, but I’m winning enough of the time to make the effort worthwhile. I’d encourage anyone to do the same. Because together, we’re one heck of a big audience – an audience those media outlets would love to have as customers, frankly.

  3. Mike says

    And you know the difference when it concerns aviation BUT remember this is the same for all subject: be it politic ,finance, medical, technology ! we are constantly fed non digested-Garbage!

  4. S. Heintz says

    The bottom line is that many reporters (and editors) simply don’t seem to care about getting the facts straight.

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