Periodically I give readers a peek into the political world I inhabit. The intent is to provide some context for the battle ahead of you if you try to buck the tide in even the slightest way. Bringing radical new ideas to the table, like making the most of your local general aviation airport by touting its benefits to the community, will undoubtedly cause you to run afoul of co-workers, friends, family, and even the press from time to time.
Your relationship with family and friends constitutes a unique situation that will vary from person to person, so I’m afraid I can’t help you much there. That goes for co-workers, too. You’re going to have to look elsewhere for guidance on that. The press however, that’s an area I know a bit about. Let me tell you the unvarnished truth — when you’re dealing with the press you’d better watch your six and keep your comments tight. Even then you’re running a risk every time you interact with them.
Sometimes the press hears what it wants to hear, irrespective of what actually occurred. Consider this recent example. At a public meeting of my city’s commission, I made the following motion, which passed unanimously with the consent of all five commissioners. The motion was, “I move the commission authorize the city manager and staff to do the research and investigation to advise us on CIP [capital improvement projects]. Scope, cost, and timelines, as appropriate.”
That was reported in the paper two days later this way, “Winter Haven commissioners unanimously passed an official motion instructing city staff to develop plans to borrow an extra $20.1 million to spend on a new capital improvement projects plan.”
Now if you’re sharp, or if you’ve been all the way through middle school and can read at something approximating your grade level, you might notice that the report in the newspaper bears absolutely no resemblance to the motion and vote that actually took place. It seems the reality distortion field Steve Jobs was so famous for has moved 3,000 miles east and taken up residence on the pages of my newspaper.
Being a civic minded guy who has the public’s right to be informed on public matters at heart, I jotted off a quick and very stern email to the publisher and editors of the newspaper. I pointed out that the motion says nothing about borrowing money, never even flirts with $20.1 million dollars, and makes no suggestion that staff should develop plans for anything other than a briefing of the commission. It seems obvious enough to me. What was reported in the paper simply did not occur in real life.
Big deal. Seriously, who cares? Not the editor of the newspaper, that’s for sure. After reviewing the record she wrote me back to say, “I have listened to the podcast and have to disagree with you: What we printed reflects the motion…” She expanded on that curious statement by offering the following; “[the reporter's] paraphrase of the motion regarding capital improvements, and the unanimous vote, along with the information he gleaned from last week’s meeting, captures the events as they occurred.”
Go ahead and read that motion again, then read the newspaper’s reporting of it. I’ll wait. There’s a point to be made here, and it’s a point that matters to each and every one of us.
I often urge people to write letters to the editor to express themselves. And there’s a reason I make that recommendation. A letter to the editor runs in the publication, or it doesn’t. But the editorial staff should not be editing it other than for space. The risk of your words being altered for effect are lessened considerably on the letters to the editor page. On the news pages, anything can happen. Worse yet, you have absolutely no control over what your story will become.
Reporters are not necessarily your friend. Even if the reporter actually is your friend, their editor may not be.
There is a reason politicians, actors, musicians, and sports figures are wary of the press. The media’s integrity level is suspect under the best of circumstances, and we know it.
As a writer it pains me to admit that, but it’s true. If you have intentions of pushing your airport to the forefront of the public’s attention, be aware of the guys with the press cards. They can help you, or hurt you. And the facts have almost nothing to do with which direction they decide to go with the story.
There is no doubt that the power of the press is real, and anyone who hopes to have any clout in the political world – either locally, regionally, or nationally – had better learn how to work with the press. Like it or not, they’re a factor in your marketing campaign, no matter what you happen to be selling. That’s the bad news.
On the other hand, the good news is really good. It’s not 1952. You have the Internet to work with. You can publish your own story, market your own message, and reach out personally in a way that is accurate, truthful, and honest. You can do it for peanuts, too. So I encourage you to do exactly that whenever you can. Tell your own story.
This is my advice to you. Take it or leave it, at your own risk. Be suspicious of the press, politicians, and anyone who has the ability to distort your message and then criticize the inaccurate scenario they manufactured about you. That includes me, too. Like you, I’m just some guy who is trying to do a good job with the tools I’ve got. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong, but I always set my sights on being intellectually honest, and reporting the truth accurately.
I wish everyone with a keyboard was guided by the same goal. They’re not. So be wary, but find a way to get your message out anyway. It matters.
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He also is an owner and contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach Jamie at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com
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