The Story That’ll Wait…Controlling Vs. Choking

I don’t get confused over certain people not talking to reporters.

The family members of murder victims are too overcome by emotions.  Employees don’t want to talk about their jobs for fear of losing them.  Store owners don’t want to show off their security measures because a roadmap to robbery isn’t a solid business practice.

The denial of sharing a positive story never fails to surprise me, though.

Typically, this comes through either simple shyness or modest pride.  Either the person can’t get over the idea of going on camera or they’ve firmly decided doing so would somehow lessen the good deed (“I didn’t do this to get a pat on the back”).

Rarely, however, is a positive story the media wants to tell deliberately held back.

Rarer still?  Stifling it.

THE POSITIVE STORY

When I read the small excerpt last spring on KCStar.com (don’t tell my boss I mentioned another website), I was immediately interested.

A grant given to Kansas City’s Catholic Charities and the Full Employment Council would not only help young people ages 18-24 get their GED’s, it would give them paid internships to keep their heads above water.

How cool is that?

Young people stuck in a bad situation and feeling unable to go for something better given just such an opportunity.  Not only that, the grant gives young men and women accepted into the program a safety net.  They receive a salary and an internship in their chosen profession so they don’t have to rely on whatever dead-end job that’s taking up the hours they need to study and get ahead.

This week, the students accepted into the Catholic Charities side of this program are painting a mural at a Kansas City center for adults and children with autism.  It’s part of a team-building exercise.

It’s an excellent story.  I’ve been told I’m not allowed to tell it.

THE DENIAL

Had our staffing situation been a little different, this would likely be a moot point.  I wanted to (and had approval to) tell this story last week, but it simply didn’t work out.  My station needed me elsewhere.

While attempting to set the story up for this past Tuesday, I got word of the denial.

The United Way and Kansas City Mayor Sly James’ office were now involved in the publicity decision making.  A press conference was planned for sometime next week.  I was shot down.

The story, decision makers declared, would wait.

THE ARGUMENT

I’ll be the first to admit I was frustrated.

I called up the spokesperson for the United Way and asked why they would stifle such a wonderful story.  I was told they wanted to give all media a shot at the story and the officials involved (Mayor James, United Way, Catholic Charities, Full Employment Council, etc.) were not all available at the same time until next week.

I said, “I really don’t think us doing a story a week before your press conference will hurt media coverage.”

The response:  “Well, we think it will.”

THE ONES WHO GET IT

I’ll share a little journalist secret…we play favorites.

I don’t mean to say we ignore conflicts of interest or cover controversial issues unfairly.  I mean we know who’ll help us and who won’t.

We know which gas stations will let us interview customers about escalating fuel prices.  We know which physician will carve out 15 minutes of his or her busiest day to talk about the latest flu scare.  We know where we can get video and who will give us sound bites, even if the story topic doesn’t necessarily reflect positively on the person helping us.

Reporters sometimes talk to each other about the favorites as people who “get it.”

While the origin of the actual quote draws some debate, circus mogul P.T. Barnum is generally credited with the legendary phrase, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

That quote is the “it” in “get it.”  These people will take attention from media outlets with tens or even hundreds of thousands of viewers anytime they can.

Just this past Saturday at the Kansas City Music Festival “Kanrocksas,” I met a group that got it.  The band The Joy Formidable from North Wales has gained international fame in its short, four-year existence, and they played one of the festival’s first sets.

After the band’s set, the photographer I was working with and I spotted the members walking through the Kansas Speedway infield.  We asked the trio, who were on their way to a press conference, if they’d answer a few questions.

The members of the band looked at their manager, who shrugged and simply said, “You’re going to say the band’s name, right?”

THE UPSHOT

If there’s any publicity quote I like more than P.T. Barnum’s, it comes from the incomparably witty writer Oscar Wilde:

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

No one is talking about this program right now.  Catholic Charities officials have told me for weeks they’re still looking for young people in need to apply.  These are people who need help not next week, but now.

Do you remember a week or a week-and-a-half that changed your life?  For the worse?

I don’t care about an exclusive.  I hope every media outlet tells this story.

The people who’ve decided this worthwhile story will wait say they fear allowing it to be told early will hurt it by making other media outlets think it’s old news, and therefore, hurt the program.  That argument doesn’t hold water.

If the decision makers were truly concerned about the program itself, they’d find 30-45 minutes to come together for a press conference now.  The fact they’re not willing to do that shows they simply care about making sure they get credit when they allow the cameras to show up.

Who needs the attention more?

The elected officials and organizations who say they want to help people?  Or the people who need help?

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One Response to “The Story That’ll Wait…Controlling Vs. Choking”

  1. Randy Reeves Says:

    give em hell

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