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Speaking to the Media

  • 1.  Speaking to the Media

    Posted 16 days ago
    Whether it is a notable project or recent publication, engineers might find themselves engaging with the media to deliver a message to the public.  I received a media inquiry on the RI Infrastructure Report Card last week.  The producer admittedly had only skimmed the report card and needed some guidance on its contents.  The producer was forceful in provoking an opinion from myself and colleague from which we had to refrain from providing.  It was a peak into the quick pace world of news.

    What is your experience with speaking to the media?  Were they hostile or friendly?  How did you handle it?  Did you feel well prepared or caught off guard?

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    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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  • 2.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 15 days ago

    Hi Chad, I can emphasize with your post having been in the same position but under different circumstances. For me, it was never a satisfying process and invariably the interviewer took liberties with my remarks, on one occasion leaving clean up work for others. Based on my experience the keys for getting through these situations are preparation and self-awareness during the interview. Preparation includes brainstorming the litany of questions that you might be asked, looking for potential traps or inconsistencies, and being prepared to respond. Preparation also includes having a well-developed set of messages and proof points that you can use, and reduce the risk from adlibbing.  During the interview you need to be aware of your body language and choice of words. I never experienced a hostile interview in real life but did in training. One of the things I learned was to watch your head movements. There's a naturally tendency to nod as part of active listening. A tactic interviewers might use is to get you to tacitly agree to something that you don't necessarily agree with through one's unconscious nodding.



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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 3.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 15 days ago
      |   view attached

    Mitch, I suggest your advice above be made part of ASCE's resources and made available to all of ASCE ASAP. A well-respected expert
    in such matters is Jim Lukaszewski (see selected resources below).

    Two pieces of advice I would add to yours above:

    1. When asked any type of question at any time by members of the press, be prepared to say "That's all I have to say for now. When I have more to say, I will do so." And hang up!
    2. When the crisis is stirring up, do NOT let the families of the employees learn about it from the press. With the help of a crisis consultant, prepare and release a letter to all of the families of the employees to their homes, NOT as handouts to employees.

    Check out the resources noted below.

    Stay Healthy!

    Cheers,

    Bill

    • The Manager's Guide to Handling the Media in Crisis:

    Saying & Doing the Right Thing When It Matters Most [1]

     

    [1] Lukaszewski-Speaking-Kit-2017-1.pdf

    [2] WWW.E911.COM

     



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    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
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    Attachment(s)



  • 4.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 12 days ago

    It's a tricky thing dealing with media. On the one hand, one likes or may even need to get media attention when an innovative product or service – requires publicity to get across to the member of the public. That's why industries and organizations open booths in conference premises – and why all major organizations have a public relation office. On the other, one needs to be tight-lipped with all-out-efforts to avoid media attention – especially when dealing with projects of confidential or controversial nature. With that, here are some of my experiences with media.

    1. During the early phase of my career, I presented a paper with my Dutch colleague at a conference initiated by a university and sponsored by some international organizations. We presented some findings on Bangladesh coastal dynamics and land reclamation potentials. As land is important in the small country, the topic caught attention of the press who were covering the conference – and it suited our interest because we wanted to have our project findings known. After the presentation, members of the press approached me to write a gist for them. By seeing this, other authors also approached the media to cover their papers. Our paper got front-page coverage in the next day's newspaper issues, while other papers were ignored.
    2. While onboard our investigation vessel in 1985, we were in a cyclonic storm surge. Our anchored vessel had episodes of turbulent motion during the storm at night, but we realized the enormity and seriousness of the problem in the morning seeing dead people and trees floating past by our vessel. We sailed to the worst affected island to help – apart from helping the devastated people by sharing matches, fuels and provisions; we acted as a ferry transporting marooned people to a big island. It is hard to forget the show of compassionate and laudable acts of my Dutch colleague during the disaster. Govt officials came with the press along with them, to assess damage. The press talked to us very casually and we told them that we were there first to help. The next day's newspapers showed our vessel as one of the navy vessels – saying that navy was there to help – and did not write a single line about the help we provided.
    3. On another occasion we were working on a project in the neighborhood of coral reefs. Although our area of work was well outside and we were just doing scientific works, we had the feeling that press got very interested what we were doing. We have been advised by the top management to avoid media people if any one approaches us.

    As a characterization of the three cases (similar cases could happen anywhere), the first is the case where media mostly looks for things of sensational or highly public-interest matters – and if one wants to share such matters with the press – it is all fair and square – but then the press needs help to write on specialized topics. The second experience makes one question the honesty of the press – they, with their mouthpiece on hand and skill, tend to pamper those in power in order to get favor. The third is simple – that one should try to avoid press, because they can distort facts and mislead public in favor of things they think will catch public attention (it only needs a click, for them to claim that their news got attention, although the clicker may not have read it) – therefore assuring high rating to attract more advertisement dollar$.

    -----

    Dilip

    Website

    ORCID ID

    Google Scholar



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    Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCE
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    https://widecanvas.weebly.com
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  • 5.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 10 days ago
    Over 50 years of owning and serving as an officer on construction and consulting firms, I have learn to take control of an interview from the beginning, particularly if it's live. If they ask a stupid or otherwise out of line question, tell them that. Ask why they would ask such a question. Once I told one,." I can answer the question, but if you haven't  had any engineering  training, you probably won't understand my answer. I will be glad to explain it if you need. " That stopped that. Never allow yourself to be on the defense. Turn a question into a question. Always smile and look directly into the persons eyes. They won't be back, unless you really did mess up, or the firm did. Then, you will need to check the question out and will be happy to get back with them, " then, anything else, then say thank you and leave."  Oh, by the way most of the news people became a friend.

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    Robert Hinton, P.E- Life Member ASCE
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  • 6.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 10 days ago
    Chad: Fake news is real and it is a problem.  For what it is worth, I think you should be prepared to hand the reporter a written statement, even as you might speak to that reporter.  During the 70's & 80's, I was quoted in the newspaper at 4 different times on various subjects.  Each time I was misquoted, and that included the fourth in which I was wary and very careful.
    The problem will always be that the reporter has a story line that is being pushed, and your words are the foil that will be edited to achieve that, like a straight man used by a comic to better entertain.  For an engineer, such editing can change very important points.
    One other solution is to condition your cooperation on being given the opportunity to edit and approve the final copy before publishing.  I did that on several articles in the 2000's.

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    Michael Mills P.E., M.ASCE
    Sr. Structural Engineer
    Tulsa OK
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  • 7.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 9 days ago
    It basically informed me as to how fake news can come to be.  The starting point was the written report card, which the reporter did not read.  Therefore, we did not have a common ground to start from.  I followed up the phone call with an email list of locations, as requested, for the reporter to check out.  I provided a written statement and if ever there was a time for an email disclaimer at the bottom... that was it.  I required explicit permission to copy or publish any content of the email.

    It was amazing how the producer was unprepared, but at the same time keen on controlling the narrative.  When I got off the phone, I wondered if he would have treated a doctor the same way.  I think it is important that we as engineers recognize our own professional standing in taking control of the conversation early on -not out of disrespect for the media profession, but in an effort to assert our own.

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    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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  • 8.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 8 days ago
    The last point is a very good one!



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    James Wood M.ASCE
    Dermod Wood Assoc. LLC
    Pittstown NJ
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  • 9.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 8 days ago
    The Infrastructure Report Card can be a lightning bolt so answering questions about it is 99% of the time going to be confronting controversy. Why is infrastructure failing? As an engineer answering the reporter's question - don't go there. Seriously, you will be wrong. It might be best to just give them a link to the report and not answer questions.

    I dislike the term "Fake News" because unless you are talking about the National Enquirer, The Weekly World News, or The Daily Show, it doesn't exist. It implies a grand conspiracy. Can a reporter get it wrong? Sure. Does a legitimate news source try to get it wrong? Rarely. Yes, there is an agenda to what they report. The same as there is an agenda to the way politicians or the public might wrongly use information from the Report Card to prop up their deeply held beliefs. People will use the Report Card for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with infrastructure.

    I would suggest building up a relationship with the local media and various reporters. Especially if you are the media contact for ASCE, local government or a company, you need to be on friendly terms. Media has been changing over the last 30 years and many traditional local newspapers are not locally owned any more. Suburban weeklies have ceased to exist. Most television reporters are television personalities and don't have training to produce more than fluff pieces. Explaining to media is like explaining to the public at PIM's - you really have to lose all technical terminology and keep it simple. This takes practice and I would suggest good practice for explaining things to reporters is explaining projects to elementary school kids. Most reporting is still done to be understandable at a 6th grade level. Remember that and never assume that your explanation will be understood at face value.

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    Yance Marti P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer IV
    City of Milwaukee
    Milwaukee WI
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  • 10.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 5 days ago
    What I am finding most recently in watching the news is that I am not learning about the story or the reasons behind why something happened. The news itself is very cursory and I walk away not having learned anything about the topic. Fifteen years ago when I worked for county government in a very politically charged environment I was always asked questions from the media about the county's building projects and initiatives. For the most part I was quoted accurately and as you get to know certain reporters they actually relied on me for truth beyond the politics. I strongly believe that the engineering and science community not only needs to speak to the media and not shy away from interviews but also find ways to approach the media about what is happening in the engineering community. It is fantastic that the ASCE's Infrastructure Report Card is one of the basis for the infrastructure funding bill now being reviewed and debated.

    Mike LaMont, PE, SE, MBA

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    Michael LaMont P.E., M.ASCE
    Vice President, Facilities
    Chicago IL
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  • 11.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 2 days ago
    I don't disagree with your sentiment.  Many organizations, especially the larger ones have been burned by the press and forbid any contact with the press by employees.  While this allows them to control the narrative through official outlets, it restricts the flow of information and prevents the kinds of relationships between engineers and reporters that would build trust and enable engineers to educate the media so they can report from an informed perspective.  Currently the media environment is cutthroat with intense competition for viewership/hits.  This promotes the "if it bleeds, it leads" strategy of reporting and focusses on stories with controversy that instill outrage.  Often media outlets look for that angle or aspect of a story and develop a narrative to titillate and excite the audience.  I am not sure how much we as engineers can do to change that except to seek out and support honest investigative reporting agencies.  In this day and age, we have to research the reporter to evaluate their modus operandi and motivations and be selective as to whom we choose to grant interviews to.  The closed door policy by organizations prevents individual engineers from developing the relationships and skills; and so, while meant to be protective, actually perpetuates the poor relationship with the media.  This is a convoluted issue with many ethical, social, and commercial aspects.  This situation evolved over decades, and it will take decades to evolve into something else, but there are forces beyond those of engineering practice and management that drive it.

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    Michael Byle P.E., D.GE, F.ASCE
    Tetra Tech Inc.,
    Langhorne PA
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  • 12.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 2 days ago
    A general contractor I once worked for required project managers to attend in-house media training.  This was very eye-opening and helpful, giving us more confidence when speaking about projects to anyone outside the project team and knowing when to refer inquiries to our communications staff or leadership.  Some companies don't provide this training at all and others only provide it to the company's top leadership and spokespersons.  But, it was common for media or other interested parties to seek out project personnel when there was an incident or controversy and not to go to the official company spokesperson.  Now, with social media able to quickly spread any comment or facial expression, I would think it even more important for project staff to understand how to handle inquiries and conversations with people outside the company or project team.

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    Becky Waldrup P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Manager, Professional Activities
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    Reston VA
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  • 13.  RE: Speaking to the Media

    Posted 2 hours ago
    Here's a recent article that might be of interest to readers of this discussion thread:  https://source.asce.org/how-to-prepare-for-and-succeed-in-conversations-with-the-media/ 

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    Becky Waldrup P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Manager, Professional Activities
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    Reston VA
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