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established 2008

Media Training

Evaluating Media Requests
Adapted from training materials prepared by Audacia Ray and Eliyanna Kaiser from Sex Work Awareness ©2009.

Reactive Media - when a reporter reaches out to you or your organization about a story. It's called "reactive media" because you must react to a situation that is being thrust upon you; you aren't creating a story or creating your own media.

Why and When Do Reporters Call?
Obviously, reporters can call for a myriad of reasons and we can't predict them all. But there are a number of specific types of situations which are common that have certain characteristics.

  1. Scandals Involving VIPs - When someone famous gets caught with their pants down.
    Example:
    Will Smith & Jada Pinket Smith reveal in an interview that they have an "arrangement".
    Tilda Swinton reveals her "triad" home life.
    Warren Buffett marries his mistress after wife's death
    Sandra Day O'Connor approves of hubby's rest-home girlfriend
    Tiger Woods cheating
    Gov. Mark Sanford

      Why is the Reporter Calling You?
    • To get background about what polyamory is for the news coverage;
    • To get salacious personal information about you for a sidebar fluff piece about the polyamory.
    Characteristics of the Press Cycle
    • Story moves quickly and depending on the celebrity, politician, or other VIP involved, tends towards national or even international coverage;
    • Story can cycle for weeks or months;
    • Fierce competition between all media markets;
    • Getting information about the participants involved in the scandal is a high priority;
    • Getting information about how polyamory functions for background or sidebar stories is a secondary priority, often assigned to more junior writers;
    • There is often a "discovery" element to these stories, when the press covers the polyamory in terms of its actual mechanics everything is newsworthy: who chooses polyamory, how new members are found, what is done, where, and why;
    • It is often possible to use these opportunities to raise policy issues.
    Things to Think About:
    • Is there an angle to this story that I can focus on that will draw out civil rights issues?

  2. Crime Stories - When individuals are arrested because of their sexual proclivities.
    Example:
    The raid on the Mormon compound
    The President of South Africa's wedding to his third wife

    Why is the Reporter Calling You?
    • In general the reporter is probably not calling you. If they are, the reporter hopes that you are involved in the crime, as a witness, a victim, a conspirator, or that you know something about it;
    • People with good lawyers don't talk to the press when they are involved in a criminal matter, but maybe you will.
    Characteristics of the Press Cycle
    • Typically a short press cycle punctuated by the occasional resurrection of the story when the situation changes (trial, sentencing, etc.);
    • Naming/describing/getting photos of the individuals involved is a high priority;
    • Getting vivid details of the crime(s) is a high priority;
    • Tabloids are always the most interested in these stories, but some community-based media and local television will also bite;
    • Few (if any) opportunities to raise other issues.
    Things to Think About
    • It is important to distance the poly community from the crime involved and to point out that the poly community does not support criminal activity. Try to separate the poly issue from the crime that was committed by someone who happens to be polyamorous or superficially resembles polyamory.
    • If your organization wants to take on criminal justice reform issues, it is even more important to be careful and selective about which stories you decide to be publicly on the record about.

  3. Dead Polyamorist Stories - When a polyamorist is murdered or dies in that context.
    Example:
    Man murdered in gay poly triad home
    Married man kills his and wife's underage ex-girlfriend after she dumps them (article not found at time of this tutorial)
    First wife kills husband on eve of visiting second wife for impregnation
    Murder victim is revealed to be in poly relationship
    Jealous mistress kills married lover

    Why is the Reporter Calling You?
    • In general, the reporter is probably not calling you, but if they are it's likely because you are a polyamorist from the same area or are publicly listed as a poly spokesperson for a poly organization;
    • The reporter wants to hear that people are scared and angry and what they are doing to protect themselves or retaliate (in the case of poly murders) or to get a sense of how the polyamorist died;
    • The reporter may be doing a human interest story about what it's like to be a polyamorist.
    Characteristics of the Press Cycle
    • As long as the body count continues, the press is covering this as front page news;
    • If there is a large body count but little police action the press often covers that;
    • If a polyamorist is dead the press coverage is hostile towards alternative sexualities and "open relationships";
    Things to Think About
    • If members of your community are at-risk of violence, make sure you know what their needs are before speaking to the press. If you are not of that specific community, ask someone who is, or refer the call to someone else;
    • Certain reporters will be looking for a tourist-style story. Can you or your organization provide that and use the opportunity to raise your issues?
    • When a polyamorist has died, the press is casting for the role of villain when they call. Be wary about getting involved.

  4. The Discovery Story - When a news outlet reports on the seemingly obvious.
    Example:
    Monogamy not cutting it? Maybe you're a polyamorist
    Whole Lotta Love
    A Love Triangle? Try A Hexagon
    More Than Monogamy

    Why is the Reporter Calling You?
    • You are the story, and without you or someone in your community/network, they have nothing.
    Characteristics of the Press Cycle
    • Cyclical and predictable, the existence of alternative sexuality and any changes it undergoes will continue to be recycled as tantalizing news for as long as sex is not a part of mainstream dialogue;
    • Almost every outlet and media format will do these types of stories because sex sells and people are curious about other people's sex lives;
    • While most outlets will not allow their reporters or market to cover the same story twice, it is common for these stories to break those rules;
    • Flash cycles: the reporter prints or posts a story and a few media outlets may copy them and do similar pieces in the following 1-2 days;
    • Sometimes reporters look to answer a hypothesis with these stories, like polyamory is a solution to a dying marriage or polyamory is the answer to Women's Lib;
    • Standards of evidence for these stories are very low: one polyamorist is enough to announce a trend or to make assumptions about the rest of the community;
    • Very good opportunities to raise issues, the reporter is usually happy to be led anywhere you want to take them.
    Things to Think About
    • Make sure you understand the reporter's hypothesis or what kind of story they think they want to tell; often reporters are after an angle and that is particularly true with these types of stories.

  5. Legislation/Policy Stories - When a legislator, government agency, major advocacy organization or other entity proposes legislation or policy action that will impact the alternative sexuality communities.
    Example:
    The NY housing limit of the number of unrelated people allowed to cohabitate.
    Any of the coverage on the Slippery Slope argument of Gay Marriage leading to Polygamy

    Why is the Reporter Calling You?
    • With these kinds of stories the reporter is probably not calling you, it is all too common to see stories of this type where there is no effort made to ask polyamorists who are impacted what they think of the legislation or proposal;
    • If the reporter is calling you it is usually for an up or down opinion on the issue: Do you like this proposal or bill? Why or why not?
    Characteristics of the Press Cycle
    • Usually short-lived, these sorts of stories usually have a life of one day in the press before they are old news (with the exception that if a bill is introduced the passage of the bill may justify a second press cycle);
    • Policy and legislation that covers the ongoing Gay Marriage issue and how it relates to Polygamy, can be much longer lived, since the issue is a current battle and even an election topic;
    • Often the proposal is not realistic and will never be implemented but unlike the thousands of other measures that are proposed and not implemented, this one is news-worthy because of its sexy topic;
    Things to Think About
    • While these sorts of press stories are the ones that you are least likely to be called about, they may be the stories that you most want to be called about. Considering the short cycle, if you or your organization has something to say on the topic, it pays to be proactive;
    • The person behind the policy idea or the legislation (if the proposal will negatively impact polyamorists) usually has a simple motivation of self-interest. Politicians want to generate press about themselves and nothing does that faster than proposing a sex-related bill or policy, regardless of how realistic it is.

 


© PMA 2008