I hear the complaint on a regular basis: "The media are biased!" Chances are high you've either heard it too, or (gasp!) said it yourself.
The reality is most reporters I know strive toward unbiased, balanced story reporting. Yet bias exists. Why?
1. Many stories start with rumors (which may have been started by your opponent). When I was working in the newsroom, if I received a "tip" (rumor) about certain indiscretions by an elected public figure, it was my job to prove that information right or wrong. If it proved true, I had a story. Beginning with that single tip, were my questions pointed and possibly construed as negative or biased? Most likely. I had a story to prove and, based on the believability of my source, I may have unknowingly developed a personal bias that bled into my reporting.
2. Reporters most likely have only part of the story when they head out the door. You may have spent the better part of your life working in a specific field, but reporters gather information - and are expected to understand it and relate the story to their audience in a meaningful, cohesive manner - within a matter of hours.
3. There may be a general misconception in the newsroom and/or general public about your issue. When individuals refuse to talk with the press on complicated issues, it can exacerbate the problem.
4. Human nature. Like it or not, it's the nature of the news beast. Reporters are human - just like you.
So what can you do to help educate and recast the story in a balanced light? It's simple: Don't talk to the media.
Really. Don't talk to the media. Instead, use the interview opportunity to talk to your audience.
News reporting agencies are a critical conduit for delivering important information to your audience. Consider what your audience needs to hear from you, and remember that reporters are likely operating on limited information when they first contact you. Help a reporter do his or her job by presenting the information in the most simplistic means possible.
It is estimated that television, radio and print news audience members have between a sixth- and eighth-grade comprehension level on average. When you prepare to speak with a reporter, remember that. Ask yourself how you would present your message if you were speaking in front of a group of middle-school students. Drop the big, flowery and impressive words. Avoid corporate speak and industry jargon. Tell your story in the simplest, most straightforward manner possible.
More often than not, we - not the media - are our own worst enemy. You may not be able to control the final outcome of a story, but you can control what you say and how you say it. Take the necessary time to prepare your message. And, if you are lucky enough to find some sixth-graders, tell them the issue and ask them if they understand your message.