Saturday, July 19, 2014

Relations: the media

I know what every single last one of you are thinking. You've read Superman comics, you've watched documentaries on Deep Throat, and you bought into the hype. You're convinced that you'll meet some plucky reporter who will hang breathlessly on your every pronouncement and give you an easy route to fame.

This is your wake-up call.

The media, taken overall, is interested in selling interesting material through their channel. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, whatever. They make a profit through sales of their product (if they have one), and through advertising revenue. Those profits are used to pay the journalists, editors, and other staff who work at the media outlet. Their profits fluctuate based on how interesting their audience finds their content - or how much the owner thinks the audience will enjoy it. But all that money also buys access - people will take you seriously when you have an airbrushed anchor, a blonde reporter, a news van with a professional logo painted on it, a building in downtown New York with your name on it, and so on.

What this means is that the people most willing to talk about the stories you want them to talk about are the people least likely to have incentive to do so. The more powerful the organization, the more their agenda will dominate yours when you play along with them. This is why Internet forums like Wavelength, ATS, and so on will post absolutely anything, while big news companies like CNN have strict rules about speaking with villains. Independent media - local papers, local-access or the old UHF news, college radio, bloggers, and so on - fall somewhere in the middle.

So how do you decide who you'll contact? The rule is: work with the outlets covering the area in which you can pursue your villainous capers at your leisure. Your stature as a villain dictates the people who have their own reasons to talk to you - if you run roughshod over the heroes in Topeka but Chicago is beyond you, talk to the Topeka media. If you can do crimes anywhere in the Eastern Seaboard, congratulations, you don't need my guide, but at that point you're ready for MSNBC or Fox News.

You should expect to work with a media organization, not a specific person. Reporters come and go. Journalists can get reassigned, quit their jobs, or be fired. Accusations of favoritism, bias, and compromise can cost you the reporter you've been carefully cultivating for weeks or months. Always make it clear that you're willing to cooperate with any member of the organization that speaks to you. And also, always beware the crusading reporter who insists on being the only person to talk to you. If you can get a hold of their editor, explain the situation - you'd rather work with known quantities, and reporters who make you their pet cause are anything but.

Any reporter or blogger coming to you wants something they can put to good use in their publication. They're not your fan club, they're talking about you to their real audience - their readers. You're an interesting curiosity, a means of accessing a world most civilians never get to experience, or an intelligence asset for learning more about super-crime. If you have an agenda, you're going to need to pay for it somehow, and information is the fourth estate's coin of the realm. This goes both ways - they can trade you something useful if you do likewise.

You might consider establishing a drop-box, prepaid phone number, or some similar means of contacting you, if you want to hear from journalists. This adds complexity, because it's one more thing to keep track of and one more avenue for tracking you down (were you dumb enough to bring a cell phone along for your heist?) It's better to demand that journalists who speak with you provide their own contact information. The more removed this is from their physical location, the better - for example, an email address, a voice mail service, or a Post Office box. This also sets the proper psychological tone. You aren't at their beck and call - they are able to speak to you only at your pleasure.

The Bourne movies are a great model for how to make contact with people in the media. Make phone calls from anonymous phones in random locations, never give them too much, and set up face-to-face meetings in places you trust. Always offer them some compensation for their time and risk.