This Saturday is ‘World Press Freedom Day’. This day was first observed in 1994 and now every year on 3 May we remember that journalists around the world are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and killed by dictators who do not want freedom of the press because they do not want democracy in their countries. According to information from ‘Reporters Without Borders’, more than 77 journalists died a violent death in 2013 alone.
What has this got to do with MANN+HUMMEL? That’s simple: we too consider freedom of the press and freedom of speech to be vital, indeed indispensable. Moreover, our company is often the subject of media reports.
Whether it is the economic press, local and regional newspapers or specialist media, journalists regularly contact us by telephone to find out information or look for interviewees. It is in this situation that the same questions about how to deal with the press ‘correctly’ crop up time and time again. Do I have to speak to the media? What happens to the information that I give to journalists? Will I be told in advance when and where the article is going to be published? Can I have any control over what is published? How can I make sure that my information won’t be reported ambiguously or incorrectly?
In the press office, we have a few ground rules to help us ensure that our dealings with journalists are professional, efficient and fair for both parties.
Ground rule no 1
Our company is not obliged to provide the media with information nor is it accountable to the media. However, it is in our own interests to maintain ongoing, transparent and reliable press and public relations. When we do divulge information to outside parties, we do so to the best of our knowledge and belief (as is also stipulated in our company code of conduct). Due care always comes before speed. We do not allow ourselves to be put under undue pressure – not even from an imminent editorial deadline.
Ground rule no 2
When we speak to journalists we know that in cases of doubt our counterpart is not a specialist like our experts in the individual divisions. Economic journalists are interested in numbers and business strategies, specialist media are more likely to want to talk about technology, products and processes, whereas the local press will be looking for information about the location. That’s why we make sure that the information we provide is specific and tailored to the target group.
Ground rule no 3
It is important to manage expectations, so we will clarify with a journalist in advance what the conditions of us speaking to them are and how they may use our information. Does the journalist need an official statement or are they just looking for general information about the business? We make it very clear when we do not want to be quoted word for word, and in cases where we do, we stipulate that this must be the case and that we want verbatim quotations to be submitted to us prior to publication so that we can authorise them. This is usually only the case for question and answer interviews, where we want to come across as friendly, open and honest but avoid appearing naive or too chatty.
Ground rule no 4
We are realistic. Even if we show a journalist around the laboratory for hours, they are still not going to be able to put all of the information in their article (or radio, TV or online piece) and nor will they want to. We are not annoyed or offended if two short statements are all that are used from an interview lasting several hours. Journalism is built on choice and reduction. As journalists generally work professionally and are well practised in the art of omission, the end result is usually good.
Ground rule no 5
Keep your cool if the next day something does appear in the newspaper,or is broadcast, which is not as agreed or expected. Naturally, we cannot completely rule out the risk of an abridged (and possibly distorted) statement being published. But you can be comforted by the fact that a great deal of information is broadcast and it will be yesterday’s news before you know it.