"Help! Al Jazeera wants an interview"
By Annie Cosalan
Many live in dread of dealing with the media. One IOM colleague and mission media focal point (who shall remain nameless), told how she wakes up in a cold sweat after any encounter with the media. Why? I asked her over a crackling Skype line this week: “I have these nightmares that something I said was either wrong or misreported and is now all over the internet."
Result: "Our donor hits the roof, pulls the plug on the mission and we all have to go home. Of course I get blamed and my career ends too.”
Well, that is a nightmare scenario, but it can be avoided with a few simple steps.
While we sympathize with our talented colleague in the field, her reaction is de trop. We recommend the same sort of treatment a psychologist might suggest for arachnophobia: sensitivity training. For the person who cannot abide spiders, the doctor is likely to place a spider in front of him or her for a period of time every day. Over time the chest-tightening sensation goes away and bless my soul the person can actually function in the presence of the odd spider. Our prescription for people with media-phobia is something similar. Expose yourself to them in small doses. Over time you may even get to like them.
For those of us who would rather be taken away by aliens than be in the media spotlight, well this column is just for you. Like it or not, there’s every reason on earth to embrace the media. Remember, the reporter who always seems to call at an inopportune time (you’re having lunch perhaps, or have just switched off your computer), is representing the people who keep you employed at IOM. How? Well the media are the taxpayers’ watchdog and their job is to ensure that the taxpayer’s money, channeled perhaps directly via a donor or multilaterally through the UN, is being well spent. Look at it this way, the journalist is in one sense your boss.
So treat reporters and editors with respect and they in turn will reciprocate.
The next time you're asked to be interviewed, or to provide answers to questions on a tight deadline, please don't blow it. Our nightmare-suffering colleague has a point. A badly handled interview can do a lot of damage.
But that's no reason to treat the press badly. In fact a sure fire way to ruin your mission's (and in turn IOM's) reputation is to dodge, obfuscate or even lie to the media. To quote Winston Churchill, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
Annie Cosalan is the Communications Specialist for IOM