Everything I Needed To Know About Media Relations I Learned…

UnknownIn the communications business, the TV news internship is one way to get a basic education in the way things work, in a fast-paced, competitive environment. 22 summers ago, I was a TV news intern at WJBK-TV in Detroit, then “TV 2,” a CBS affiliate.

In that internship, I learned enough about broadcast news that I got a paying job at WWJ Radio, then located in the same building, for the following summer. I met contacts who would continue to help me decades later. Now, after finding some old coverage in my basement recently, I realized that I learned a lot about PR that summer too.

If you can spare fewer than 3 minutes, take a look at this story. I did the behind-the-scenes legwork on it. In fact, that’s me in the hallway scenes, on the left (with all of the hair).

The story, reported by my incomparable original mentor in communications, Murray Feldman, revealed information about the nonprofit organization that once organized the Detroit Grand Prix, Detroit Renaissance. The organization had been criticized for its revenue and spending and, under Murray’s direction, after days of denying requests for interviews, I asked for simple permission to review the organization’s tax statements (that was well before Form 990s for nonprofits were as accessible as they are now).

As is now clear for all to see, the organization completely mishandled working with us and made some critical errors that, upon reflection, turned into lessons that have stayed with me for more than 20 years:

-If you don’t speak for yourself, others gladly will speak for you. Detroit Renaissance management wouldn’t be interviewed, so we found an expert of our choosing to talk about them on TV. Did he say what management would have said? I doubt it.

-Telling a TV station that they can’t bring their cameras in an office will always be used against you, as it was here.

-Acting like you have something to hide will make an uncomfortable situation worse. It turned out their forms didn’t reveal anything sinister. So why the secrecy? The subject’s decisions took what could have been a more straightforward story and made it more negative.

When working on that story, I never pictured myself on “the other side.” Now that I’m on it, I realize this is as good example as any of what not to do when working with journalists (interns or otherwise). This is yet another example of how the right internship can pay dividends across a career.