Reporters, Authorized Media Contacts, Quotes and Misquotes

Now that the tourney season is upon us, many local branches are moving out into parks and other public venues, and these public demos and fight practices may attract members of the media.

Following are some thoughts to keep uppermost in mind as your group responds to this attention.

Who is authorized to speak to local members of the media?

The most knowledgeable branch members (often the seneschal and/or chatelaine) should speak for the group about routine matters (demos and events). As a practical matter, this might not always be possible; also, there may be members of your branch who have good working relationships with local media — or are media professionals themselves.
We want to foster and encourage good relations with local media professionals who are developing feature stories. Don’t get hung up on who is authorized to speak to the media UNLESS the story is hard news (it’s on fire or leaking blood).
If the local equivalent of 60 Minutes shows up on your door, give them my name and phone number (and call me right away with the details so I can prepare!!

Does a reporter need my permission before quoting me?

If you grant an interview to a reporter, assume that permission has been granted, and do your best not to disclose things “off the record.” However, if members of your group are at an open public meeting where reporters are present (and the meetings of many civic boards and commissions are now televised), a reporter can quote the testimony of speakers without seeking their approval. Keep this in mind if a representative goes before your local parks board, fair board, or town council to request use of a venue for an SCA event.

How can I prevent a reporter from misquoting me?

Have your statements been jumbled, edited, or taken out of context? Welcome to the club. If you speak to the media, there’s a good chance that you’ve been misquoted. Here are some tips to help minimize the chances (nothing is foolproof, though).
You don’t HAVE to talk to a reporter. It’s perfectly acceptable to courteously decline (please don’t say “no comment).
Ask what is the premise of the story he or she is writing. If there’s a negative spin, this is the time to call your Kingdom Media Relations Officer.
BE PREPARED. Have a press kit handy (there are several useful handouts here:
DON’T agree to a quote the reporter manufactures for you (“would you agree that the SCA is full of crazies,” for instance). Hint: if the bulk of the reporter’s questions are negative, you should not be giving the interview! Again, this office is here to be the professional voice of the kingdom if there’s bad news to report.
NEVER agree to be quoted if you have strong feelings or are not up to speed on the issue. Say, “I may not be the best person to interview on this subject.”
Don’t say ANYTHING to a reporter you wouldn’t want to see or hear in print or on TV, and anything you write in an e-mail is fair game as well.
Record the interview…and be sure the reporter knows it.

Help! I was quoted and I wasn’t even there!

Reporters have tight deadlines, and often go to the Internet for background information. Be SURE that your branch web site/social media page has current information on it.
Also, remember, the Internet is forever. If you have ever posted something snarky, mean-spirited, or in poor taste, that post is out there somewhere for your mother and reporters to discover. Every post you have ever made to a blog, forum, every mention of your name, they’re all out there for reporters to discover.
One last word on the Internet: with the proliferation of blogs, everybody’s a reporter—without the degree in journalism or code of ethics that journalists use. If you have a bad experience with a member of the public while representing your branch, he or she just might work off some steam blogging about the experience, and there goes the reputation of the SCA as well as you personally.
We all have days we should have stayed in bed, but do your best never to speak to anyone when you’re angry. Be gentle in both word and deed in and out of the SCA and remember the 10 commandments of the SCA can help you in the modern world as well!