Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you’ve seen images of what is going on in Baltimore. I’m in Europe and I’ve still seen images.
I’ve also seen several posts from people on social media posting different pictures than what is portrayed in the popular press and telling people “but there’s more to what’s really going on in Baltimore.”
Whether you call what is going on in Baltimore protests or riots or something else, there are some important lessons about the media that we should all take away. I learned these lessons from my days in politics and I think they are still valid today.
Lesson 1 – Understand what will be reported. This actually could be called – remember that the media is a business. Business needs revenue. Media generates revenue when it is able to sell advertising. How do you sell advertising in media? By showing potential advertisers that you get so many views/clicks to your news site. You know what gets people to go to a news site – seeing something containing violence, confrontation, riots, destruction, death, war, disaster, etc. You get the idea. Peaceful protests aren’t going to draw the same type of attention because “peaceful” just isn’t controversial.
Lesson 2 – You don’t always get to determine what the message will be, but hopefully you get to influence it each time. The public will think about what is going on in Baltimore based on what it sees from the media. To use a quote from the 1996 movie “Wag the Dag” – the character Connie Brean says the following statement when he is told there is no war with Albania – “Of course there’s a war. I’m watching it on Television.”
Lesson 3 – Being unprepared means that someone else’s message will be broadcast. Whoever decided that there should be some kind of demonstration in Baltimore didn’t think through how it would be portrayed in the media. It was only after there was negative coverage and images shown that some people have tried to change the narrative of what Baltimore is about. Playing catch up like that is never good. You want to be on the front edge of a story, not trying to change the narrative.
Lesson 4 – The media is a tool to be used. This means being prepared and knowing what the message is, what the image is, and sticking to that. You can gain some influence on what is portrayed by making the job of the reporter easy – think in advance of what they will want and give it to them in advance. Guide the story. That’s not always easy, but it can be done – even with protests.