Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Management

Chain of Command

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billy-bush

Billy Bush’s cancelled appearance on NBC’s Today show is justified.  But let’s take a step back and look at this with a little more distance.

It’s likely what happened in the days leading up to that 2005 interview with Donald Trump was there was a lot of coordination between Trump’s people and Bush’s managers at Access Hollywood.  Mr. Trump and his “The Apprentice” were riding high in the ratings and no doubt the network really wanted his face on their program to nudge them even more.

Also no doubt, after that video was shot, everybody from the camera operator, to Mr. Bush, to someone above Mr. Bush’s in his chain of command watched the video in some edit bay somewhere.  Maybe several somebodys watched it.   We don’t know if that person or those people also snickered and laughed.  We do know Mr. Bush did.  And, as everyone who works in a company knows, management wants to know everything but wants deniability in case anything goes South.

We also know that video didn’t see the light of day until about 72 hours ago.  Until then, that video and everything it represented was kept like a family secret in Access Hollywood and NBC Universal until somebody looking to juice things up remembered to go through the archive searching for any file containing the keyword “Trump”.

Like any public relations disaster, the first people to fall are the footsoldiers, the expendables.  But over time, the wheels of corporate justice start to grind slowly forward like the gears in a Don Quxiote windmill and everybody gets outed.

Everybody.

Written by Interviewer

October 10, 2016 at 10:22

Mike Murad Gone

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Mike Murad Gone

Ten months ago, I posted a blog post about the fickleness of broadcast management when it comes to who they have sitting in the anchor chair.  At the time, the sacrifice du joir was former KOIN morning anchor Chad Carter.  Mr. Carter’s chair was still warm when they brought in Mike Murad.  Mr. Murad was formely from KBOI and Boise’s Treasure Valley.  And his landing seemed to kick off a fresh look and feel for KOIN’s morning news, including a new and snappy ad campaign that included Meteorologist Sally Showman, Anchor Jenny Hansson, Traffic’s Carly Kennelly and Murad, all getting along swimmingly in front of a new set and behind new graphics.

Fast forward to last week, and a Twitter post (see above) where Mr. Murad is suddenly unemployed.  And he has to be gracious about it because he’s probably looking for work in another market and he doesn’t want to look like a bad sport to a future employer.  He simply says “Management said they wanted to go in another direction.”

Again?  This is the kind of thing that can make a viewer wonder exactly who is driving the train, or car, or clown car.  You know he was vetted.  You know he was focused grouped to death.  You know they spent a lot of money believing he was money, baby.  And now, he and Mr. Carter share a pitiful truth about the broadcasting business.  It quite possibly doesn’t know what it’s doing.

And just like before, I wonder how the staff is weathering the change. This is hard shit.  For months, we were fed that happy, cheerful spot of the four of them seemingly loving each other’s company as a way of convincing us we would too.  But I wonder if this is just another reason for people at the station to worry about their own jobs and, like Madame Secretary, know they better just hold it in and keep going.

While the station possibly looks for a new face, long time local rock of a reporter, Ken Boddie, is joining Jenny Hansson at the anchor desk.  Seeing these two pros side by side makes me marvel that anybody ever gets to stay long enough to become a pro.  And seeing Mr. Boddie in Murad’s old seat tells me KOIN management didn’t have anyone warming up in the bullpen which makes me think this departure was sudden rather than the previous one which seemed more planned.

Just as an aside, Mr. Murad’s tweet is dated March 16th, which was a Monday.  I first noticed something was wrong after I started counting the number of vacation days he probably had that I though he had certainly used up by now.  So, he’s been off the air at least two weeks.  If industry norms prevail, he was probably let go on a Friday.  And that tweet is from his own account because according to Twitter, his KOIN twitter account, @MikeKOIN, doesn’t exist anymore.  It was almost certainly and immediately deactivated.

Nice.  Real nice.

Written by Interviewer

March 23, 2015 at 13:12

The 10, the 5, TOUCHDOWN!

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football

Let’s talk about spokespeople. 

Often times, they are employees of the organization they represent, meaning they are staff rather than contractors.  That is an important distinction because it can affect the vehemence with which they defend their organization against allegations.  It means they may likely be emotionally invested in their co-workers by believing they not only have to protect the mission of the organization, but the relationships they have with the people in it.  And they likely have had to work very hard over a long period of time to convince their organization’s management structure to (1) trust that they will represent the organization faithfully to the press, and (2) convince that organization to let only them be the official voice when bad things happen.  Neither of these are easy to accomplish.

Organizations, by and large, have a bury their head in the sand reaction whenever something happens that attracts media attention.  Even good things that draw media focus can make managers unskilled with the media circle wagons.  Management views outreach as exposure.  A good media relations person, by contrast, builds relationships with the media.  They want to talk to reporters.  These two attitudes conflict frequently within organizations.  Only by showing aplomb and bringing consistently good press do PR people convince managers to relax when a reporter calls.  That’s the trust part.

Being the only voice, that’s harder because if an organization has not had a spokesperson or if that spokesperson has been ineffective, a new spokesperson must establish ground rules for employees in their interaction with the media.  And for employees who feel that talking to the media is no big deal, this can be an uphill fight for the spokesperson.  At some point, I’ll talk about bosses that say dumb stuff.  But with regards to employees, those unaware of particular company policy or discreet legalities can say some incredibly stupid things that can live in newsprint or on the Internet forever.  Management that has not made it clear that every employee must run any media contact through the spokesperson is setting them up to be called after hours by a reporter to confirm something that maybe, should’ve never been made public.

So a recent story by NPR was illustrative in showing how PR people can fail and how the media can end up doing an end run around them.  The US Customs and Border Patrol, an agency of US Homeland Security is at the center of scrutiny over the deaths of several dozen migrants that have crossed the southern border illegally in recent years.  When NPR’s John Burnett visited a CBP facility in April and asked questions of an official about the hierarchy of response officers must employ when confronted with rock throwing migrants, the female spokesperson abruptly ended the interview.  Maybe this happened because the NPR reporter asked questions that were not part of any pre-interview briefing between the reporter and the CBP.  But NPR most likely made it very clear that they wanted to know about CBP policy regarding hierarchy of response.  The interview was probably cut short because the agency was so hyper-sensitive to this issue, that hyper-sensitivity had trickled down to the spokesperson.  Perhaps management told her that under no circumstances do we want to address hierarchy of response since addressing it opens up the possibility of liability.  And she, being a good soldier, fell on that sword by turning away a national news reporter with a running recorder from a pre-arranged interview.

It didn’t look or sound good. Hear it here at about 2:18.

Months later, NPR went straight to the new head of the CBP, R. Gil Kerlikowske.  He’s had a reputation for prying open agencies by holding news conferences within 24 hours of incidents with negative press potential.  This had proved a winning strategy with the media but ran smack up against inertia by bureaucracies that hate bright lights. He is now doing the same thing with the CBP and told NPR that he would not only be more transparent but that he would specifically address directly the issue of hierarchy of response in a public way.

There is no doubt that the new manager and his new media policy is what got NPR in to see him.  Otherwise, that would’ve been impossible and NPR would’ve had to rely on leaks or other means and methods to discover agency intentions.  To get an idea of how impenetrable agencies can be, think about how open the NSA or the IRS are with the media.  Mr. Kerlikowske’s efforts are a big deal.

Getting back to that spokesperson, she may still have her job.  After all, she was just doing her job.  But I have no doubt that the irony was not lost on her, especially if she comes from a news reporting background.  Spokespeople tend to be the best informed and the most tuned into general society within the organization.  They read the mood of the surrounding media and balance it against what they know is happening inside the organization.  Then, they give their best advice to management.  It’s possible that spokesperson, from her own experience with crisis management, told her managers to be more open.  But she was probably overruled by a higher media authority, likely a public affairs office at Homeland Security, a cabinet level agency.

So you can bet that when NPR did its end run around her, if she still had that job, she may have felt a little betrayed.  It’s her job, ultimately, to do what she’s told.  But betrayal is not a feeling spokespeople are unfamiliar with.  You can trust me on that one.  For sure, I’ll bet she thought long and hard about how her own years of experience were considered (or not).

Links in the Media Chain

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“Here lies one whose name is writ in water”.  That’s on the headstone of the grave of poet John Keats.  In his time and ours, it means that there is no such thing as the irreplaceable person. I’m thinking about this as I remember all of the commentators, journalists and reporters who I used to see and hear and don’t anymore.  But also, how when I do hear or see them again, I realize how I, against my will, stopped thinking about them and how insidious that tendency to forget can be.

Most recently, I think of KOIN’s Chad Carter.  Mr. Carter was a morning host for KOIN’s morning news broadcast before he was let go just about 10 days ago.  In an interview with KOIN Meteorologist Bruce Sussman back in 2011, he said he grew up in Portland and interned at KTVZ in Bend, Oregon.  He lived in Texas before getting the chance to come back to Oregon in 2006.  He worked for local rival KPTV and was eventually hired at KOIN.  You just can’t think of anyone more home-towney than that.

But Mr. Carter is just the most recent example of people who were heavily in the limelight and suddenly one day, they were just gone.  Even his profile has been removed from KOIN, as if the station wants to erase any history of him ever being there.  That’s how institutions behave.  But we the public can be just as selective.

For instance, Mo Rocca is the new “it” for CBS This Morning.  He’s portrayed as a guy Friday who is all purpose funny and versatile.  Just what a news show wanting to have a good mix of professional and fun needs to stay on top of the ratings.  But a couple generation ago, it was George Plimpton.  And as funny as Mr. Rocca is, I can imagine that a couple of generations from now, people will be thinking of him in the same way I think of Rudolph Valentino.

I’m also thinking of people like Daniel Pinkwater.  Mr. Pinkwater is a children’s author who was a regular on National Public Radio for years with host Scott Simon before he suddenly wasn’t anymore. Horticulturalist Ketzel Levine, the so-called “Doyan of Dirt” by Mr. Simon; also inexplicably didn’t appear in her regular timeslot one Saturday morning several years ago.  Sports commentator Frank Deford, also on NPR, seemed to be seamlessly replaced by Mike Pesca and Stephen Fatus.  And financial expert Marshall Goodman was a fixture on the American Public Media Program “Marketplace” until he, along with previous host David Brown, vanished.  Often, there is no explanation as to why the people are gone, and if there isn’t, that’s probably a good indication that the parting wasn’t amicable.

Sometimes, these people refuse to be forgotten.  Ann Curry’s saga with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show is more of a management than journalism case study in behind the scenes politics at morning TV news broadcast shows.  But Ms. Curry has thrived despite the misery Mr. Lauer inflicted on her and his ham handed methods to try to clean up his own image in light of it.

And Barbara Walters, who will tomorrow announce her retirement from TV on “The View” did not let Harry Reasoner destroy her during ABC’s co-anchor experiment in the 70s.  Then ABC News’ Roone Arledge gets credit for seeing her real power was in reporting, not putting up with crap from someone who didn’t realize he was already behind the march of history.

But many excellent journalists and reporters have been scraped from the credits and scrapped because media companies are moneymakers and they are constantly shaking them to make mo’ money, mo’ money.  Consultants and focus groups drive budgets, whether they’re fueled by donations or stock prices.  And when colleagues get the ax, you are sad and at the same time, maybe guilty that you still have your job.  Maybe angry that the team has a hole in it (NCIS fans know this feeling well), but silent because you know where the power lies and it’s not in front of the camera.

That’s something else about not being indispensable.  It seems ones life goes smoother if one doesn’t see oneself as being more important than one ultimately is.  If Dante had an inferno for reporters, there would probably only be four levels rather than nine.  The top ring would be for innocents who were unjustly fired.  The next one would be for the incompetent.  The next would be for the stupid and the bottom ring closest to the fire would be for the pompous.  And because of this tragic flaw, the media gods hate them most.

What reporters and journalists do is important, but we can’t act like it is.  Because I think we are all just links in a chain from the past to the future and there is a lot of humility in that.  Sort of like lying on the ground at night and looking up at all of the stars.  It makes you feel kinda small, or at least it should in the healthy, non-sociopathic.  The people from the past likely couldn’t imagine us and the people in the future likely won’t remember us. So the work we do now has to be to make the best “us” we can.  To improve on those that came before us and give a good foundation for those who come after us but ego-wise, I don’t think any of it can be about us.

So getting back to Keats, it seems there is little to be done about a finicky public that cries for what it says it loves and misses until somebody dangles something shiny in front of its face.  In every one of these cases, only insiders know what really led to these arrivals and departures. But you can bet media managment have their talent and reporters on tight leashes to keep bad feelings from you letting their smiling faces into your living room.  Maybe Mr. Carter is a standard bearer for those who realize that all you can do is to do your best, keep calm and then, … move on


What is a “True Believer?”

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I met Zack at an Albertsons. The post explains the rest.

This isn’t about interviewing, although it could’ve been. The subject is probably near and dear to at least 150 million Americans. Maybe next time I’ll talk interviews.

True believers come in many forms. There are religious true believers. Sports true believers. Political true believers. There are true believers in family. True believers in our system of Capitalism. And, there are true believers in the United States of America.

What about employees who are true believers? I’m not talking about employees who are coerced into being true believers at the threat of losing their job if they’re not. And I’m not talking about employees who are the movers who shake everyone below them in an organization either. They can afford to be true believers and cheerleaders if they’re making the big bucks or have been given the power to push other people around.

I’m talking about true believers like Zack. Zack works for Coke, and I took his picture because I noticed something special about him. Look closely. See anything, unique? Zack isn’t a big wig. He didn’t ask me to take his picture. And it was Sunday, so it’s not like he had the luxury I did of being off work. .

What I noticed was that he was wearing shoes that exactly matched the colors in his shirt, the colors of his truck, the colors of every box of Coke product from the Pacific Ocean east to the Sea of Japan. I’ve seen lots of Coke delivery guys. They all wear the shirt but the shoes are always different. I guess Coke lets them pick they’re own shoes for comfort since they’re on all kinds of surfaces, all day long – jumping down, climbing up, huffing and hauling. Issuing shoes is probably an expense the company doesn’t want to have to bear.  Then again, for all I know, they do issue shoes. But this employee chose to pick these shoes for an extra reason.

They’re just shoes, right? Nope. They’re a small, spontaneous expression of loyalty by an employee that is trying to say how much he likes his job. He’s not sucking up to anybody. He’s not trying to get noticed. He’s just telling himself, “I’m in.”

This is the kind of thing every company, every federal agency, every non profit organization is dying to have; employees that care from the bottom up, from the inside out. This is the kind of thing they pay consultants millions of dollars to conduct months long studies to find.

But for many organizations, it’s elusive, like hunting for snipe. For many organizations, it doesn’t seem to exist at all and for some of them, it’s absent for a reason although they just can’t figure out why.  But maybe they should try opening an issue of Forbes, or Inc. or Harvard Business Review or Psychology Today, or practically any business tome between now and the 19th century and they might get a clue.

If bureaucracies beat workers down with policy letters and punitive actions, if they passive aggressively punish passion and initiative, if they use HR like a cudgel to compensate for their managerial cowardice and inadequacy, then they won’t see stuff like this. What they’ll see instead is employees that are “retiring in place.” They’ll see employees who would rather run through the door when their time is up than suffer fake supervisory appreciation that is less felt and more farce.  What they’ll get, year after year, are employee satisfaction surveys that put them squarely below average … surveys that say, they as bosses, suck. And they’ll deserve it.

Because, the thing is, lots of organizations have employees who are true believers.  And they kill them.

Zack is a Coke man down to his kicks. Coke, this is your public face. It got my attention. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.  I might drink your cola, but I’ll definitely notice your workers.

Written by Interviewer

March 9, 2013 at 11:55