Thursday, February 05, 2015

Media's Rush To Judgement

For 20+ years I have been a "commuter advocate", speaking out for my fellow riders on Metro-North in Connecticut.  I served for 19 years on the state-appointed CT Rail Commuter Group and later founded The Commuter Action Group.

Using my media skills as a former reporter and media trainer, I am often the go-to-guy when the media needs a quote about the latest woes of our aging, complaint-prone railroad.  I have never been shy to criticize the railroad when I thought they did something wrong.  Nor have I hesitated to rise to their defense when they deserved it.  This week I did the latter.

On Tuesday February 3, 2015 there was a horrific train crash at a grade crossing in, ironically, Valhalla NY that claimed six lives.  A packed train rammed into a Mercedez SUV parked on the track, killing the driver and impaling the front car with the third rail in a huge fireball.

Within minutes I started getting calls from reporters asking for a comment.  I told them I would NOT comment because I knew nothing about the accident... but I would explain to them how crossing gates work, what a third rail is and the distance it takes a train running 58 mph to stop in.

Over the years I've found that the more interviews you do, the more requests you get.  One reporter quotes you and others want their piece of the soundbite pie.

The next morning I got calls from local radio stations, NPR, Fox News and yes, "Inside Edition".  I did a few interviews but declined many, especially "Inside Edition", telling the booker I only spoke to journalists and her show was the farthest thing from journalism.  She hung up.

While I was happy to speak about commuter safety and remind motorists that crossing gates, flashing red lights and bells mean "a train is coming!", I refused to speculate on what caused the crash.  I didn't know the facts.  That's the NTSB's job.

But one thing I did say was that this time (the third Metro-North collision in less than 2 years), the accident was NOT Metro-North's fault.  Some reporters didn't like that and kept provoking me to pile on, playing the blame-game.

Sorry.  Let's let the investigations determine the facts.  Let's not rush to judgement.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What a Young Mom Can Teach You About Messaging

By Amy Fond / Cameron Communications Inc.

Have you ever tried to dress a kangaroo? Probably not – but I can tell you getting a 3- year-old out the door daily must be similar. I have three kangaroos to dress, 3 year old twins and a 4 year old. Every morning since September, as we get ready for nursery school, I shout, “Get your shoes on” a dozen times and typically no one listens. Until last week.

Instead of begging my kids to pay attention, I decided to use language that forced them to pay attention.  Changing “Get your shoes on” to “Who here knows why getting your shoes on will get you a Hershey kiss?” I hit upon what they really cared about, forced them to think about it, and then act.

With toddlers, chocolate does the trick. But in Media Training, it’s more of a verbal promise – if you pay attention you’ll get something useful that will directly affect you. Before you give your next presentation or interview, ask yourself first, what will the audience really care about?

The truth, is people truly care about what affects them. Local news stations know this. They won’t run lengthy international stories, but they will tell you every six minutes about your weather. They know they’ll keep audiences glued if viewers expect every six minutes there will be a story that directly impacts their lives.
Listen closely the next time you hear an advertisement trying to get you to watch the nightly news. They won’t say “Up next at 11, a story about dentists.” They know America isn’t racing to the TV to catch that.  Instead they’ll say, “Coming up at 11, the 3 questions you need to be asking your dentist before your next visit.” Suddenly, if you don’t pay attention you’re missing something important.

Phrases like “What you need to know” and  “Why you should be doing x, y, and z” help signal that your message will be of use to the listener. A short list is also a great way to get people to pay attention.  You, the expert, have culled through the nonsense to give  “The top three things” the listener needs to do.

The next time you want your audience to pay attention, position your message so the audience wants to listen. It’s the equivalent of a Hershey Kiss bribe. If you listen, there will be something good you’ll get in the end. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


(Reading time:  75 seconds)

While there are certain efficiencies of scale that can be achieved in holding a press conference, there are also several down-sides to consider:

= If anything in the event is embargoed, set the ground-rules up front: No Tweeting!

= Spoon feeding the same message to all media will leave them all with the same story… but they will each want their own angle, so beware the pre/post event chit chat.  It’s all on the record.

= No savvy reporter is going to ask a brilliant question in front of all his / her competitors so they all get the answer.  They’ll seek one-on-one time before or after the event.  Be careful of being seen to play favorites.

= If you make a mistake in a one-on-one media interview, it’s one thing.  But if you make the same mistake in front of a gaggle of reporters, it magnifies the faux pas and starts a feeding frenzy.

= While you want the focus of the press conference to be the speaker(s) at the front of the room, smart reporters are also listening for commentary-like asides from employees and co-workers of the sponsor.  Don’t “paper the house” with pretty faces that might kibbutz their boss’s presentation.

= How long should a press conference be?  Just as long as it takes to deliver your message and answer a few questions.  Shorter is better… unless you are Chris Christie.


(Reading time 75 seconds)

Anyone who has followed me over the years knows my passion for improving Metro-North, the commuter railroad that connects Connecticut with NYC.

Late in 2013 I resigned from the official CT Metro-North Commuter Council after 19 years when it became clear that deteriorating train service was not being addressed by the railroad or the State.  My blog proclaimed that I had “resigned, but not quit”.

In January, I launched a new effort, The Commuter Action Group, focused on social media.  I knew that 125,000 daily riders had time and smartphones and we could harness both to affect change.

Our website (built using free software) connected commuters directly with the railroad and their elected officials.  The Twitter feed kept them updated on service outages and our Facebook page provided a forum for longer discussions.

The media pick-up was incredible.  In a month we had 500 opt-in e-mails, 2,300 Twitter followers and a thousand visitors to the Facebook page.  Complaints to the railroad more than doubled and lawmakers were suddenly focused on fixing the problem.

A “Commuter Speakout” event, which drew almost 200 angry commuters, dozens of politicians, four TV stations and all the major state media generated coverage seen by millions.

The campaign worked.  And it wasn’t expensive.  Aside from my time and energy, the total out-of-pocket cost was $12…  $10 to register the domain name and $2 to make some flyers.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

How Chris Christie Spins The Media

(Reading time:  60 seconds)

NJ Governor Chris Christie was in trouble this week.  Legislators in New Jersey were grilling him about his involvement with an appointee’s decision to shut access lanes to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, allegedly as political retribution against that city’s mayor, leading to a massive traffic jam.

The Governor’s testimony went well, with Christie begging ignorance of his long-time friend and top aide Bill Baroni’s decision. ( Baroni has since resigned even as Christie said he was planning to replace him.)

Then came the press conference.  

As New Jersey Public Radio’s Matt Katz tells it, the Q&A went on for over an hour!  Katz told sister station WNYC that he alone was able to ask four questions and the press conference only ended because reporters ran out of questions.

Katz says that Christie has done this before when in a crisis… after taking a state helicopter to his son’s baseball game, after unannounced lap-band surgery.  But the strategy is intriguing:  appear so open, so willing to answer questions and with nothing to hide that nobody can accuse him of being unresponsive.

And Katz says the media in attendance were so overwhelmed with sound-bites that each could write three or four different leads.  There was no “killer cut”.  Everybody came away with a different angle.

Bottom Line:  Rather than run from the press, Christie put it in a bear hug. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Use your iPhone for your next radio interview

Radio is still my favorite medium for fast, timely news.  And radio stations around the world are always looking for guest experts.  But relying on scratchy phone lines to get interviews is so last-century.

Did you know you can use your iPhone for a digital quality hi-fi interview?  Not the telephone part of your iPhone, but by using the Voice Memo app.

While being interviewed on the phone, you record your end of the conversation as a Voice Memo and then e-mail the file to the radio station which synch’s it up with what they recorded over the phone.  The result is FM quality sound rivaling that achieved had you been in the studio.

Even without an iPhone, you can record your interview on any desktop computer using a simple mic and e-mail the audio file to the station.

You sound better.  The station sounds better and your message is delivered in hi-fi!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New Media vs Old School

NEW MEDIA vs OLD SCHOOL:   by Amy Fond
(Reading time:  90 seconds)

In the past few weeks, two interesting media studies were released. But if you were looking online, you probably missed them.

The most recent from eMarketer shows Americans are spending some 23 hours per week online with social media sites. That's almost a full day each week spent on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and more. Imagine, you wake up at 7am, sit down in front of your computer, and then surf social media sites till 6am the next morning.

To many the findings come as no surprise. Think about the last day you spent without even looking on-line at all.   

The more eyebrow raising study comes from McKinsey and Company. They say most of our news consumption… isn’t coming from our computer. 
Yep, even though we’re on-line for almost a solid day a week, we’re still getting our news from other mediums.

According to McKinsey, 35% of our news is coming from legacy media like newspapers, compared with only 4% from our laptop and just 2% from our smart phones.

We’re also reading newspapers for a longer amount of time than we’re reading news on a site like CNN.com. A reader, on average, spends a little over a minute a day on a news website, compared to some 27 minutes per day lingering on a newspaper. And on a weekend we’re spending close to an hour with the Sunday paper.

The study doesn’t say why, but part of the answer may be that newspaper readers are more invested consumers. If you’re already online for 23 hours, chances are you’ll skim a news site. But carving out time to pick-up the paper, and sit down to read it, requires a different level of commitment and attention.

We may spend 14% of our week, tweeting, posting, browsing and blogging, but when it comes to getting the news we surprisingly still prefer paper.

Something to think about before your next interview with the press. More people than you think will be reading your words!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why College Radio Is So Important

(reading time:  90 seconds)

I love College Radio.  My career started there and I am still a big fan.

My first radio job ever was in the summer of 1967 when I found myself at American Legion “Boys State” at the SUNY campus in Morrisville NY.  How I ended up during the “summer of love” at a military indoctrination program in upstate NY is a another story, but suffice it to say I skipped most of the week-long program when I found that the dorm I was in was home to WCVM, “The College Voice of Morrisville”.

While my fellow Boys-Staters drilled with the Marines and underwent indoctrination sessions on the value of the Vietnam War, I was holed up in the radio studio reading the news.

A year later I arrived at Lehigh University.  By second semester freshman year I was Program Director of one of Lehigh’s two carrier-current radio stations, the then-Classical WLVR.  Within months we changed format to Progressive Rock and the rest is history.

I was a DJ, newsman, did remotes, wrote copy.  There was no Broadcasting major at Lehigh and we barely had a faculty advisor.  We were on our own in the best and worst sense of the word.

At Lehigh I won my first Major Armstrong Award for documentary excellence, “Old Friends” which captured in interviews and music what it was like to grow old.  That was the only independent-study credit I ever got for my college radio work which had become a seven day, 40 hour a week job.

After graduation in 1972 I launched a professional career at WLIR / Long Island, but kept in touch with my College Radio Roots by joining the Board of Directors of IBS, the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System. I served there until 2000 when it was time to pass the torch to a younger generation.  (I also served on the Board of the Major Armstrong Foundation at Columbia University until it dissolved.)

A lot of College Radio is unlistenable, self-indulgent and sloppy.  But occasionally you find a station with great kids, a professional sound and yet none of the commercial mimicry that used to frustrate me so.

In my mind, College Radio should program what other stations can’t or won’t.  It shouldn’t imitate the hot commercial format du jour.

College Radio gives kids a chance to learn the medium, to experiment and fail.  Most will never go on to careers in broadcasting, but all will have a better sense of the medium and the responsibilities one has with the privilege of being on-air.