Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dealing with and being the media in Second Life

I've had some interesting encounters as a reporter in Second Life that have prompted this post. As a reporter in "real life" since the 80s, I brought the same high standards and ethics into my Second Life reporting career even though I was being paid a mere fraction of what First Life journalism pays.

To me, what I put out there as my writing is a reflection of not only my skills and abilities but my values even though I am careful to keep my personal opinion out of articles and report "just the facts." Still, I always want to be proud of my published writing as my childhood dream was to become a writer to "touch people's lives." I can't always write about things in a positive way, particularly if the facts are not as positive as a company or PR rep would like to portray.

So here are some of my tips for people dealing with the media in Second Life and for those who call themselves Second Life reporters.

For PR People and Anyone Looking for Positive PR

1. Everyone is Media.

If you hold an event in Second Life, somebody in attendance could be media so you should prepare for this and have a plan to handle this reality. Even private parties could have media in attendance unbeknownst to you because with the advent of blogs, everyone is potential "media" with some semblance of a readership.

2. Be Responsive.

If someone at your event identifies themselves as media, you should have someone in place as a spokesperson or as a media coordinator - just to make sure the questions are answered promptly, accurately and that the journalist doesn't wander aimlessly speaking to people who may not be the best voices for your project, event, organization or company. A reporter asking around for a contact or source is not a nuisance or troublemaker - they are a responsible journalist doing their job.

3. Be Honest.

If your event wasn't meant for public consumption or your project isn't ready for prime time, let a reporter know this and ask if they could keep information you give them as "off the record" or "embargoed." These are terms that any reputable and experienced journalist knows and usually respects, but you have to use these exact terms. Saying something like "Oh, this was meant to be a private affair" or "We didn't expect media show up and aren't ready " might say to the reporter that you are just making excuses. This doesn't say to them "please do not report on this yet - all of this is off the record." And make sure you say "Off the Record" before you start talking.

4. Return the Favor.

If a journalist holds something as off the record, remember that they did not have to do this and take it as an overture to having a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship. Nurture this relationship by providing them access when it is appropriate to reveal the full story. If a reporter has truly helped to protect your interests, they are doing it not only out of high morals or ethics but also because they hope it will forge a closer relationship so they can get to better news from you in the future.

5. Give Scoops With Care.

When you really have a good relationship with a journalist, consider giving them a scoop now and then to solidify that relationship. But don't give the same journalist a scoop all the time unless you have a strategic reason to do so. You could end up alienating other journalists which will not bode well for future coverage in competitor publications.

6. Make the Reporter's Job Easier.

Reporters are not here to make your job easier. They are not here to enhance your profile or your company's profile. They are out to do a job in the best way they know how. By standing in their way, criticizing or insulting them, or badmouthing them to their editors or publishers, you are setting yourself up for PR blacklisting.

There are many times when your hands are tied or someone within your company has made a mistake and said something to a reporter they didn't mean to say. Rather than accusing the journalist of something unethical or unprofessional for reporting it, find a way to diplomatically explain the situation the bad PR has caused and look for ways to work through the situation.

7. Suck It Up.

Most reporters are not out to make you look bad. If a reputable journalist makes a mistake, they will admit it and offer to print a retraction. If the mistake is yours and they still offer to clear up the error, you've found a truly rare breed of journalist. Most reporters are too busy - not too callous - to help you fix the PR mess you got yourself into.

If the mistake was yours and nothing can be done to correct the situation, then just suck it up and learn from your own mistakes. Don't use the reporter as a punching bag.

That said, if you encounter a disreputable reporter who has either lied or fabricated the details of a story, severely misquoted you to the point of causing serious damage or is grossly rude and disruptive at your event or place of work, this is definitely something you should bring up with their editor. Put your grievance in writing without threats. Explain the situation and ask for a remedy. Good publishers and editors will not tolerate bad reporters.

PR is a 2-ways street. Unfortunately because the nature of the business, the onus is on the company or organization to make sure everything is put forth professionally, strategically and positively. The reporter reports what he or she observes, is told and is given. But ultimately, you cannot control a reporter or what they glean from what you do, say or produce.

For Reporters and Reporter Wannabes in Second Life

I don't think any of these need much further explanation - just a simple list of things to do to be a good reporter in Second Life.

1. Report the Facts, Not Opinion. (unless you are writing an essay or opinion piece, of course!)

2. Honor "Off the Record" and "Embargoed."

3. Get and Use Direct Quotes When Possible.

4. Back Up Your Chat and IM Transcripts.

5. Protect Your Sources.

6. Correct Your Mistakes. (As best as you can or are able to do.)

7. Be Respectful.

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