27 November 2011

5 Tips for Handling a Media 'Scandal'

What a year I've had, two media 'scandals' in six months. In May I was accused of writing offensive tweets that supposedly meant I couldn't do my job and just last week I apparently cheated my way into winning a new car.

Between the two 'scandals' (and I use the word lightly) I've managed to be the most read article on The Age website, the lead story on Channel 10 news and even had a joke made about me by Dave Hughes on The Project.

Here are the five things I've learned about handling what is quite a daunting experience for a 22-year-old.
1) Anything can be a story
What I didn't realise until recently was that anything could be a story.

It doesn't matter if it's pointless or what I would deem 'a non story'. It particularly doesn't matter if it's a scandal for the sake of being a scandal.
You might think the content of the story isn't newsworthy, but you have to ask yourself, "What is the headline?". Because if the situation can be condensed into a scandalous headline, the rest of the article doesn't matter. And that's why something as innocent as a tweet or a mention of the word 'BFF' three years ago can apparently be news.
2) Don't feed the trolls
It's quite incredible how crazy some people can be. Despite being ill informed and unwilling to be informed, social media has allowed these people a voice.
It's tempting to respond to their blatant stupidity or cruelty, but don't. Trolls don't argue with logic so you're just wasting your time, and more importantly any response can be used as fodder by journos to make things worse.
Trolls are best left in silence.

3) Don't feed the journos (some of whom are also trolls)
Simply put, don't comment on the scandal.

Again it's hard not to, but by doing so you're throwing fuel on the fire and potentially getting yourself into another news cycle.
The quality of journalism and research in both of my 'scandals' were incredibly poor, yet the best option was to remain quiet and let the story die as quickly as it came.
No one ever got in trouble for not making a comment.
4) Do the ground work to win the SEO game
Articles and 'scandals' like these hurt people, especially when it comes to their Google results. One news piece could cost you and your reputation years down the track when a potential employer (or potential date) runs your name in a Google search.
To avoid this as much as possible, you've got to be proactive. Thankfully I've got this blog that I've been writing for four years and a number of other platforms that help my search results. They will (hopefully) always trump a rogue journalist who decides to use my name.
It's unreasonable to assume you'll never be a front page story (just ask 21-year-old Zac!). The best defence you can have to protect your page rank on Google against shoddy journalism is a quality blog or website. If you don't have one, best you get started.

5) Ride it out
Once the story breaks, you can't do anything about it.
If you've followed the advice above then the story should be dead within a news cycle and the damage won't be too extensive. You can't control how you're portrayed or what peple say about you, so you're best to ride it out and remember that in a few days no one will remember or give a shit.
It's been a crazy few experiences, certainly not something I want to repeat. Hopefully I don't have to follow these tips myself ever again.

Two scandals is enough for one lifetime.
The views expressed herein are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. Also ponies are evil.
Pigs Don't Fly © Copyright Zac Martin