Dealing with the press (long)

I've not yet read the Popular Science article about LDRS, but I certainly saw the article in Popular Mechanics a few months back and was, shall we
say, under-impressed. At that time I wondered if rocketeers had a "party line" that was presented to the press. Following the discussion concerning the article in Popular Science, it would seem the answer is "no".
The press is a mixed blessing. While they can help make people aware of the existence of such things as HPR, and draw in new members, it also makes people aware of the existence of HPR, and draws new attacks.
In a former life I was a caver, heavily involved in the cave rescue scene. Dealing with the press was a serious and ongoing concern, as the press has a way of sensationalizing everything, and trivializing the important parts. This sometimes led to negative effects, most significantly the closure of caves by landowners who didn't want the risk they perceived to exist after watching the news. (hint: change 'caves' to 'launch sites' and my prime area of concern emerges)
The caving community had several methods for coping that might serve other groups well. I'm tossing these out simply as descriptions of what has worked in another setting, as a starting point for discussion.
1) Proactive relationships : Build a relationship with them before the feces hits the fan. Invite them to events, and spoon feed them the 'party line'.
2) Limit who talks to the press. This usually boils down to appointing a liaison, and having them escort the press through the event. When you do talk to the press (a pretty aggressive bunch-- if they want you, they'll get you) be honest, but don't volunteer anything, and quote the 'party line'. Also, some folks are, simply by their nature, perhaps not the best individual to deal with the press. Keep 'em away.
3) Remember that what is commonplace to you may be sensational to others. For example, if you have a rocket that is experimental or has a significant risk of failure, spoon feed the press what precautions are taken, and the 'why' of the situation. Successful flights are sensational to the uninitiated observer, but catos are more so. Don't assume that the phrase "heads-up flight" has the same meaning for them as it does for you.
4) KISS - stick to the facts, leave opinion and personalities out of it. In other words, at least try to present a united front to the world.
5) Know that no matter how carefully you filter what you say, you will be quoted out of context.
6) If you don't answer their questions, or leave out something, they will make up an answer out of bits and pieces of what they've heard and seen. Don't assume that they will come up with the correct answer. Once again, spoon-feed 'em everything.
Now, I've mentioned the "party line" without defining it. In the caving community, the party line was simple. It was "When talking to the press, always: 1) Mention the NSS (National Speleological Society) 2) Mention safety 3) Mention conservation."
These simple guidelines tended to help people stay focused on non-sensational stuff. When the press starts asking about risk, you start talking about safety. When the press starts asking about adventure, you start talking conservation. When the press starts... Well, you get the idea. These were not guidelines imposed specifically by the national organizations... these were word-of-mouth suggestions that worked, and anyone who dealt with the press used them.
For rocketeers, the party line might run something like "1) Always mention NAR/TRA/CAR 2) Always discuss safety 3) Always discuss science 4) Mention regulatory issues. "
Thus when some yahoo starts talking about 50 lbs of explosives in a rocket, the responses could include 2 & 4 above. After a cato, 2 & 3 could apply. Etc, etc....
Just my opinion.... but opinion based on 35-40 contacts with the press (including PBS, AP & CNN), and one incident of having more damned TV cameras shoved in my face than I care to remember, at a time when I was running on adrenaline after a 40 hour (no-sleep) rescue. Having a "no-brainer" position to work from (that good old party line) makes it much easier to cope.
Kevin OClassen NAR 13578 L1
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Great stuff, Kevin! I'd add "educational outreach" to that mix. I think one of our strongest justifications is that we get a lot of kids interested in science, engineering, and learning each year. Or was that what you meant by #3? Mention the Civil Air Patrol cadet model rocket badge. And the Scouting "Space Exploration" merit badge program.
Kevin OClassen wrote: ...

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Will Marchant, NAR 13356, Tripoli 10125 L2
snipped-for-privacy@amsat.org http://www.spaceflightsoftware.com/will /
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Excellent advice!

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the
Yea, if we don't have a party line, the launch sites might just cave in ;-)
Boo..... yes I know bad....
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snip
Good post.
At NAR 665 / TRA 81, we have 2 members that work at 2 different local TV stations, NBC & Fox. It definitely helps with understanding and promotion of the club and the hobby. The club has a very good relationship with the local newspaper and several school systems (TARC) as well. In May, club founder Ron Witherspoon was on the air live 4 days in a row promoting The Birmingham Blast. The people in the local media here have been eager to help promote the club and hobby. IIRC, in the last 12 months the club has had TV coverage at least 6 times, newspaper twice.
Club member Kim Mitchell works for Fox 6 and the last I heard he is going to try for his level 1 at the July launch and hopefully that will be another feature too. A photo of Kim and his rocket can be seen here: http://www.birminghamrocketboys.com/ClubInfo/whoswho/whoswho.htm
Positive reports through the local media have helped the new club grow to over 30 members in just over 1 year. 665's corporate and community sponsors donations and promotions have been huge assets as well.
Randy http://vernarockets.com /
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