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Bethlehem College saga highlights important media training point

22 March 2013
Following the Bethlehem College developments from a media training perspective over the last few months, I can’t help by liken it to the Tiger Woods saga. By doing this, I in no way link the issues on a moral or seriousness basis. The media training link is that in both situations, those involved let the stories drag on and on by not releasing the full facts from day one. If Woods had fronted up as soon as his infidelity became public knowledge and spilt all the facts immediately, the story would have died after a few days, or a few weeks. But instead, he was unavailable to the media, released snippets of information from his website every so often and left the media to speculate on the rest. This saw him remain front page news for weeks on end. The media training advice we give our clients is to front the story and tell the media everything you know in one swoop. Then there is one story. Soon the media will move onto something else. If there is a legal reason you can't say certain things, you need to make this clear to journalists. But it's important you do release and say what you can, rather than not commenting. Bethlehem College seem to have fallen into the Tiger Woods trap. While I don’t have all the information, it is clear that they have held onto information, rather than let it all out on day one. From a media training standpoint, that’s why the story has been kept alive. First we had the story of the crash. Then we had the revelation that a former student of the school was driving the bus, and he with-held this from Kenyan authorities. There was no explanation from the school as to why this happened, leading to more speculation. Then the Kenyan disputed that the New Zealander was driving, but the school would not comment on this. That led to more speculation. Then Campbell Live made an Official Information Act request to find out exactly what happened. From this, they found that two other people knew that the former student was driving, but kept this to themselves. The school would not comment on this either, leading to more speculation. All this has done is keep the story alive for months and I suspect that Campbell Live may well look for more answers. This will keep it going even longer. If the school took the initiative from the beginning, sorted out the facts, and the spokesperson used his media training skills to get their message out, this blog and other news media would have forgotten about this weeks ago. While this was an unfortunate accident, the school’s failure to front up and answer questions will make many people think they have something to hide.

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Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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