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Shearer coup denials highlight media training point

15 November 2012
The recent denials by David Shearer and other Labour MPs about a rumored coup to replace the leader raise an important media training tip. In lots of situations, we advise our media training clients to avoid repeating negative media statements. For example, if a journalist said to me: “How does it feel teaching people how to lie for a living.” The statement is untrue, but if I reply with: “I don’t teach people how to lie for a living,” I’ve just given the reporter a great sound bite to use and an opportunity to focus the story on my negative denial. But if I thought about the question, I could turn my answer into a positive response, rather than a negative denial. I could quite as easily have said: “I’m proud of making a living teaching people how to communicate well with the media.” From a media training perspective, I’ve answered the question, but I haven’t fallen into the trap of giving the reporter a great denial quote to use. Shearer could have followed this lead. Instead of saying: “No there is no coup,” he could have said, “I have the full confidence of my Caucus.” However, we don’t advice our media training clients to do this in absolutely every situation. Shearer could have begun with the positive approach, but if pushed, he would have had to deny the coup. It would have been too important for him to be seen as avoiding the question on such a major issue. But from a media training standpoint, it’s usually best to avoid repeating the negative, particularly if not pushed further. It can change the whole focus of the story from positive to negative.

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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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