By David Hardy // Attorney
Years ago, an individual who shared both my name and profession (and a similar address) became involved in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic bidding scandal. As a result, I received calls from various news media seeking comment. In each case, I politely informed them that I was not the person they were looking for and wished them well.
One local reporter’s follow-up question stuck with me, however. After I made clear that I could not comment on the story, he asked, “Well, do you have any cases going on that would make an interesting story? I’d be happy to cover one of them.” He told me that it could make a positive difference in the case. I laughed and told him that if a client ever wanted their story told, I’d call him first.
I’ve yet to make that call.
Over the past decade I have, however, found myself dealing with news media on numerous occasions. Adoption lends itself to media attention because it involves, at its core, both heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories. As these draw viewers’ eyes and attention, news media attention is no surprise.
It has generally been my view that it is not in a child’s best interest to have their adoption story be the subject of media attention. Media has a tendency to create a circus-type atmosphere, with posturing and overstatement replacing careful deliberation. On the other hand, I understand why people turn to the media; it provides a tool for telling their story in hopes of persuading others to believe in their cause. I also admit to some thrill, which others share, in seeing my name in the newspaper or my face on television. It seems to suggest, “I’m important,” whether or not that be true.
From my media experiences, I’ve made some observations, dealing both with how stories are told in the media and how to deal with the media.
First, three observations relating to adoption stories in the news media:
- News media seeks a good story. Most news media is not pro- or anti-adoption. What they want is a good story. Thus, coverage focuses on details that touch emotional chords. This can create an interesting dynamic as coverage initially sympathetic to one side (for example, a putative father who is losing the opportunity to parent) shifts to the other (as the tragedy of removing a child from the only parents he or she has ever known becomes clear).
- News media generally does not tell the whole story. News stories need to be brief and direct. While news media generally seek input from both sides of a story, they cannot address all of the details. As such, things get left out. Also, there are few stories that are covered from beginning to end. In considering a story, it can be important to consider what was left out or that an outcome may not have been determined.
- News Media are not experts. Although some look to the news media as experts, when it comes to adoption, they generally know little about the process, law, or dynamics involved. The best reporters make an effort to learn about these things, but most do not have the time to fully understand a situation.
Now, three observations about dealing with the media:
- You do not need to talk to or pay attention to news media. Some feel that if a story is getting media attention, some comment or defense is required. It is not. It is perfectly acceptable, and in many cases advisable, to decline comment. If one finds media coverage disturbing, it is generally best to ignore it.
- Most media attention is ignored or forgotten. Although some worry about the damage to reputation that can arise from the media, most damage is temporary. Within weeks, most media consumers have no recollection of stories that seemed of vital importance in the present.
- Cultivating good media relations can be beneficial. Although it can at times be an annoyance, and carefully choosing one’s words requires effort and self-control, cooperation with news media can foster positive coverage and allow all sides of a story to be heard. It is best not to view reporters as hostile or depraved but as good people seeking to do a difficult job. Treating them like decent people can be productive.
Involvement with the media is not always pleasant, but it need not be destructive.