Media attacks against comics and the people who sell them are nothing new. They’ve been plaguing comics since the very beginning, whether it was massive public comic book burnings in the 1940s, Fredric Wertham’s attacks in the 1950s, or the retailer stings of the 1980s that led to the CBLDF being formed. While we’ve seen this type of story arise time and again, it should never be taken lightly.
Whoever said any publicity is good publicity has probably never been the target of a media sting. Comics are getting more media play than ever, which has both upsides and downsides. The good news is that there’s buzz that comics are cool, which seems to be boosting the business. The bad news is, well, bad news. Sometimes, the camera can cast an evil eye that sees the medium in a negative light. We’ve assembled a selection of attack journalism tactics and offer some tips about how to safeguard your store against sordid spin.
Attack journalism is seldom subtle and sometimes sneaky. Reporters may come in with a story already in mind, and they’re looking for quotes to support that story. That story may be at odds with what you believe to be accurate. Countering spin and getting the reporter to understand the ways in which they are wrong can be difficult, but it can be done. The most extreme reporter may charge into a store with cameras running and a list of accusatory questions. Others might inject an otherwise innocuous interview with a handful of compromising questions. These media attacks can sometimes lead to legal investigations into comic book stores.
Below we offer some tips on how to deal with hostile cameras if they come to your store.
- Know Your Rights. You control the media’s access to your store, not them. While media people can shoot common spaces not maintained by your store, such as public parking lots and walkways, they cannot enter your store and shoot without permission, and they cannot block access to your store.
- Develop and Maintain a Media Communications Policy. Whether you’re a sole proprietor with occasional fill-in help, or a full-service chain, every comic book, manga and graphic novel retailer should develop and maintain a media communications policy. This policy should be part of the employee handbook and should be revisited at regular meetings. Your media policy should provide employees with a brief company overview; explain a chain of command for who in your organization is authorized to speak with the media; explain circumstances where cameras may want to enter your store and who is authorized to let them in; and provide general guidelines for how to respond to media inquiries and camera crews. This PDF from theheights-planning.com is a good starting place if you need to develop a new policy.
- Designate a Spokesperson. Each organization should designate a spokesperson to be the authorized contact point for all media inquiries. This can be the owner, manager, or a well-spoken staffer. This person’s job will be to put your company’s best face forward. She or he should possess a strong understanding of your company and its mission and be able to present a positive public image about the work you do and the products you sell. All media inquiries should be directed to this person, whether those come in via social media, email, telephone, or in person.
- Know Your Community & Product Mix. It’s critical that your spokesperson possesses a strong working knowledge of your community, customers, and product mix so that he or she is able to anticipate and adequately address concerns brought up in the course of any interview. As seen in the story from Bleeding Cool, a common angle the media will exploit when covering comic books is that they’re placing kids in danger. Being able to speak intelligently about the breadth of customers who use your store and the diversity of material you offer for each type of customer is helpful in shutting down these stories. In this case, your store should be your best asset. If a reporter takes issue with the content of a particular comic that you sell, this is your opportunity to explain that like movies or TV or any other entertainment medium, there are comics for all sorts of audiences and this is just one of the many comic books that you sell to its appropriate audience. By knowing your community, showcasing the breadth of comics that you sell, and highlighting the diversity of customers you serve, you can anticipate and defuse common attack stories.
- Be Courteous, Be Professional, and Stick to Your Policies. Staff and spokespeople alike should always maintain a high level of professional decorum, and this is especially true with media. Always extend the same courtesy to media as you would to your best customers and vendors. It’s important for all staff members to understand that being courteous and professional doesn’t mean being unnecessarily permissive. A reporter’s job is to get the story, and they may provide you with positive or negative feedback to get you to respond to them more immediately. Your job is to promote a positive image of your organization and its customers. Always be courteous and always stick to your policies when dealing with media people.
- Take Control of the Situation. You’re under no obligation to drop everything the moment a reporter or camera person arrives at your store. If you’re an employee, you should refer them to your store spokesperson or manager. If you’re an authorized spokesperson for your company, it’s your right to decide whether or not you want to speak to the media and when and how you want to do so. If a camera crew or a reporter shows up unannounced, politely asking them to set up an appointment to come back and speak with your spokesperson is a request they have to respect. If the news outlet is being difficult or unreasonable about your desire to schedule an interview, don’t be afraid to decline to participate. Declining to comment should be your last resort, because it doesn’t allow you to provide your message, but it is a sensible option in instances where the news organization is behaving unreasonably. Don’t be intimidated by the cameras. It’s your store that comes first, not their story.
- Put Your Best Face Forward. Once your spokesperson decides to grant an interview with the news media, be sure to be at your best. Be personable, be presentable, and ensure that your store conveys the same qualities. Always speak clearly, speak softly, speak on point, and be aware. Whether speaking for print or radio, and especially when speaking on video, always take the time you need to craft your best answer. If you need to start over, start over. It’s important to always ensure that anything you say on camera reflects the message you want to communicate. So, take the time you need to convey the message you want to send, be calm, and speak to that message. While you can’t control what media crews will do with the footage they take, you can can control your own presentation, so be sure to put your best face forward.
- If You Carry Adult Content, Have A Policy. If you’re carrying adult material, you should already have a policy for its sale and display that is informed by a thorough understanding of your community’s standards. This policy should be spelled out in your employee manual and reinforced with training and periodic meetings with your staff. Your store spokesperson should be able to articulate this policy to the media and public and explain how it is consistent with the standards of your community.
- Don’t Take The Bait.Hostile interviewers will sometimes try to elicit negative reactions or get you to repeat phrases that can be taken out of context and used to support a message separate from the one you would convey for your store. Other common tactics include asking you to respond to yes or no questions that they can use in the edit suite or to ask ambush questions about a statement that’s indefensible, hostile or untrue. If you need to pause to recover from the ambush, then take the time, but not awkwardly. Try to avoid getting flustered or giving a negative reaction shot. Stay polite, but take control of the situation. When faced with an indefensible statement, don’t engage in a way that can be taken out of context. Instead, return to the facts about your business and the points you want to convey. Always be aware that anything you say can be taken out of context, so remain calm, never lose your cool, and don’t take the bait.
- Accentuate the Positive. One of the best ways to spin away from a negative story is to emphasize the positive things that your store does for the community. An effective spokesperson will always be talking about community involvement, such as working with your chamber of commerce or participating in local charity efforts, team athletics, library programs, or reading groups. Community involvement, beyond being a positive point to talk about when the press is around, is also a way to build strong roots and support in the community so if a problem does occur, there are friends that will speak up for you.
- What To Do If You’ve Been Treated Unfairly. If you have an issue with how an outlet has conducted itself, do some basic research on that outlet online. Most major newspapers and news outlets have ‘Contact Us’ channels that will put you in touch with the right people to complain or comment on their outlet’s behavior. Some media organizations will also have formal complaint procedures.
In the case of a hostile camera crew, your best defense is a good, proactive offense. Schedule an interview when you’re comfortable doing it, don’t let crews come into your store without proper clearance, and don’t comment on a story until you’re comfortable speaking on the subject (as a cleared spokesperson). By following these tips and maintaining an up-to-date knowledge of your product mix, an understanding of your community’s values, a responsible operating philosophy, and a calm, intelligent demeanor, you’ll be better able to weather whatever storm the cameras whip up.
And if the situation should become a First Amendment emergency in which the authorities get involved, never hesitate to contact the CBLDF by calling 1-800-99-CBLDF.
Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work and reporting on issues such as this by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF! More articles like this one are available in our Retailer Resource Guide, which is a benefit of becoming a retailer member of the CBLDF.