Media Training — ‘Just Answer the Question’

microphones, sound bite, scrum

The public is great at double speak too.  Every man on the street interview during the US election run-up expressed in some way the wish for straight answers to questions.  Everyone seems to think that it should be possible to reduce the most complex issues to a 40-character tweet.  Someone in my office today said, “Barack Obama has to stop giving long explanations for things and learn to talk like George Bush.  He didn’t know what he was talking about, but people heard him. ”  How weird is this?

And look at the results. We have a nation split down the middle, and a Congress determined to block whatever is put in front of it.  It’s a pretty stark ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to an increasingly nuanced world.

Here at home, Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway interviewed Liberal leadership candidate Kathleen Wynne yesterday.  Early in the interview Ms Wynne reflected that the problem in politics today is the tendency to reduce complex issues to simplistic sound bites.  Issues need to be framed for the electorate, she said.  Her point? – In many cases, things are not black or white.

Galloway went on  to press Ms Wynne on whether she thought Dalton McGuinty was right to prorogue parliament. She responded by saying that everyone would prefer to be sitting in the legislature but it had become dysfunctional.   She suggested that the Premier made the decision he felt he had to make in the context of the situation that confronted him.   Often answers are right at a moment in time, but context can impact choices.  Galloway persisted, “Do you think he did the right thing?”  Much to Galloway’s annoyance, she refused to get boxed in and repeated her answer.

In the commentary that followed Galloway went on to talk about the public’s desire for clarity and ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.  He talked about the tendency by politicians to deflect questions and bridge their answers. —  Media training 101.  We know media are looking for their sound bite, but that doesn’t mean you have to give it to them.

And today listeners weighed in with their criticisms and more requests for ‘yes’ in ‘no’.  Only one, who sounded very young — perhaps a college student? — voiced the view that it is often not appropriate to give a simple answer.

Perhaps there is hope in this jaded world.


Posted on Wednesday, November 7, 2012 in Canadian Public Relations, Media Training, Uncategorized


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