The two big stories of the moment, the London riots and the financial crisis, provide plenty of what journalists need – negatives.
Everywhere the headlines are full of gloom – “full-scale alert”, “conflagration and carnage”, “plunging shares”. In stories as dramatic as these, the negatives are justified, but on a quieter day, journalists will still be chasing the bad news – and their readers will consume it.
Which means that if you, your organisation or your work is under scrutiny from the media, you must avoid offering free negatives to them. It simply hands them extra ammunition with which to make the story even more negative.
Any quotes which include words like “danger”, “risk” or “damage” will only add fuel to the flames, highlighting the negative aspects of a story. And negatives can surface in more subtle forms. Asked, for example, whether the economic downturn is damaging your business, you might be tempted to reply quite reasonably and accurately – “Not yet”. A journalist might justifiably translate that as – “Mr X admitted that the economic downturn could damage his business….”. A better answer would be – “No. On the contrary, we are taking steps….”.
Just as a barrister defending a client on a serious charge will avoid delving into the darker aspects of his client’s character, you should concentrate on the positive. Even in the bleakest scenario, you must highlight the positive. The media will do everything they can to track down the negatives, but you should not be helping them.
To put it another way, offering negatives is definitely a no-no.