Pesky Reporters: How to Get Rid of Them

Top-tier college football coaches all of sudden seem to be suffering from a bad outbreak of media phobia.

Most severely affected: Steve Spurrier of South Carolina and Mark Dantonio of Michigan State.

Spurrier shut down a news conference the other day after giving a mere five-minute monologue, ending with: “I believe that covers it all. I don’t need to take questions.”

Dantonio arguably went one better, providing only 60 seconds of commentary followed by a handful of three to four-word answers , ending each time with “Next question.” Here’s the video.

Guys: There’s an even better way of avoiding the media. Don’t turn up to news conferences at all. Here’s all you need to do:

1- Get explicit permission from your bosses, your board of directors etc. that you don’t need to
engage constructively with the media

2- Maintain a winning record over many years that is clearly among the best in your league

With those two elements in place, you’re bullet proof. Even the most powerful media outlets will be forced to cower in your grumpy wake. If you really are that consistently successful, there will always be a team somewhere that will give you a job, no matter how media phobic you are.

What’s that? You say you’re not 100% sure if your contract allows you to avoid, evade or disrespect the media? Hmm… Maybe that’s because talking about what your team is doing, analysing the performances and generally talking up the spectacle is actually part of the job. And when your salary depends on tens of thousands of people paying 30, 40, 100 hundred dollars to watch, clap and cheer what’s going on, guess what? That’s entertainment. You’re in show business! Maybe it’s worth giving the people what they’re paying for.

Here are some other options: Get a better employment lawyer; get a better contract; get some better media training, and get a better media relations team, or at least start working more closely with the team you already have.

Learn how to “bridge” away from questions. It’s an art, not entirely unlike running an elaborate blocking play. You need to create a verbal transition from the topic introduced by the reporter to the more comfortable territory you have in your answer. A good bridge takes about 5 seconds followed by a transitional response of a further 30 seconds. Yes, it requires a bit of intelligence, cleverness and verbal dexterity, but that’s part of the job of a leader. Reagan and Clinton were brilliant at it; Obama is also pretty good.

Still annoyed, resentful and convinced that this shouldn’t be part of your job? Yes, we get it: Reporters are a pain in the neck. In Spurrier’s case it’s particularly annoying when you’re convinced a reporter is wilfully distorting the truth. But punishing an entire press corps because one reporter has ticked you off? That’s both bullying and childish.

Here’s a clip of Spurrier issuing his vendetta last year.

What kind of example do these irritable, petulant coaches set? They are often 30 to 40 years older than their players, and yet some betray a hyper-sensitivity to criticism that would rival that of a 16 year-old getting ready for the junior prom.

Isn’t it important to show your players that your skin is tough enough to withstand the comments and criticisms of a few under-informed scribes in the media pool?

So, Coach Spurrier: What do you mean you don’t “need to take questions”? What a peculiar statement. When would a coach actually *need* to take questions anyway? News conferences aren’t about giving coaches what they need; they’re about giving the fans what they want, by using the media as inter*media*ries (get it?) between the newsmakers and the public.

Maybe what Spurrier means is that he believes that in his contract he isn’t *obliged* to take questions. If that’s the case, then Gamecock fans who feel they are getting short changed for the money and time they invest in their beloved team, they should direct their complaints to South Carolina’s Athletic Director and/or the Board of Directors of the whole school.

There are also alternatives to the traditional media scrum / news conference and having to deal with annoying, misinformed reporters. We’ll talk about some ideas in a few weeks’ time.