The power of positive publicity
Every time a grinning skydiver appears in a magazine or on TV, it’s sending
out a positive image about our sport. Somebody, somewhere will be looking at it
and dreaming “I’d like to do that, one day!” Who knows if we’ll ever actually
sign them up? But, just planting that little seed of desire gives us something
to work with.
If you’re lucky, they’ll see the story, ring your DZ and join our ranks as a
But it’s more likely to be a gradual process. Most jumpers will tell you it
was a combination of positive images that led them to take the plunge. Perhaps
they saw a couple of good stories on TV, and then they saw a demo at the local
fete where a DZ leaflet was handed to them. They probably lost that leaflet, and
it probably took another two years for them to look up the Yellow Pages, but
they finally made the phone call and joined our sport. Positive publicity is
also great for sponsorship and for making our sport more acceptable to our
critics, like pilots and local councils.
“We promote skydiving as the ultimate extreme lifestyle activity that
provides fun for all participants” – From the APF Statement of Purpose, Nov
The APF encourages pro-active media activity at all levels of our sport. Any
positive coverage - from local newspapers to national television programs - will
help maximise our exposure. We are striving to increase participation and
sponsorship, and we want our top competitors to receive the media recognition
APF office staff are available to help out with publicity efforts and Area
Councils are urged to assist members in seeking media coverage.
The days of overstaffed newsrooms and chopper flights at the drop of a hat
have long gone. On weekends, newsrooms have very few staff available to cover
local stories. Even on weekdays, Chiefs of Staff have to be very selective about
the resources they use. They can’t afford to travel long distances on a story
prospect that might not happen, especially if it’s not a ‘hard’ news story. If
we want to take advantage of PR opportunities, we must make it easy for the
media. We have to go to them. We need to supply the video, photographs and
interview subjects. And we must do so when the media wants them, in time to meet
In our quest for coverage, we’re competing against numerous other sporting
organisations, festivals and big companies with huge public relations budgets.
But, fortunately, skydiving still holds plenty of media appeal. Some creative
thought and hard work can still secure us the publicity we need.
How to Use this Manual
This manual is divided into two distinct sections because positive publicity
is very different from damage control. While some of the suggestions are useful
for all media encounters, it’s better to be armed with specific information for
the situation that you are most likely to handle. Read the whole thing once or
twice, and then keep it handy as a reference. The checklists are designed as
quick reminder points. If you read the manual with a pencil in your hand, you
can jot down ideas and you’ll be well on the way to achieving your PR goals.
Better still, you could collect your contact lists and staple them inside this
booklet. Or, how about organising a workshop to come up with some PR ideas,
using the manual as a guide.
Generating Positive Publicity
Create Public Relations Roles
The first step to generating positive publicity is to appoint people to the
task. Skydiving is full of people with ideas on many things, including the
media. While those ideas are always welcome, somebody needs to actually take
them and run with them. So, PR people should be appointed at all levels of the
The DZ PR Officer
...doesn’t have to be the DZ owner or CI. There’s usually somebody about who
has the gift of the gab and a knack for getting publicity. If so, use them.
Encourage them to come up with ideas, and help them put the ideas into practice.
At Drop Zone level, the publicity efforts should target local newspapers and
local radio. But it’s always worth trying the major newspapers, radio stations
and TV newsrooms as well, depending on the story.
The Area Council Publicity Officer
...needs to think of the bigger picture. They should be promoting the State
Championships, competitors and major demos. If the APF office receives any media
requests, they can usually be handled by the state PR person. This officer
should keep a database of media contact details to assist the APF Office and any
DZ PR officers. The state Publicity Officer should also take a proactive role in
media training for their area, arranging meetings, training sessions and
workshops to make the best use of publicity ideas.
...are in a perfect position to secure publicity for their competitors.
Positive coverage can improve sponsorship chances, so the manager shouldn’t have
any trouble getting support from the team. They should start with photographs
and information sheets on the participants. Next, compile a Video News Release,
or VNR, of the team in training. During competitition, the Team Manager should
email daily progress reports to their media contacts. If possible, the
newspapers and TV stations would prefer shots from the competition. If daily
vision can’t be sent back, then the news outlets can combine your updated
information with the ‘file’ pictures from the VNR.
If you have any of these PR jobs, make it a proactive role. If you wait for
the media to come to you, you’ll be waiting a long time. Create the
opportunities, and encourage other jumpers to be enthusiastic about your work.
Caution: You need to understand the boundaries of your position. If the media
calls seeking a comment on an incident or a political issue, you need to refer
them to a more appropriate person. An APF official, an ASO or a DZ owner are
usually better equipped to deal with such issues. However, as a helpful,
knowledgeable PR person, you should know who is the best person and you should
have a number at your fingertips. If not, promise to call them straight back
with the appropriate details, and KEEP YOUR WORD!
Build a contact list
The starting point for any new PR person is to establish media contacts. Ring
around the newspapers, magazines, television stations and the radio stations. As
well as news departments, gather some details for sport desks, features and
travel programs. Don’t forget the wire service, Australian Associated Press (
AAP ), which has offices in each state.
Compile a thorough list of their phone and fax numbers as well as their email
addresses. Include a note for deadline times and their preferred formats for
accepting photos or video.
It’s a good idea to get names as well, but bear in mind that media people
work different roles and different shifts. There’s no point sending an email
‘scoop’ to an individual reporter on a Saturday if they don’t log on for another
3 days. Update your list every six months. Not only does this help keep your
paperwork up to date, but it also reminds the media organisations that you are
Almost every month, on every DZ around Australia, a publicity opportunity
arises. Of course, you’re going to send that terrific “father and son” tandem
shot to ASM. Why not send it to the local paper for the DZ area as well? And how
about the local paper for the suburb they live in? Even better, call a couple of
the TV newsrooms and offer the videos. You never know.
Now, if you really start thinking like a PR person, you’d plan this jump for
Fathers’ Day. Even better, you’d plan it for a day or two before the big day,
and you’d get it into the papers on Fathers’ Day.
So, how many other positive publicity opportunities slip by at your DZ every
month? It’s not just soapie stars and singers who make headlines with their
tandem jumps. Have you ever had a tandem passenger propose to his girlfriend?
What about inspirational passengers, like people who are elderly or disabled? In
many cases, they aren’t seeking publicity when they arrive, but they want the
world to know about their achievement after they’ve landed.
Are your own members celebrating any milestones? If one of your jumpers is
celebrating their 1,000th jump, the local paper might run a pic of them. If
someone from your DZ is off to a world meet, then promote their achievement to
anyone who’ll listen.
Media opportunities can also be created with a little lateral thinking. A
couple of years back, some jumpers came up with the idea of a double sunrise
jump for Anzac Day. They got up early, took off before dawn and did a nice
silhouette formation in front of the sunrise. When they landed it was still dark
on the ground. They paused to watch the “second” sunrise and to reflect on the
freedom of being Australian. The shots were lovely, the jump appeared symbolic
and it worked beautifully for television.
Sometimes, the stories will even go national simply because they have media
appeal. For example, a skydive wedding story was shown in every capital city
even though the vision was a little dark. It was a sunset load with the bride
and groom exchanging vows on the plane before leaping out to seal the deal. Some
of their children were among those on tandem jumps. On the ground, guests wore
red and formed a nice big love heart for the couple to land in.
Checklist – Generating Positive Publicity
- Create PR positions and define your aims
- Build a contact list
- Supply details of your contacts to APF Office
- Identify media opportunities through workshopping ideas and checking the DZ calendar
Understanding the News Media
What is news?
As you begin working with the news media, you must understand where they are
coming from. Our aim is to maximise POSITIVE coverage in the news media. We’re
not talking about advertising or marketing. If we try to push advertising on a
newsroom, we’ll only annoy them. It’s important to try to find a news angle in
any story that you put out there.
For example, if a news release flows along the lines of: “Come skydiving any
weekend…” then that is advertising. If you try: “Free skydive on offer at…” then
it will be seen as marketing. However, all of the following have genuine news
angles in them:
- State Skydiving Championships this weekend.
- New Skydiving formation record.
- Chuting Star! Actor aims for the top.
- Our oldest Aussie skydiver.
- Love is in the air – Skydiving proposal.
OK. They might seem a bit corny, but you get the idea. And, you don’t even
have to worry too much about clever (or corny) lines in your copy, because
that’s the journo’s job!
Now that the ideas are flowing, you need to be conscious of media deadlines.
As soon as you become aware that something newsworthy has already happened, get
on your phone and offer the video and photos around. If you have to leave the DZ
early and miss a sunset load to hand deliver a mini DV tape, then so be it. No
serious news outlet is interested in running a story if it’s old.
If you are planning a media event for a future date, then think carefully
about the timing. All news outlets are strained to the max at 10am because
that’s when most PR ‘experts’ schedule news conferences. Any later than 1pm
could be too late for television stations, but an 8am ‘picture opportunity’
stands a good chance of making the TV updates throughout the day.
You also need to think about the date. If your plans clash with a big
sporting event or an election, you could find it difficult to get coverage.
Fortunately, this isn’t always the case. By day three of a really huge story,
like the September 11 attacks, most newsrooms are quite anxious for something
light to lift a depressing bulletin.
“Even at the height of the Tsunami news, the last Nationals received plenty
of attention as the media were obviously looking for something else with a bit
of fun in it” – Quote from senior APF staffer.
Roles in the Newsroom
Here’s a quick guide to who’s who in the newsroom zoo!
The Chief of Staff handles a newsroom’s resources. They make initial
decisions about whether to cover a story and they assign a journalist and a
camera crew. The Reporter then researches the story, conducts interviews and
writes the copy. The Producer edits the reporter’s copy, decides what goes where
in the bulletin and determines how long a story will run. So, for TV coverage,
you need to get the Chief of Staff’s attention first, you need to work with the
journo, and you need to provide enough interesting material for the producer to
give it a decent run.
Don’t forget to include producers from various programs on your contact list.
Children’s shows and travel programs could provide us with great opportunities.
Newspapers and Magazines
Print media newsrooms usually have a similar structure to television,
although they have a Sub Editor instead of a Producer. You are most likely to
deal with the COS, the journo and the photographer.
Many major papers also have a Pictures Editor. This person is very handy for
us, because they might not need a news angle to justify publishing a skydiving
picture. Sometimes, a photo will get a run just because it’s a great shot.
Other useful contacts in print media include Travel Editors and Features
Editors. Make sure all of these people are on your list!
In a radio newsroom, it’s not unusual for one person to do all the tasks. In
their race against hourly deadlines, Radio Journalists are always in a hurry.
Fortunately, they can do a quick phone interview about skydiving and different
‘grabs’ might go to air several times over the day.
Radio stations often provide other opportunities for our sport, such as
Talkback Programs. When you build contacts at a radio station, include news
staff, sport reporters and producers of the various programs.
Think like a Journo
Most major newsrooms get bombarded with 100 or more news releases every day.
Reporters get hassled by persistent PR people who ring up with “an exciting
picture opportunity”. They don’t have time for long chats, and they probably
don’t care too much for skydiving. What they do want is a picture or a story.
Get to the point. Any news release should be short and clear about what you are
promoting. Phone calls should also be brief, polite and concise.
Like car salesmen, reporters often have an unfair reputation for being
sensationalist or irresponsible. In some cases, you may encounter an eager
beaver who is trying to set the world alight, or an old hack who’s heart isn’t
in it any more. But, most journalists are professionals who take their job
seriously and try to do the right thing. Just because they don’t know anything
about jumping doesn’t mean they’re an idiot. Treat them with the same respect
you’d give a would-be tandem student. Explain things in a simple way and ensure
they understand what you are telling them.
Checklist – Understanding the Media
- Be aware of the difference between news and advertising
- Make sure you have a genuine news angle or a very special picture
- Work to the media’s deadlines
- Familiarise yourself with the various roles in the media and respect the work they do
- Be helpful, polite and persistent .. but NOT annoying
Working with the News Media
The old-fashioned ‘Press’ Release has evolved into the politically correct
Media Release or News release. But its purpose hasn’t changed at all. A release
could be a brief announcement for immediate publication, or it could be an
invitation to a future event being organised for the media.
When releases arrive in a newsroom, they’re weighed up against the stories
happening on that day. If it’s for a coming event, it will be added to the diary
and a decision is not likely to be made until the day in question. The Chief of
Staff will consider the news around and the available resources. The chances of
your story getting coverage will depend on the significance of the other stories
floating about. Some PR professionals will suggest a free lunch or some other
enticement could tip the scales in your favour and attract more news crews to
your event. This is rarely the case for mainstream newsrooms.
Another aspect of the News Release that hasn’t changed is the delivery
method. Believe it or not, the paperless office is a long way from reality –
especially in newsrooms. An old-fashioned fax or mail-out is still the best way
to go. It gets seen and it gets put in an in-tray somewhere. An email might not
make it through, or the recipient might not print it out to put it in the diary.
How to Write a News Release
When there are 100 media releases crossing a busy person’s desk, it’s up to
you, the PR person, to make yours stand out. If you haven’t made your point in
the first two lines, there’s a good chance the release will be tossed in the
- Make it short, clear and interesting. Remember the basics of journalism:
Who,what, when, where, why.
- Always make it all fit on one page.
- Include a photograph or map if it will help make the reader understand.
- Include a contact phone number that will always be answered.
- Tell the reader what you are offering: Video, Photos, and Interviews with participants.
- Include any important safety notes (ie: If you are sending a chopper to our DZ, please call first for frequency details and airport procedures).
- Include a weather proviso.
- Avoid using jumping jargon.
You would be surprised at how many news releases look really impressive but
miss key details, such as the date for release.
Sample Press Release
BLUE SKIES ADVENTURES Parachute Centre News Release News
Release News Release News Release News Release News
New South Wales STATE SKYDIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS
WHEN: Sat April 9th and Sunday April 10th From 8am (weather permitting)
WHERE: Blue Skies Adventures, Drop Zone Lane, DUMPSVILLE. (UBD map 43, ref c5)
NB – Please call us first if you plan to fly in. We have a specific
procedure for arrival.
In the FREEFLY EVENT, pictured above, it’s hard to know which way is up!
Competitors might be head-down or standing upright in the sky, or even
cart-wheeling around their team-mates.
Other events include:
ACCURACY – Jumpers leap from a plane at 2,500 feet and aim to hit a target
around the size of a ten cent piece.
FORMATION SKYDIVING - Teams of 4 or 8 race against the clock to build a
series of freefall formations.
COMPETITORS AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW
PHOTOS AND VIDEOS AVAILABLE
Call us on: 02 5552 1234 or 0418 555 123
Sample eMail release
From: Graeme Windsor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wednesday, 6 April 2005
Subject: New Skydiving Record - for immediate release
The Australian “Canopy Formation” parachuting team has achieved a new
Australian record during the World Championships in Croatia.
The team, “Crimson Mist”, has recorded 17 points during one round of the
competition, which is still underway. In Canopy Formation skydiving, points are
scored when the teams form a vertical stack of four parachutes, with each jumper
linking their feet into the parachute below them.
I have attached a Jpeg pic of Crimson Mist in training, plus information
about the team and its members.
The boys are available for telephone interview in Croatia between 3pm and
4.30pm this afternoon. We also have video of the team in competition.
Please call me on: 02 62 816 830
Chief Executive Officer, Australian Parachute Federation <<Crimson Mist
training.jpeg>> <<Crimson Mist training.doc>>
News crews are usually few and far between on weekends. Most DZs are a fair
way out of town, and it’s hard to justify sending a crew for a 3 to 5 hour trip
unless the story is guaranteed to be worth the effort.
The simplest way for us to get news coverage is to provide everything the
news outlets need. Cynics might call this force-feeding, but it is the modern
way of doing news. If we provide handout videos, photos and easy interviews,
then we stand a greater chance of receiving coverage.
For a major event, like the Nationals, you might consider hiring a video
production house to produce a professional product on Beta SX tape.
However, a fire-wire copy on Mini DV tape is a good option for our purposes.
It’s also affordable and easy to produce at the DZ. DVDs are usually acceptable,
but they are prone to technical hiccups and you need to ensure they can play on
all machines. VHS is a poor alternative, which should only be offered as a last
When you record your skydiving vision for media purposes, NEVER use any
special effects. Special effects are for people who can’t do special camera
work! Likewise, don’t try to get too clever when you are dubbing.
Don’t use the ‘Long Play’ function. It reduces the quality and the media crew
will probably need to take your camera with them to ensure they can play it. TV
stations prefer 16x9 recordings. Even if your camera’s ‘Cinema’ or ‘Widescreen’
function is not a true 16x9 format, TV stations can usually trim or stretch the
shots to work.
It’s OK to ask for your DV tape to be returned, but it’s advisable to only
ever hand over a firewire copy. That way, you won’t risk losing valuable vision.
And you won’t accidentally hand over those shots from last Saturday night’s
bender at the DZ!
Video News releases
A handout video that’s prepared especially for a particular event is called a
Video News release, or VNR. A good VNR would run about 5 to 10 minutes. It
- Gearing up, boarding plane, prop turn.
- Freefall and canopy vision.
- Landing shots.
- “Cutaway” shots – (no, not THAT type of cutaway!) – such as people waving atthe plane, children playing with canopies, or people looking skywards. These
scenes help the tape editor cut between the various skydiving shots.
- Natural sound – get people to make an excited “yeehah” as they land.
- Interviews – get somebody to stand beside the camera and interview the
‘talent’about what they are doing. Don’t let them look directly at the camera. They
should direct answers to the ‘interviewer’, just beside the camera.
- Don’t forget to include a written point-by-point “shot list” of what’s on
TV newsrooms sometimes do deals with each other to cover stories. For
example, a Channel 10 camera crew might cover one exit of a court while 9 and 7
would cover the other doors. After the case is over, they’ll send their vision
to each other. Another example is the fire survivor who only wants one camera
crew in their hospital ward. They would do an interview with one crew on a pool
The interview is only granted on the condition that it’s sent to other
newsrooms. If we only have one copy of a tape, and no time to make more copies,
we might hand it over to one station on a pool basis. However, any pool deal
must be arranged before handing over the tape. Otherwise, if one crew already
has a tape in their hands, they will not hand it over to a competitor.
If you give out a photograph, include the date, location and identity of
those involved. Also give the photographer’s name, but don’t expect them to get
Many magazines and newspapers will now accept a high-resolution shot via
email, but it’s worth checking to see if they prefer a 35mm negative.
The best skydiving shots for media are those that capture smiling faces,
colour, and a sense of movement. A perfect 4-way shot from above is usually
pretty boring to non-jumpers. A better option is the exit as it comes off the
door. Or the break-off, with one of the jumpers whizzing past the camera for a
A little excitement is always good, too. A CRW team should pop a wrap shot or
two into their team profile kit, to show everyone how brave and determined they
Realistically, there’s no place for a formal ‘News Conference’ in our sport.
It’s handy for politicians and mainstream news stories. But who wants to see a
bunch of sporting administrators sitting behind a desk and answering questions?
Ours is an exciting, visual sport. Pictures should tell the story.
When we do put up “talking heads” to help the cause, they really should be in
a DZ environment, with planes and jumping activity in the background.
Radio interviews can usually be done over the telephone, but you can build
great rapport if you make the effort to go in to the radio station. Take your
rig and some photos with you.
Make an effort with personal presentation. There’s no need for a suit and
tie, but a clean T-shirt wouldn’t go astray. And make sure it’s suitable for G
rated viewing! When you’re doing an interview, avoid using skydiving jargon.
People out there in viewer land have a totally different idea of what it means
to “dump”. And any mention of a “hard pull” could have them snickering rather
than listening to what you are saying.
Let your personality shine through. We are trying to generate positive
publicity for our adventurous sport. If you look like an undertaker, or if you
can’t make yourself clear in brief answers, get somebody else to do the job.
Always use the best talent you can. It’s OK to laugh, it’s OK to use casual
language, but it’s not OK to swear.
Be careful not to relax too much. While you are extolling the virtues of our
sport, remember that any one answer could be selected and used alone. You might
make a dozen well-rehearsed statements about the excitement and safety of
skydiving, and they’ll get you on that one cheeky little comment about misfits
Nothing is off the record. The journo might seem like a fairly decent person,
and they probably are, but do not trust them with any secrets. It’s the natural
instinct of a good reporter to flush out a story. They could arrive to do a
positive story on your team’s preparations for a big competition, then get a
whiff of something more controversial and leave with a completely different
News Crews at the DZ
If you’ve invited media crews to your drop zone, don’t just let them run
loose. Make sure somebody is with them to answer questions, demonstrate how rigs
work, explain the process etc. Show them the best spot to set up their cameras
to get facial expressions on landing. Explain how the jumpers will exit the
aircraft upwind, fly around above them and turn into wind for landing. Try to
arrange with them the best spot for light.
Don’t forget safety issues! Media crews must be given a briefing on any risks
out at the landing area. TV camera operators and photographers will be looking
through their viewfinders. Make sure somebody is with them. Everybody must stick
together and all jumpers must be briefed to land a safe distance from the group.
If you’ve promised them videos or stills, hand them over promptly. Don’t make
crews wait around.
“If two crews do come at once, it helps to allocate different media
chaperones to each one. You could also give them distinctly different footage
but equal access to the personalities etc.” – Quote from a senior APF staffer.
Play it by the rules
When your story appears in the media, you never know who could be watching,
reading or listening. Make sure everything is above board. Don’t jump through
cloud unless you have a cloud manual. Don’t go low. Make sure all your equipment
is approved and appropriate.
Media organisations always want an ‘exclusive’, but what’s in it for you? One
newspaper might really like a shot you’ve offered them, and they’ll ask you not
to give it to their opposition. If they guarantee to give it a run, then such an
agreement might be worthwhile. If you agree, then make sure you keep your word.
You might want to return a favour to a journo who gave us some really good
coverage once before. You could offer them first dibs on a good shot or a good
Any offers or deals do carry risks. In building a good relationship with one
newsroom, you could be annoying others. Journalists have long memories!
A Chief of Staff might be reading your invitation to a big demo and he might
remember that exclusive deal you did with somebody else a year ago.
It’s certainly prudent not to play favourites when you have really big events
or excellent vision to hand out. We want the story covered by everyone on those
Complaining About Coverage
It’s standard practice for jumpers to stand around a TV set grumbling about
the way a reporter has written a story. We might snicker at the language they’ve
chosen, or we could laugh at a sensationalist delivery. But is that really a
problem? If a reporter has said something inaccurate, you might want to politely
call them so they’re aware for next time. Be careful not to sound patronising
and make sure you thank them for their efforts. If a story is so inaccurate and
damaging that further action is needed, then consider complaining to the
organisation’s News Director, preferably in writing. You could also take your
complaint to the Broadcasting Tribunal or Press Council, but that would only be
in the most extreme situations. In most cases, we can avoid misunderstandings
before they occur. When you are doing the interview, or when the reporter is at
the DZ, make it clear that you are available all day to help with any further
queries. You don’t mind if they make a dozen calls to clear up any doubts.
Checklist – Working with the News Media
- News Releases can be used to announce major achievements or to invite media crews to an event
- Provide video and photo handouts to increase our chances of coverage
- Provide suitable people for interviews
- Assist media crews on the DZ
- Be cautious about making exclusive deals
- Always be available for follow up queries
And just before we go…
There are many so-called experts offering different services in the media
industry. You might consider calling in expert help to boost your PR efforts. It
would be wise to weigh up the costs versus the benefits. PR Consultants can be
hired to write news releases, organise news conferences and even do interviews
on your behalf. They can save you all the hard slog of collecting contact
details, but it could take a fair bit of work to get them familiar with the
intricacies of skydiving. Media Training can be a useful investment to prepare
our own PR people for various scenarios. These trainers, who usually have
journalistic experience, use role-playing and practical examples to make people
more familiar with the media.
Don’t Give Up
We all know that skydiving is an incredible experience and we can’t
understand why others don’t always share our enthusiasm. It can be very
frustrating when your PR pursuits fall on deaf ears. Months of preparation for
one event could result in very little coverage. You might envisage a two minute
sport story that ends up being a 25 second piece after the weather. Even that
short piece might be dropped at the last moment if the bulletin is running over
time. Don’t give up. It’s not always that bad! You could suddenly find yourself
with some great, unexpected vision that gets snapped up by TV networks around
Australia. Or a journo might come to you when they decide to do a piece on
adventure activities. If you persist, you’ll soon gather a file of newspaper
clippings and a video collection of your successes. You can take pride in your
efforts paying off, and you’ll be helping to build enthusiasm for our wonderful
There is a sad inevitability in our sport. Sooner or later, we’ll probably
find ourselves caught up in a serious accident or fatality. The DZ staff are all
trained for this, and they know their responsibilities. But nothing can really
prepare them for such a nightmare. Traumatized relatives need urgent attention,
police are demanding assistance, and skydivers are telling each other what they
saw. Now, the phone is ringing with queries from the media. You can stall them
for a little while, but it won’t be long before they’re on the doorstep, seeking
Bad News is Good News
For the news media, the old cliché is largely true. Bad news is usually good
news. It’s not that reporters enjoy covering stories about death or major
injury. They certainly don’t get any pleasure from pouncing on people in times
of grief. However, news organizations must cover all major stories and
journalists have to be naturally suspicious when they cover any ‘big’ incident.
They’re doing their job. They want to get all the details they can to do it
properly. And they want to do it better than their media competitors.
The APF respects every Drop Zone owner’s right to choose whether or not to
assist the media. However, in most cases, it can be beneficial to the sport to
make a brief, informed comment. If we don’t speak, we may look like we’re hiding
something. Of course, if we say too much, we create a whole new set of problems.
We might inadvertently provide fodder for lawyers who are waiting to pounce. We
could upset the coroner or police investigators. Most importantly, we risk
adding to the distress for grieving friends and relatives.
How to Use This Manual
This guide aims to prepare you for dealing with worst-case scenarios. It
could be kept as a handy reference when you find yourself in a damage control
situation. But it’s vitally important that you take some time to practice before
that happens. We train students to repeatedly go through their emergency
procedures. Our instructors must study and revalidate. So why shouldn’t we do
the same with media damage control?
The best way to use this manual is to read it right through once or twice,
then get together with others and practice. Make it just like an oral exam for
an instructor rating, but instead of a panel of examiners, you put yourself at
the mercy of pushy ‘reporters’. Work through the scenarios in here, and create
some of your own. What would you say if you were handling such a situation? How
would you say it?
This half of the Media Manual focuses on a fatality situation, and it tends
to assume that the person dealing with the media is the DZ owner or Chief
Instructor. Area Safety Officers, Area Council officials and Instructor Bs could
also find themselves in such a situation. Most of the advice is useful for all
types of negative encounters with the media. The principles are the same. Make
sure you appear open, cooperative and sensitive to the issues you’re dealing
Understanding the News Media
Freedom of the Media
We live in a democratic society with a free media. When we’re watching the
T.V. news, listening to the radio, or reading a paper, we like to believe we’re
being given all relevant information. We know our media outlets are in
competition with each other and we expect to benefit from a broader range of
viewpoints. If an accident happens in our rail network, we expect a full inquiry
and we expect media scrutiny of the issues. So it’s only fair for skydiving to
be subjected to the same standards. We don’t operate in a vacuum. Our activities
affect our customers, our members, local residents and others in the aviation
industry. We also attract the spotlight because of a public fascination with
skydiving. Non-jumpers just can’t comprehend why anybody would subject himself
to such a dangerous activity. They assume we haven’t moved on from the
barnstorming days. A serious accident can only reinforce these beliefs if we
don’t step in to even the balance.
The other half of this manual encourages jumpers to use the media for
positive publicity. If we’re seeking out coverage when the going is good, we
can’t simply walk away when things get tough. It’s a two way street. And
finally, one very good reason for assisting the media: If you give the news
crews what they want, they usually go away. If they have the pictures,
interviews and answers they need, the reporters will go back to their offices to
file their stories. If not, they might hang around for hours, seeking comments
and speculation from any passer by or nosey neighbour.
Sources for Stories
It doesn’t take long for news of a DZ accident to reach newsrooms. Police and
ambulance services all have media units, employed to alert reporters to serious
incidents. Scanner buffs are also quick to contact newsrooms when they hear
something out of the ordinary. Passing motorists use their mobiles to ring
through news tips. And Mrs Nosey might call a newsroom to ask why the police
helicopter has landed in the paddock next to her property.
The first task for a news crew covering the fatality is to get to the
accident scene. They’ll head straight to the DZ in the quickest way possible.
Their chopper might suddenly arrive over your airfield, without calling ahead.
You can stop them from landing, but you probably can’t stop them filming from
above. If a crew drives to your front gate, you can always refuse them entry.
But what is to stop them from going into neighbouring properties, or filming
from the public road alongside the paddock?
By the way, unless the gate is closed, they’re even perfectly entitled to
come in your DZ driveway without an invitation. The crews are not trespassing
until you ask them to leave.
After assessing the accident scene, a journalist would seek out witnesses to
describe what they saw. If the reporter is left standing at the gate, there’ll
be no shortage of speculation from neighbours or passing motorists. Eyewitnesses
will give a dramatic, albeit inaccurate, account of what went wrong. They’ll
also point the news crew in the direction of the local anti-DZ crusader, who’ll
spice up his interview with many other tales about previous incidents.
All of this will provide a spectacular story for the reporter. They’ll throw
in some long shots of DZ staff running around looking as if they’re trying to
hide something, and they’ll wrap it up with a shot of the gate, bolted shut to
keep them out.
Wouldn’t it be better to provide a brief but informed statement from someone
on the DZ? The reporter might still use some of the spectacular witness
accounts, but at least you can provide some balance.
A DZ owner says his staff stood anonymously in the background when a media
crew came to investigate their plane’s beach landing: “The film crew, desperate
to get something, interviewed a 7 or 8 year-old boy. He had no idea what the
problem was and gave an arms waving, dramatic view of the landing. Made us look
rather amateurish, to say the least!”
In the news media, deadlines dominate everything a reporter does. If they
have to file a story by a certain time, they’ll use the information they already
have. If all they have in the can is the anti-DZ crusader and an over excited
eyewitness, then that’s what they’ll use. They want to include your comments to
provide an accurate and balanced story, but they can’t wait another hour. The
producers are demanding their copy right now.
Once you’ve decided that it’s prudent to assist the media, you need to do it
Working with the News Media
Invite Crews in to DZ
By inviting news crews onto your property, you have a degree of control over
what they film and who they interview. Keep them together and find an
appropriate spot for them to shoot.
They do need to get shots of the accident scene, and it’s preferred if the
body itself is covered by a sheet or shielded from view. In most fatality
situations, broadcast laws prohibit the media from showing particularly grisly
shots. Usually, when the cameras are aimed at a body, the real focus is on the
investigative activity going on around it.
Make sure the cameras don’t have a full view of the entire drop zone, because
your own members and staff will probably want to grieve without being filmed.
However, the camera crews will try to obtain shots of distressed people. This
may provoke an angry reaction from your members, who feel it’s too intrusive.
Camera guys are used to these reactions and usually try to shoot such vision
from a discreet distance.
Assign a responsible person to make coffee for your visitors and keep them
company while you work on your statement. Tell them you will speak in half an
hour, and do your best to meet that commitment.
“If you keep silent, the media go and ask neighbours for their often
ill-informed comments, or else just make it up!” – Quote from a DZ Owner.
Nobody in the media really expects you to drop everything in this situation
and deal with them first. Of course, they might try to pressure you if their
deadline is looming. Just explain that you’re dealing with relatives, members,
police and investigators. The reporter should accept that you need a little time
to gather information before speaking with them.
Prepare a Statement
You need to step away from the whirlwind for a few minutes and gather your
thoughts. Write down the key points of what has happened. Think carefully about
what you should and shouldn’t say publicly. Remember your practice scenarios. If
you don’t trust yourself to ad-lib from your key points, then write out your
statement in full.
If you are not the best person to do this, then arrange somebody better and
help them prepare.
Making a Statement
Now that you’re prepared, take a deep breath and walk towards the media pack.
Acknowledge them politely, but do not smile. They are filming as you walk up,
and this is a sad occasion.
The crews will close in on you, but don’t be intimidated. They may even be
touching you or breathing down the back of your neck as they jostle to get their
microphone in the best position. Keep calm, and take charge.
In a respectful tone, tell them you’ll limit your comments to a brief
statement, and you will not be able to answer their questions.
Now, take another deep breath and say what you want to say.
“I think the most important thing I learned was a ‘no comment’ will not
prevent a story going to air. I found it better to be cooperative and give some
very basic information. The media then had enough for a short story and were
happy not to sensationalise some other information they may have heard from a
witness.” – Quote from a former long-term ASO, who handled several, high profile
Keep it Brief
Don’t go into too much detail. The media needs a few quotes, and you’d be
surprised at how much you can say in a brief statement. For example:
“This parachute club is mourning the loss of a much-loved member and friend.
We’re not releasing his name just yet, because relatives haven’t been notified.
I can tell you he was an experienced skydiver, who’d logged more than 500 jumps.
On his second jump today, the skydiver went to 12,000 feet with three friends.
The group flew together in a 4- way formation, which proceeded as planned.
When they reached 3,500 feet, the four jumpers broke off from the formation and
tracked away from each other to deploy their parachutes.
The skydiver’s main parachute fully inflated, and at some point after this it
began to turn. The canopy spiraled and appeared to accelerate until the jumper
impacted the ground.
This tragic incident is being investigated by the state coroner, along with
our own investigators from the Australian Parachute Federation.
I’m very proud of my staff, who’ve been working hard to assist the
investigators, and indeed all the emergency services, during a difficult
afternoon for all of us.
We’re all feeling very distressed about the loss of such a popular person. He
loved his skydiving and was enthusiastic in encouraging newcomers to the sport.
We offer our deepest sympathy to his friends and family.”
Your statement has stuck to the facts. You have kept it brief, yet you have
provided several quotes. You have not offered any speculation or opinion, and
you have shown some genuine sensitivity to the victim and their loved ones. Of
course, you won’t get away with it that easily. The reporters will not allow you
to escape without firing a few questions:
Reporter: So, are you blaming faulty equipment?
You: I’m not blaming anything at this stage. The incident is under
investigation and it’s too early to reach any conclusions. The jumper’s
equipment will be thoroughly examined during the course of the investigation.
Reporter: Well, what else could cause this? Why didn’t they use a reserve
You: A number of possibilities are being considered, and we must continue to
have an open mind while the investigation is carried out.
By now, you’re trying to get away, but the questions keep coming. You must
politely take charge again, and end the interview.
Reporter: Could he have had a heart attack?
You: It’s really not appropriate for me to speculate on anything as we gather
all the facts for a coronial investigation. I’ve told you all I can at this
stage, and I really must get back to my staff and members. Thanks for your
Tell the Truth
Never tell a lie during a media interview. If you know full well there was a
broken brake line, then do not say the equipment appeared fine. Even the
littlest white lie, designed to protect somebody, can blow up in your face. You
will be exposed sooner or later and you could be cast as the dishonest DZ owner
with dodgy equipment.
Not the Whole Truth
Despite the need to tell the truth, you are not in a witness box here, and
you are not compelled to answer every media question. But it’s very important
that you provide an acceptable reason for not answering the question: Reporter:
I heard somebody over there say that one of the parachute lines was broken!
You: I repeat, I won’t be drawn into any speculation, and I won’t reveal any
specific aspect of the inquiry at this early stage. The equipment will be
thoroughly examined and if the experts identify any problems, they will be
brought to the coroner’s attention.
Very persistent, pushy Reporter: Surely you can say if a line was broken or
You: The force of the impact had a significant effect on the equipment, and
it will take some time to fully inspect each of the components.
Don’t Voice any Opinions
It’s very important to avoid giving an opinion. Accidents are not always as
they initially appear, and lawyers could later seize on any media statements, no
matter how informed your opinion was at the time.
Likewise, leave the conclusions to those looking after the investigation.
It’s unwise to tread on a coroner’s toes.
Respect the Deceased and their Loved Ones
The deceased jumper may well have had a history of stupid behaviour and poor
gear maintenance. But nothing could be gained by saying this now. Find something
nice to say. Be sensitive to those who are grieving.
Say something positive
In some cases, you can turn a story around a little by finding something
positive to say. For example, a CI commented on the tragic circumstances of a
fatal tail strike, but he also emphasized the heroic response of the pilot, who
only just bailed out in time. Your positive comment might be something as simple
as praising all of those on the drop zone who’ve pulled together at such a
Finding it difficult
If your words just aren’t coming out, take a breath and start your sentence
again. For this type of story, the journalist is not trying to make you look
like an idiot. It might be a little different if you were obviously trying to
hide something or avoid an issue, but they generally just want quotes they can
use in their story. You might also find yourself becoming emotional while
describing the deceased. Journalists are used to this, and they’ll probably ease
off any tough questioning. But they won’t stop rolling the cameras, and your
tears are likely to make it into the final version of the story. This could be
embarrassing, but it doesn’t reflect badly on you at all. It shows you are a
human being. Just take a breath and keep saying what you want to say. Or,
politely walk away.
Out of Left Field
You may be well prepared for talking about the issue at hand, but anything
can come your way when the cameras are rolling.
Reporter: When we were standing at the gate, a neighbour told us about a
series of recent accidents here. It sounds like a very unsafe Drop Zone.
Don’t let them bait you! The temptation is to defensively declare, “We’re not
unsafe!” but that could fall right into their trap. Instead, keep your calm,
polite and open tone:
You: Skydiving is a dangerous sport. Injuries can and do occur.
Drop Zones are always working to improve safety and we aim to learn any
lessons we can from serious incidents.
Now, another reporter can sense it’s getting tough for you.
Reporter 2: The neighbour also told us about frequent drug use at your drop
zone, and all- night parties, complete with vandalism and fires!
If you don’t keep your cool now, the headlines could be very interesting.
You: It would be unfortunate if anybody used today’s tragic events for their
own personal crusade. We’re here mourning the loss of a friend in very
distressing circumstances. It’s not the time to respond to baseless claims.
There, it’s over. Don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet and don’t smile.
Thank the crews for their understanding and walk away.
You’re probably already kicking yourself, wishing you had phrased something
differently or stressed a point more emphatically. It’s not too late to make
important corrections or provide journalists with new information. But, you’ll
generally have to accept that it’s done now, and move on to more important
A similar procedure should be followed if anybody calls, seeking an interview
over the phone. Technically, they shouldn’t tape record the conversation without
your permission, but it’s a good idea to assume they’re rolling anyway. Either
way, once they’ve identified themselves as being from the media, they’re
perfectly entitled to take down every word and to quote you on it.
A radio news journalist will probably want to “roll a tape” for broadcast
purposes. Once again, they should state this quite clearly, but you can always
check: “Are you recording this? Is it for broadcast use?” Just like the
television crews, a news journalist will be seeking brief sound “grabs” to add
to their story. Once again, you can provide a brief statement, and decline to
answer further questions.
A radio talkback program might be seeking an interview, live to air. This can
be a lot more daunting. You must think on your feet, and there’s no going back
if you say something you shouldn’t. But it’s also an excellent opportunity to
present yourself as open and honest, and to demonstrate your genuine concern at
what has happened. At least on the phone, they can’t see your sweaty forehead!
Another advantage is that you’re not being reduced to a mere ‘grab’. If you
handle yourself well, YOU have the power to bring the interview back around to
the subjects that you wish to emphasise.
A newspaper reporter back in the city might also seek a phone interview,
after sending a local photographer to the DZ to get the photos. Reporters from
the wire service, or overseas media outlets could even call. The same principles
apply. Be brief, open and sincere. You may have said the same thing 20 times
over by now, but it’s the first time this reporter has heard it.
A former ASO recalls a media query about an amputation in a DZ accident. He
couldn’t understand how anybody would be jumping on such a cold and windy day.
It turned out the ambulance had been called for a jumper with breathing problems
after some heavy drinking. “The Ambos had used their radio to report back that
the jumper was ‘legless’ and the message was misinterpreted by media
organisations listening to the scanner!”
Photos and Videos
The media will probably be seeking photos and videos of the deceased. You
should not release shots of the fatal jump, unless there’s an exceptional reason
to do so.
As for other shots of the deceased from previous jumps, you’ll have to make a
judgment call. You should also consider the feelings of friends and family. Some
skydivers really want to be remembered for enjoying their sport. Their loved
ones might take comfort in seeing their smiling face during a previous jump.
Such shots remind everyone that the person died doing what they loved. Other
jumpers might have regarded the media with a degree of scorn. It would be
disrespectful to their memory and hurtful to their families if shots were
In a damage control situation, you must not play favourites. Once you’ve
decided to speak to the media, you simply must speak to all of them. Even
inadvertently forgetting to return a call could make you appear the villain. The
snubbed reporter will then double their efforts to get another angle on the
story, and it probably won’t be favourable to you!
Off the Record
Nothing is off the record. Even if the cameras and tape recorders aren’t
rolling, the reporters will be listening to everything you say and they’ll be
ready to quote you. They’re quite entitled to do so. Background information is
not the same as off the record. For example, you might provide background
information on how a pilot chute deploys a parachute, or how a three-ring system
works. You might also explain how the APF investigative process operates. This
information is ON the record, if they wish to use it. The reporter would usually
paraphrase or simplify your information and use it in their story. Remember,
everything is ON the record, unless you make it clear that it’s not. Here’s
where it gets complicated. For example, a politician would give an off the
record tip to a reporter, knowing full well that the story will eventually end
up in the public arena. The politician knows the journalist will act on the tip,
but they TRUST that their name won’t come into it. A mature, responsible
journalist will use that information to seek confirmation elsewhere. They will
not burn their contacts. They’ll confront other politicians with the
information, and they’ll flush out a story. However, a keen young reporter who’s
trying to score instant brownie points might just as easily put you right in the
manure. So, would you trust a journalist you’ve just met with important
information? There are a few cases where an off the record tip might help your
situation. For example, if the fatality is a suspected suicide, and the media is
discreetly informed, they might back off the story. Tread very, very carefully.
If you try to outsmart the media with this one, it will bite back very hard. You
might be better off sticking to rule one: Nothing is off the record!
“After a couple of separate interviews, I made some comments to reporters
starting with the ‘off the record’ line and, as I was talking, they were taking
notes in short hand!” – Quote from a former ASO
Damage Control Checklist
For a fatality or serious accident
- Accept the media’s role to inform the public
- If you don’t speak, an ill-informed witness might have plenty to say!
- Invite the media in to the DZ and allow them to film from an appropriate
- Take a few moments to prepare a statement. Jot down key points or write out
- Make sure you appear to be open, honest and willing to cooperate.
- Keep your statement brief.
- Stick to the facts, with no opinions or conclusions.
- Don’t tell any lies.
- If you choose not to answer a particular question, explain why.
- Respect the feelings of everyone involved.
- Find something positive to say.
- Treat every media organization equally. Don’t talk to some and not others.
- Nothing is off the record.
Other Damage Control Situations
Local Political Issues
A serious incident is difficult enough, but local battles over noise or other
airport users create their own challenges. They can often prove much trickier.
The DZ’s future could be at stake as determined locals use the media for their
There really isn’t an option to stay silent. As long as the other side
provides angry quotes and interesting photographs, the media will keep running
the copy. Yes, in the interests of balanced reporting, they should contact you
and seek a response. If your response is ‘no comment’ then they are not under
any obligation to put your side of the story.
If the trouble-making neighbours are damaging your business or reputation,
you might consider legal action. Sometimes a solicitor’s letter to a newspaper
encourages the hounds to back away a little, but you may well have to fight it
all the way.
Your best bet could be a dignified, but pro-active approach right from the
start. Make it clear that you won’t enter a slanging match, but you would like
the chance to respond to specific allegations. When you do respond, do so with
accurate information and without resorting to tit for tat claims. Don’t make
untrue allegations against your opponents, and don’t make untrue statements in
your own defence. You’ll only end up looking worse.
Skydivers can find themselves in court for a number of reasons, most likely a
damages lawsuit or an inquest.
During a negligence trial, you must always seek legal advice before making
any comment to the media. As you sit through ridiculous claims inside a
courtroom, you may want to shout your innocence from the rooftops. But you
should not say anything until the case is finalized.
Sometimes, your case may be settled with a confidentiality clause, which
prevents you from speaking to the media at all.
If it goes through to a verdict, win or lose, you are usually able to
comment. This could be an appropriate time to make a statement that you feel
“I’m very disappointed with the verdict. We argued throughout this case that
skydiving is known to be a dangerous sport, and people who participate are well
aware of the risks. The plaintiff made an informed decision to accept the risk.
She was properly instructed but she reacted contrary to her training, and
suffered an injury. We will be considering an appeal against this decision.” If
you do make such a statement, run every word of it by your lawyer first.
At Coronial hearings, you’re also wise to seek legal advice. If you’re being
blamed for a person’s death, then there’s very little you can do to make the
situation any better. In fact, you’d probably be wise to stay away from the
court to avoid the cameras altogether.
If you do attend, then just be as dignified as you can when you run the media
gauntlet. People who hide their faces under jackets usually look like criminals.
Reporters will try asking questions, but you shouldn’t respond. If there’s
something you really want to say, then issue a written statement. Or get
somebody at the APF to speak for you.
“The Australian Parachute Federation has received the findings delivered
today by Coroner Joe Bloggs, along with details of his recommendations.
We co-operated with the coroner throughout the investigation process, and we
value his independent assessment. In some cases, as acknowledged by the Coroner,
we have already altered our procedures.
Incidents like this are tragic, and we are keen to identify any measures,
which could prevent it happening again. We extend our deepest sympathies to the
friends and family of the deceased. He was a valued member of the skydiving
fraternity who is greatly missed.”
An APF staffer recalls a reporter asking for video footage during an inquest
into a fatality:
“After conferring with the APF and the deceased’s family, the reporter was
provided with video footage of a previous jump. The footage was shown on the TV
that night and reflected the sport in a very positive light. They were going to
run a piece anyway. Rather than showing upset family and friends outside the
courtroom, they were able to show some skydiving.”
Sometimes, it’s just plain unlucky when the media happens to be on hand to
capture our embarrassing mistakes. If a skydiving Santa Claus fraps in for the
cameras, your best bet is to show your red face and deal with it as best as you
can. You definitely won’t stop these pictures from going to air, but you will
come across as a good sport.
Nobody from the APF is saying that you MUST speak to the media. It’s your
right to stay silent. It’s even possible that a news crew won’t manage to snare
any witnesses, and the accident scene is well hidden from the road. If so, your
silence might be the final straw that leads to the story being scrapped. You’ll
still have to accept that others have the right to speak. Police media units
might issue a statement, or witnesses could make comments at the scene. The APF
Office or your ASO may also give an interview if they feel it would help the
“It is better to provide an official comment whenever possible rather than
leave it to the media to seek uninformed, biased, or even misleading comments
elsewhere. I am always careful to try not to say anything that could damage the
sport or the organisation.” – Quote from a senior APF staffer.
Once you accept that speaking to the media can minimize the fallout, then you
must prepare yourself for facing the cameras one day. Media professionals can be
hired to help you practice for such an encounter, and you’ll feel a lot more
confident if the need does arise.
Media Trainers can coach you in role-playing various negative scenarios. This
is a terrific way of testing your performance under pressure. Area Councils
could probably arrange sessions like this every year or so for a few hundred
dollars. You could also hire a PR consultant to do the talking for you in a
damage control situation. However, the media usually wants to talk directly to
those at the coalface. In fact, reporters tend to have a natural distrust of PR
people, who often try to pull the wool over their eyes.
Scenarios to Consider
Here are a few examples of incidents that could happen on your drop zone. How
would you handle the situation? What would you say to the media? I’ve made some
suggestions with the first one, but you’ll need to consider the others yourself.
Please take some time to work through them and practice your responses. Even
if you just talk to yourself, you are making an effort to understand how it’s
done. The best way is to throw yourself at the mercy of other jumpers in a
role-playing exercise, taking turns to be the reporters and the interviewee. Ask
your area council to arrange a training session, or plan to do a self-training
session at your next instructor meeting.
You’re DZSO and a continuation student has just had a fatal accident. No
canopy was deployed and early indications are that the student’s AAD was not
turned on. You’re desperately trying to get witness recollections of the
instructor and student’s actions from gear up through to the flight and the
jump. You don’t want any of your suspicions to get into the wrong hands. It’s in
your best interests to get rid of the two waiting news crews as quickly as
Firstly, while you are right to be seeking answers about the AAD, the media
is not the forum to discuss it. You should limit yourself to the facts.
Secondly, in your efforts to keep the investigative side of things to yourself,
do not be tempted to lie. The facts will eventually emerge, and today’s quotes
could come back to haunt you when the truth does come out.
Believe it or not, there is still plenty that you can say:
“Sadly, our sport today lost one of its newer members. I wish I could tell
you more about this person, but relatives are yet to be notified, so I’ll
restrict my comments to the briefest possible summary.
The deceased was a woman, aged in her twenties, who died on her fifth jump.
She was a vibrant and enthusiastic young woman who showed great promise as a
skydiver. She wasn’t with our club for long, but she clearly loved the sense of
exhilaration and freedom she found with us in the sky, and she impressed
instructors with her ability to adapt to each new stage of the student training
table. On this skydive, the student left the aircraft at 10, 000 feet,
accompanied by an instructor. She had performed a similar jump yesterday with no
problems. Tragically, on this descent, neither the main parachute nor the
reserve chute was deployed.
Representatives from the Coroner’s office will work with our own
investigators from the Australian Parachute Federation to determine the
circumstances of this fatality. I won’t make any further comment, because all
matters surrounding the death are now in the hands of the coroner and it would
be inappropriate for me to speculate.”
This response starts and ends with an explanation about why your comments are
brief. It gives minimal information about the deceased, or the accident itself,
and it emphasizes some positive qualities about the student. (If she’d been a
bad student, you could still talk about her enthusiasm. You could say she
impressed everybody with her determination to succeed in her new sport.)
A couple of TV crews are visiting the drop zone in response to your news
release on an 85 year-old blind man who’s doing a tandem jump. As they’re
filming his landing, he fails to lift up his legs in time and hits the dirt very
heavily. You immediately suspect a broken ankle. A moment ago, you were a
cheerful chaperone to the media, but now you’re stuck with damage control.
What do you do?
Well, First Aid would be a good start! But, as you tend to the passenger, do
you try to ask the media for privacy? Or do you accept that they are there and
get on with it? Do you ask questions of the injured man? Do you let the media
ask him questions? Do you release the video of his pre-jump briefing, when he
demonstrated he could lift his legs? You did capture that on video, didn’t you?
You are DZSO when an experienced jumper does a low hook turn and suffers
serious injuries. Members of your DZ have revived him once with CPR, and he’s
now on the way to hospital. But the injuries could well prove fatal. A radio
station has called you seeking a comment for their next news service. They want
you to speak right now, because they’re about to go to air.
If you agree to this interview, you must explain the situation as simply as
possible. You don’t have any visual aids to make yourself clear, so how do you
explain a hook turn? No relatives have been notified yet, so you can’t say
anything that might identify the injured person.
As a Chief Instructor, you’re doing a general interview about parachuting.
How do you answer questions about safety? Next, you’re asked about the
circumstances of the last three fatalities in Australia. And, what about the
recent BASE jumping incidents that have made headlines around the world?
Remember, these are all perfectly normal questions for a non jumping
journalist to direct to an expert in the sport. You need to gently deflect them,
without appearing evasive.
Prepare for the Worst
For those who’ve experienced a negative media encounter, the ordeal is
usually etched pretty firmly in their memory. They sometimes feel so badly
burned that they forget all the positive coverage they’ve received over the
years. It’s all pretty daunting to prepare for the worst-case scenarios, but
you’ll probably find your confidence builds each time you practice.
If you do need to use your new media handling skills, you’ll be very grateful
for the effort you’ve put in.