Dealing with the Media
“The world is for thousands a freak show; the images flicker past and vanish; the impressions remain flat and unconnected in the soul. Thus they are easily led by the opinions of others, are content to let their impressions be shuffled and rearranged and evaluated differently.”– Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
The media loves modified people. As a rule, we are visually interesting, provocative, and often present a curiosity to their consumers that has been proven to draw ratings. Shannon recently presented a request for guests he received from the Maury Show on his page and as a result of my comments to him about it he suggested I write a column on dealing with the media. The following is a great deal of personal experience over the last decade combined with the usual dose of my opinions. I am sure there are others here on BME that can greatly add to this and I hope they will via the forums. It is important that as a community we take advantage of the media as the positive tool it can be rather than being taken advantage of by the media.
First, and most importantly, whether you are going to involve yourself with the media as a participant or just a consumer everyone should learn to look past the false glamour associated with media coverage. Appearing on TV, being interviewed on the radio, or whatever it may be is essentially meaningless. Take a look at your local paper and evening news and you will quickly see that a great deal of it is filler and that almost anyone and anything can end up there. Getting covered should not be seen as an end or achievement in itself. If you fall for this you play directly into the hands of those within the media who wish to exploit you and you very likely damage any cause you might have. Media coverage is a tool you can use but it is also a force that can easily use you.
Always remember that the media has an agenda and a plan to achieve it. This is not to say that all media outlets and people are working on nefarious schemes but rather they quite simply do have something they are out to achieve and they will do so at your expense if necessary. Interviewing you or having you on as a guest is simply a method for them to achieve their goal. If you are going to deal with the media then you must also have an agenda and a plan. If you go in unprepared then it is most likely that you will get used and end up looking dumb, or in the best-case scenario you somehow get lucky and escape with your dignity intact but nothing or little gained. At a bare minimum, because it is a business, they will attempt to do as little as possible in terms of compensating you for your contributions.
Never underestimate your importance to the media. As a guest or subject you represent the raw materials of their enterprise. Media is business. No one there is working for free and neither should you. Often, getting compensated for your time and work (and it is work) is as simple as asking. Most worthwhile productions realize that they need to pay and will do so when asked, but rarely offer up front and then lowball. The exception to this being many news programs, which don’t pay on the principle that it would impinge on their integrity. Personally, I don’t see a lot of merit in this claim for most stories but the value of advancing your agenda and getting your message out can be valuable enough to offset not getting paid. Of course, this assumes you have evaluated your ideas and goals and formulated a way to achieve them that uses the media coverage you can get.
If you are going to deal with the media you have to do your research and plan your statements before you are recorded. Even very intelligent people often end up looking silly when hit up for ‘man on the street’ comments because they are not prepared for them. You should not only refresh your knowledge of your topic and ideas but also research the particular show or outlet you will be dealing with. Try to figure out their agenda and how you can either counter it or make it work for you.
At the Don Francisco show, Miami 2002.
Below I have broken down some practical tips and information about various forms of media. I strongly encourage anyone who is thinking about any involvement to consult with professionals whenever possible and if you are going to be doing it with any regularity a manager or lawyer are nearly a must because there is a lot to keep track of and having people who know the business help you is invaluable.
(newspapers, magazines, books and the like)
Print media almost never pays and is mainly suitable for advancing information or advertising yourself or your business. The exception is for photos — read releases carefully and make sure that they only allow for use in connection with the relevant story or entry and that it is only for one story or edition. This insures that any use is legitimate in terms of what you expect and that future use will result in further compensation. In terms of content I prefer to do the interviews by email so that I have a written record of what I said in an unedited form. If the interview is recorded for transcription I request a copy of the recording. Most people will supply complimentary copies of the finished product but are often lazy or forgetful about doing it.
Much like print, radio is almost always an unpaid gig. It is best suited for information and advertising. Most radio is live, which means you have to be on your toes and well prepared. Shows may be taped and edited for later rebroadcast, which means you should take care to not present them with anything they could easily manipulate if you think they may be hostile in any way. Very rarely will there be any contracts or releases involved unless they are also recording images for a website or something similar.
News: As I mentioned above, news shows rarely offer pay but they can useful in that news coverage often increases the perceived legitimacy of your statements. I won’t go into the difference between public perception and truth here, but it is worth noting that if you say something on the news it will likely go further than something spouted off on a talk show and reaches a different audience. News appearances often come with short notice and because the particular show has a story they want to run. It is very important to discern the motivation and goal of the story and to be extremely well prepared. The news rarely uses releases.
Talk Shows: Talk shows are probably the biggest offenders when it comes to claiming poverty and not paying guests. Many will try to draw people in with the promise of a free trip (hotel and airfare). This isn’t a horrible thing but the fact is that they do have a budget for guests and should at the very least be offering money for food as well. Initially, I generally tell them I want to paid AFTRA scale for the appearance. AFTRA is the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors and is similar to SAG (the Screen Actors Guild). They set minimum pay and rates for their members; this is what scale is — a minimum amount for a day’s work. You should also ask for residuals from future airings. This basically means that they agree to pay you a percentage of the original amount each time they air the episode again after the first time — with shows like Maury or Ricki Lake this can add up quickly. If they continue to balk about payment you can also suggest they pay you the day rate you would receive at your regular job since it is likely you will be missing some work to travel and appear. Sometimes they will take to this better and even news programs will sometimes go for this. In the end, don’t be afraid to stonewall — losing the appearance is not the end of the world. Check releases carefully and get help reading them through if necessary.
Domestic Cable (HBO original programs, Discovery, National Geographic, and so on): These programs have widely varying budgets but there is always money there for you — it is just a matter of how much. These shows pay to fly crews and equipment around the world, and there is no reason for you to put in the work (and these are usually the most work and disruptive to your usual life) without being compensated. This is where having an agent or manager really helps. Yes, they take a percentage but they often get you more than you would have on your own which makes up for their cut. It is very hard to get residuals from cable networks though, but worth trying — don’t let it be a deal breaker in their case.
International TV: For Americans, foreign television provides some of the most lucrative opportunities. Residuals are almost never there but the up front money is often much better. Again, an agent is very helpful. Many of these outlets pay people to find and shoot the stories and they let them keep the money in the budget that they don’t pay you. A good agent will know the current budget levels for these organizations and get you all you can.
I haven’t mentioned things like variety shows for performers or acting appearances because if you are going to do this then you really should be working with a professional to handle things. Hopefully this helps someone and don’t be afraid to ask me or anyone questions.
because the world NEEDS freaks…
Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?
Copyright © 2004 BMEzine.com LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published November 27th, 2004 by BMEzine.com LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.