As professional media responders, the team at Navigate Response deals with multiple enquiries from journalists and news organisations. This has never been truer than earlier this year, through May, June and July, when our colleagues dealt with incidents in the Strait of Hormuz involving vessels operated by our clients.
As former journalists ourselves it is our job to identify the needs of modern, fast-paced reporters working continuously on ‘live’ developing news stories.
From our recent experiences, it is obvious that today’s journalists use a multiplicity of tools and skill sets to get their stories.
As media advisors our job is to protect our clients' reputations, and so we must be aware of the array of techniques and tactics used in major breaking news stories.
Gone are the days of the senior comms person having a cosy ‘off the record’ briefing with his chummy journalist pals in a London wine bar in order to squash a story or put a softer spin on a bad situation.
The 24-hour rolling news cycle means that journalists want answers to questions instantly. It means they need information even if there is not a lot to provide.
In shipping casualties this is made even harder by the fact that the vessel involved is often in a different time zone – far from the crisis room – which serves as the nerve centre of the response operation.
The recent incidents in the Strait of Hormuz saw our team working across multiple time zones with media from all over the world. Each journalist has unique needs and in most cases their news angle needs to be fresh and different from what the rest of the pack are reporting. This makes it doubly hard for media-handlers as the golden rule of shipping (and indeed any) crisis response is one set of messages delivered in a consistent and unswerving way.
Our advice to owners, managers and all operators of ships is to treat all journalists equally. Of course, there is a hierarchy in media and contact from a CNN or Wall Street Journal reporter should be taken seriously. But a call from a junior reporter on a local paper or a specialist trade publication is just as vital for your media-handlers. That is because in a major breaking story, the media feed off each other when it comes to delving deeper into a story and then keeping that story going.
If the local newspaper has a fresh or illuminating insight into a shipping accident you can be sure the major news organisations will pick it up. Some of the more established and, dare we say, arrogant news media will even claim the story as theirs!
The media instinctively seek authenticity and there is a growing backlash against Corporate-Speak. This trend was evident during the incidents in the Strait of Hormuz. The media were hell-bent on getting first-hand ‘colour’ about the attacks; they sought drama, they wanted the human-interest angle on incidents which were part of a wider geopolitical conflict which gets reported every single day.
So the seafarers on these vessels became a target for media inquiry. Navigate Response and our clients were inundated with requests to talk to the masters of the ships and do one-on-one interviews with crew.
The media wanted the human element for a narrative which was more easily understandable and of interest to the average person following the story without inside knowledge.
Of course, the attacks meant the ships sustained physical damage but thankfully the crews were safe and there were no injuries. So, once the vessel damage story was over, the media had an insatiable need to keep the drama going. The way to do that was to attempt to get the ships’ crews to tell their stories.
“Can we come on board? …What was it like when the mines exploded? …Did you hear or see anything? …Can the captain tell us his story in his own words?” These were just a few of the requests we had from media. And we turned them all down. We did that because we believe seafarers should not be put in the front line when it comes to media response.
Seafarers need to be trained how to handle and deflect media enquiries. But it should never be a seafarer’s job to represent the company during an incident on board a ship.