Press Jiu Jitsu

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Here are some common situations and questions you may encounter when speaking with the press. Please note that this is a guide, not an instruction manual. As such, it is entirely possible you don't agree with everything here. Please do not make it into an argument, instead please provide/list alternatives. We're here to collaborate, not te "be right".

The Way of The Word

It's important to think from the perspective of the journalist *first*, what you are trying to say *second*. In most cases, this means the journalist's motivations include:

  • Looking for good quotes and clear opinions, so they don't have to sort out your mess. That's why they tend to ask very constrained questions or questions that feel like a "challenge".
  • Looking for an interesting story. This can be, but isn't limited too: things that "resonate" on a personal level, things that challenge the status quo, etc. However much you are in agreement with something, that's usually just not interesting as news.

Never take it personal. Never become unfriendly, even if the journalist is being a total ass. Since they hold the pen, you will never win.

A journalist isn't there to trick you, but it can definitely feel like it for the above reasons. That's why you should practice mental-verbal jiu jitsu: answer in such a way that you both avoid potential traps and still both get what you want. The journalist has to go home with an interesting interview with good quotes and you're going to help him/her with that.

Footwork (stand your ground)

General tips to improve your ground position:

  • Welcome journalists as you would any guest. Ask them what they would like to do (interview? pictures?) if it's unclear. Help them get organized.
  • Be personal. Know their name and - if possible - ask them questions about their work (what magazines do they write for? do they cover only politics or other stuff as well?) or other trivia.
  • Stick to the "format" of the interview. If it's for a short article, don't talk too long. The more you say, the more will be cut off. And it's not you but the journalist who's going to choose the material he keeps... which is not especially what you want to focus on.
  • Never start talking about your private life. Hangovers, girlfriends or boyfriends, porn viewing habits (yes, this happened), etc. While this is an acceptable way to socialize in general, it's a fundamentally bad idea with a journalist. I repeat, do not talk about your private life.
  • Take your time to answer, especially with print journalists, there is no need to stop thinking and start babbeling. For audio-visual work it sometimes needs to be quite a bit faster, so it's best if you have some experience with print interviews first.
  • Try to really relax. If you're hypernervous, avoid press. Unless you are an athlete, it's going to look bad.
  • Try to be humorous, but not too funny. Avoid geeky/nerdy jokes, they will make you look bad unless it's for a geeky/nerdy publication.
  • Don't improvise in areas where you feel uncertain. Pause. Think. You can then decide to provide an extremely nuanced answer (this allows you to work on it later on) or to simple avoid answering ("I don't really have an answer to that" is unfortunate but perfectly acceptable). It is very unlikely you know fully how media works or exactly how "the public" will react to what you say if it's an "untested opinion". It's important to carry this realization wherever you go, it will keep you out of trouble. Unless you are specifically looking for trouble...

Classic Throws

Here are some "classic" questions that you might get asked and some appropriate jiu jitsu throws. In general, make sure you read international Pirate Party blogs for good ideas. Especially Rick Falkvinge is a great source.

In general, the goal is to use the weight of the question to your advantage.

Relevance?

"Is the Pirate Party relevant?" or some variation thereof.

Throw:

  • Expand the Belgian Pirate Party into an international movement. Know the numbers (countries with an active PP, how many elected officials, etc).
  • Associate with Occupy, G1000, etc, taking care not to equate them with us. There is a big societal interest in our topics.
  • Germany is of course the best example of relevancy: polling is (currently) above 10% nationwide.
  • Refer to our rapid expansion, "currently the fastest growing international political movement". New crews are being created all the time.

In the end, after the arguments, flip the question: simply state that we are extremely relevant.

Left or right?

"Is the Pirate Party left or right?" This is a so called framing technique, which you should never answer directly.

Throws: First off, always ask what they mean by left or right. Insist you will answer the question if they define the terms. Do not say "we're neither left or right", this has no interesting properties for an article. The journalist wants to place the PP in the political spectrum, let's help them!

If the answer comes down to "closer to the Social Party or the Green Party?", it's actually meant to be a comparison between parties:

  • A really nice throw is to make the comparison historically. The liberal movement is more than 200 years old, socialism about 150 years old, nationalist movements about 100 years, green parties originated in the 1970's, the Pirate Party is the first new political movement of this century. Obviously this comparison is hugely in the disadvantage of other parties, without you having to say anything negative.

It might be about "progressive" versus "conservative":

  • We have both progressive and conservative points. Upgrading the political system itself towards more transparency/accessibility is absolutely progressive. However, in privacy matters, we are actually conservative: we want the same protection of communication that our parents had for their regular mail, phone calls, etc. They also weren't constantly monitored. Look out, the follow-up throw involves the Postcard Fallacy. Notice how you can squeeze in two program points without really answering the question?

It might be about "collective" versus "individual":

  • The exact same program points and technique as above work here! Collaborative lawmaking = collective, privacy = individual freedom.

Naive?

Isn't what you are doing naïve? (This is very close to the previous question about relevance.)

There are a few simple replies here:

  • Political movements are always considered naïve in the beginning. Even socialism and liberalism were considered naïve, but ecological thinking was as well (remember the "woolen socks" stereotype?). In this way you may consider the label "naïve" a compliment.
  • Obviously the German and Swedish success prove that it is a viable political movement, because people vote on the Pirate Party in large numbers.

Nerds?