Media Relations for the Furry

by Simo

You may be asking yourself what this has to do with me. After all, you aren't the fandom's "official" spokesperson or media liaison. While that is true, that does not mean that you won't have to deal with reporters some day. This is especially true if you attend cons or other highly visible functions that are likely to attract media coverage. There may well come a day for you to "meet the press". It helps to plan ahead.

The A Number One rule of news is that there is no such thing as "good news". If 30,000 airline flights per year take off and land uneventfully at a major international airport, that is not news. The one that crashes on take-off or landing: that's news. Similarly, if a dozen US troops in Baghdad help an Iraqi school master repair a war-damaged school house so the children can return to class: that is not news. If a dozen US troops are killed in an ambush, that is news. (And it has not thing one to do with the supposed "liberal" bias of the press.) If it bleeds, it leads.

Rule No. Two is that it ain't the news of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow. It used to be that the networks saw "the news" as both a public service and a public obligation. It was the price to be paid for the use of the public's RF spectrum. It did not matter that the news divisions either did not turn a profit, or actually lost money. This gave the news-men of yesteryear a free hand in getting the story out, even if the powers that be didn't like the story. These days, there will never be another Harvest of Shame (originally aired on Thanksgiving, no less!) since a report on the exploitation of migrant farm workers would result in cancelled advertising contracts, and less profit for the news division. That rule went out the window during the Reagan years. These days, news is seen as another profit center, and, indeed, it is now the most profitable of network divisions. This means that the "news" has become just another form of entertainment.

This is where you, Mr. Furry Fan, comes in. You have already seen the results of bad publicity: THAT episode of ER, featuring the plush-o-phile, or THE infamous CSI episode about the freaky goings-on at the fictional PAFCON. This is what the media wants to serve up to the public: the sensational, the weird, the freaky. They don't care about your con's charity auction that's helping the local animal shelter. They don't want to hear about the fursuiters who volunteer to bring a little light into a sick child's stay at the local children's hospital. They want to hear all about "fur-piles" and who's yiffing who, and how. If you are a fursuiter, all they are interested in knowing is if you're having sex in it. This sells. All that serves to put a good light on Furry-dom does not. If you are ever approached by a reporter, it is critical for you to realize that.

Of course, it's not as easy as it sounds. We all like to see our names in the paper, or ourselves on TV. We like it when others seek our opinions, and share an interest in that which interests us.[*] Reporters know this, and are quite willing to trade on those tendencies in order to get you to talk. Just remember that they aren't being the least bit friendly, nor are they doing you a favor by taking you out to dinner. That goes on the expense account; it does not come out of the reporter's own pocket, much as they'd have you believe otherwise. Indeed, the tactics they use are quite similar to those used by the police in order to get confessions out of suspects. Treat an encounter with a reporter the same way: "You have the right to remain silent... Anything you say can and will be used against you..." Measure your words carefully. You will not be able to take them back: there is no such thing as "off the record". Nor are they under any obligation to clarify statements. There are deadlines to be met, and you will not get that chance to clarify an ambiguous and/or embarrassing statement. Sources are never given the last right of edit to any story. Even a statement that doesn't seem to mean much at the time can send a reporter onto the trail of juicier material. So you don't want to give them any cause to investigate you further. This would include managing your living space in case the reporter wants to talk to you in your hotel room (bet on this: one can learn a great deal merely by observing what you leave in plain sight, like the PJs with all those cute little foxies emblazoned on them, or a packet of condoms, etc.) If in doubt, keep them the hell out! You are now very much in the public eye, and you will be "outed" to friends, family, and employers. You'd better be certain that all interested parties will be cool with your Furriness before you blab to the press.

You can do everything right, and still have a story come out wrong. Take this article Pleasures of the Fur which originally came out in Vanity Fair Here, we are informed:

She opened a cabinet and found a video called Smush, made by Jeff Vilencia, whose work is admired by crush enthusiasts. "Jeff's quite the artiste," Gates said. "This film has actually played at a bunch of film festivals all over the world." We watched. A pudgy woman appeared and then ... worm after worm after worm began exploding under her footsteps. "I love to step on worms with my big feet," said the woman, actress Erika Elizondo. "I love to smush worms. I love to tease them when I press them down softly at first. I am going to step on you and smush you!"

The author of this piece, George Gurley, took a nasty turn into utter irrelevance here. Who knows how that happened: editor saying that the article needed to be longer? Editor wanted a mention of his own personal kink? Couldn't find enough weird sex for the article and decided it needed "spicing up"? Anyway, there was no way in hell that anyone mentioned in that article could have anticipated something like this. So it matters just whom you are contemplating talking with. Now, of course, if the reporter is from something like CNN, then they are none too likely to pull something like this. Check credentials carefully, and definitely don't be talking with some hack from some scandal rag. Even with the "reputable" press, be prepared for "surprises", and realize that you may find your name attached to something unexpected.

This is not to say that reporters are bad people. They, like anyone else, have bills to pay, children to support, etc. They answer to their editors, and they'd better keep the editor happy if they want to justify their continuing employment. It's that they probably don't give a rat's ass about your fandom. They, after all, have no incentive to present it in a good light, nor do they have any burning desire to deliberately smear it. The editor, in turn, needs to move papers, draw viewers, or he is out of a job and/or the company he works for is out of business. It is the audience, the newspaper and magazine buyer, who is demanding to be entertained by tales of weird sex and weird people. This shit is lapped up like anti-freeze at a petting zoo. They don't care to hear about charity auctions and charitable work, or routine stories about a bunch of folks who share an interest in "funny animals".

It's YOUR job to look out for Furry-dom's best interests because no one is going to do that job for you.

[*]If you play poker, here's a useful tip for you. If you can corner an active opponent in your game away from the table, you can find out how he plays by simply asking his opinion on a hypothetical hand. As crazy as it sounds, he will tell you! This comes in handy if the opponent in question is playing in a manner which you are having difficulty deciphering. You can determine if he's really a player with superior skills, a routinely tricky, but not particularly skilled player, or just a novice with an unusual style. Even truly excellent players fall for this and never see it coming when you subsequently use this information to beat them. Also, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have long known that a bit of flattery will often get the mark to spill state secrets, or get a suspect to confess.

It is a temptation that is difficult to resist.

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