How to be a media star

July 29, 1999|By KEVIN COWHERD

AND NOW, an excerpt from:

"So You're Covering a Big-Time Tragedy!:

A Handbook for the Modern Media Hordes"

Chapter 1: "Let's Go Live to ..."

Let's face it: Nothing says "We're on this story!" like someone with a microphone standing by in foul-weather gear, or Polo shirt and khakis, or crisp silk blouse, Calvin Klein skirt and just the right shade of lipstick and scarf.

So what if you're standing by on a rotting wharf 20 miles from the scene of the tragedy?!

This is no time to get picky!

Let the Big Dance begin!

Chapter 2: Hounding the Grieving Family

It would be a pretty dull world, wouldn't it, if the heartsick family were to open its front door and not find a convoy of TV satellite trucks and an army of belligerent reporters camped on the lawn!

Do you have a member of your news team who's trim and athletic, with relatively good foot-speed?

Excellent! You'll need one if someone inside makes a break for the driveway and your man has to hurl himself on the windshield of the get-away car for an interview!

Chapter 3: Badgering the Family Spokesman

A friendly relative offers to act as intermediary between the harried family and the media herd. He seems earnest and efficient and promises to keep you informed of new developments "as soon as we hear something."

Why, that evil little weasel!

He's got some nerve!

What's he hiding, anyway?

Chapter 4: Privacy, Schmivacy: Why Mourning in Seclusion Is Way Overrated

Why can't your news helicopter hover 200 feet over the burial service?

Just because the wash of the rotor blades might kick up a little dust and blow off a few hats and veils?

Because it might drown out the priest?

Come on!

What are you supposed to go with on the 6 o'clock news? The Gore campaign? Congress feuding over tax cuts? The president entertaining the Israeli prime minister again?!

Zzzzzz. Wake us when it's over!

Chapter 5: "I'll Take Literary Allusions for $200, Alex"

Is there a tragic figure of history or literature to whom the doomed person you're reporting on can be linked, however tenuously?

Sure, there is!

Hamlet, Joan of Arc, Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, Kerouac, Lincoln, Willy Loman, Rasputin, Lizzie Borden ... why, the list is endless!

Pick one and run with it!

Quickie tip: If you can't come up with one, ask the reporter next to you which one he or she is using!

Chapter 6: When Nothing's Happening: The Art of Filling Time

You're on live from the scene and here's what you have: zip, zero, nada. Not a blessed new thing to report.

Meanwhile, your viewers are staring at a wide-angle shot of a lush hillside, which may or may not contain the wreckage of a downed aircraft, but which right now, contains nothing more interesting than sheep grazing.

And all you can think of are the ratings dropping like a cinder block thrown from the roof of a 20-story building as thousands of viewers click off their remotes.

But, hey, why so down? Just because nothing's happening, that doesn't mean the viewers have to know nothing's happening!

We'll show you how to prattle on like the pros, with folksy, irrelevant anecdotes about the history of aviation, maudlin "interviews" of friends and relatives estranged from the victim's family for years, overwrought descriptive phrases, and analysis from self-styled "experts" with only marginal knowledge of the actual situation you're covering.

Now, take a couple of deep breaths and try this simple exercise: "That's right, Dan, we're standing on this placid hillside, this gentle flock of sheep serving as silent sentinel to the grim business which apparently took place here.

"Standing by in our studios is Melvin C. Biddleman, the victim's ninth-grade English teacher ..."

Piece of cake, right?

Chapter 7: "What's So Wrong With Rumor and Idle Speculation?"

When you were getting your bran muffin this morning, did the fellow behind the counter say he heard from a guy who works at the airport that the downed plane might have been struck by lightning?

Did the bellhop at your hotel muse at some length about the erratic behavior of the doomed pilot in the hours before the flight, consistent (according to the bellhop) with the behavior of a man possibly suffering from a seizure disorder?

Go with it, dude!

You can't sit on good stuff like that!

Do that and you'll be back on some dead-end story like Congress or Kosovo, pronto.

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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