It’s easy to villainize that which keeps us from getting what we want. We all want positive media coverage, and lots of it. When we don’t get it, who do we blame besides ourselves? Those useless gatekeepers, of course!
That’s only half-right.
Gatekeepers are involved, at least some level, in keeping your story out of the headlines. But they’re not useless, irrelevant, or impenetrable. Just like you, they have goals—and even a passion for what they do. Step inside the mind of a media gatekeeper, and you’ll realize that what you want and what they want aren’t always at odds. Where those goals overlap, you’ll find opportunities to access and influence the gatekeepers—and a “social media side door” to killer coverage.
These are the top goals of the media gatekeeper, as laid out in my new book The Social Media Side Door: How to Bypass the Gatekeepers to Gain Greater Access and Influence, and which we’ll explore in next week’s webinar.
Gatekeeper goal #1: Ensure truth and accuracy
I’m the first to criticize the media for not doing this well, and it might even seem like they’re not doing this at all lately, but every pitch-worthy brand in the media business does some amount of fact-checking and confirmation.
When done right, fact-checking and “spin removal” serve the noble purpose of making sure that the information upon which we base decisions consists of the truth. Easier said than done, but it’s a mission most of us understand and value.
Gatekeeper goal #2: Focus on what matters
This goal is more nuanced and paternalistic, but members of the traditional media tend to subscribe wholeheartedly to the notion that they should play some part in guiding the public’s collective attention to things that “matter”—and filter out (or focus less on) things that are trivial, irrelevant, or inconsequential.
The media’s interpretation of this goal has evolved (or devolved) rapidly over the years. Alicia C. Shepard, writing in American Journalism Review illustrates just how much things have changed:
“It used to be so simple back in the days when John F. Kennedy was president. What reporters covering the White House knew about his promiscuity never saw its way into print. It just wasn’t considered relevant.”
Gatekeeper goal #3: Shape the outcome
From William Randolph Hearst and the Spanish-American War, to Mother Jones and environmental protection, to News Corp and its typically conservative slant, media has a long history of controlling information to shape outcomes.
Content is sometimes added to or withheld from the outbound stream to produce the desired effect on the audience, because even in this age of information abundance, information is still power. Whether or not you’re comfortable with this narrative-shaping probably depends on the narrative, whether it’s being shaped to your liking, and how transparent it is. Humans run the media business, and humans have agendas.