Santa Needs Media Training

By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London Ltd

“Ho, ho, ho “cried Santa. He was in his traditional jolly mood as he heaved his bulk out of bed and into his Santa dressing gown and furry red Santa slippers thoughtfully left out for him by Chief Junior Elf.  “Another jolly day “ he boomed as he thought about where to park his sleigh when he swooped down onto the TV studios for his first ever television interview later that morning.

“You’re booming very well this morning Santa” said Senior Elf, deftly removing some elf-made wooden toys thoughtlessly left behind on the wooden floor by the very junior elves who forgot that Santa could easily trip over them due to not being able to see his feet beneath his big stomach.  “I saw that“ said Santa. “You must have a word with Elfin Safety. She’ll put those pesky little very junior elves in order.”

“Now what about your TV interviews  - aren’t you going to prepare some things to say? “ asked Senior Elf.  “ You know they always say you don’t know how blank your mind can go until you’re on live TV? “ he added in a worried tone.

“No, no , no  said Santa rather crossly, “ I don’t need to prepare. I’ll just see what they ask me. I‘ve been doing this job for years. I know my stuff.”

“Yes but talking on the TV is different from normal talking, you need to prepare for the questions“ said Senior Elf, who took modern life seriously, unlike Santa, whose  only concession to the 21st century so far had been to fit a seat heater in his sleigh. “No Satnav needed for Santa“ he would tell anyone who would listen. “I know my way round the world without the help of space satellites. I was here long before they were. In fact NASA and NORAD track me. I don’t need their help. ”

“ And what do you mean interviews?” Santa added tetchily . “ I thought I was doing just one.”

“Well you have to cover the world’s TV networks so you’ll be doing one interview face to face and one down the line. They’ll all be pooled, “ said Senior Elf precisely, very proud of knowing the TV jargon. “Down the line means talking to the camera , not to an interviewer. It’s also called a remote interview. ” he added proudly.

“Pooled – what pool? “ asked  Santa even more crossly, and feeling  his jolly TV interview mood fading fast.

“Doing a pooled interview means you only have to do two interviews and all the broadcasters get one or the other. Otherwise you’d have to do hundreds of interviews. You’d be in the studio till next Christmas” Senior Elf added with a bright, little, know-it-all  elf smile that Santa wanted very much to wipe right off his face – right now.

“Anyway don’t forget I’ve got a very important meeting this morning about appearing in next year’s X Factor as a special guest”,  Santa beamed, recovering some of his jollity at the prospect of another starring role.  “And I’m not doing it unless they get Beyonce to dance with me.  I know you think I’m out of touch, but I do know that Simon Cowell is almost as powerful as I am, so, after my first TV appearance today, the X Factor is the place for me next year.”

Santa’s meeting with Syco dragged on. At last it was finished.  “Go, go ,go “ cried Santa to the reindeer. He was late for his arrival at the TV studios.  Having parked with some difficulty on the roof, which he had not expected to be crowded with antennae, satellite dishes and air conditioning and heating machinery, he rushed down to the studio.  It was in the basement, which he also hadn’t realised, and when he got there he was sweating and hot and bothered and he couldn’t remember anything he wanted to say.

“Would you like some make-up?” asked a slim woman with very tidy hair and a selection of small brushes in her hand.  “Oh no, no, no “ said Santa briskly. “Just take me to the studio please.”  It was very hot in the studio because there were lots of lights, so Santa didn’t cool down at all. In fact he felt even more hot and bothered and he knew he was red-faced and sweating.  Also, when he sat down,  he noticed, too late to change before the interview started, that the buttons on his Santa jacket were straining to keep in their buttonholes.

“I do believe I’ve put on a little weight since this suit was made just a few years ago” he thought to himself as the interviewer, who was thin and very smartly dressed in a suit and tie and didn’t look hot at all, began by introducing him as ‘Someone who really needs no introduction’ then getting very excited and shouting at him “I can’t believe it’s Santa. Your first ever TV interview, what’s your message to the children of the world? ”

“Eh, well, “Santa was a bit stumped. He hadn’t really expected that sort of question.  “Well”  he said quietly and without any of his usual booming tone,  “ It’s very hot here. I’m not used to heat – I’m more of a cold weather chap myself.“   “Yes but what’s your message?”  said the interviewer, kindly giving him  another go at making a good impression, but to Santa, unprepared as he was, the interviewer appeared to be a threatening inquisitor, definitely out to get him.  “Ho , ho , ho? ” said Santa feebly.  He was surprised to find he actually felt very nervous. This wasn’t going well.

“All children should be good or they won’t get presents? “ , the interviewer suggested helpfully. “Oh ,yes definitely, that’s how the system works “ said Santa.  Uncharacteristically, he didn’t seem able to speak more than one short sentence at a time.  And he could feel  his mind was going blank – very blank.  “I just want to survive  this and go home to the nice cold North Pole”, he thought.

“And how many elves do you have working for you? “ asked the interviewer trying to put Santa at ease by asking him a simple factual question. “Eh, I’m not sure”,  Santa began another feeble answer. “There are lots and lots of elves”.  If only he’d looked at the factsheet that Senior Elf had thrust in front of him before he left for the studio.  Santa stuttered on. The interview finally ended after what seemed to Santa like a very long time and he got up to go.  

“Santa, Santa, That was wonderful, super, just terrific” said a thin bossy looking woman with frizzy hair and a clipboard who was speaking very fast.  “I’m the producer for your remote interview and we’re going to put you in another studio."  Before he knew what was happening Santa had been fitted with a radio microphone,  with a pack squeezed into the very tight waistband of his red Santa trousers and an earpiece had been put in his left ear, and he was staring at a camera.  “You’ll hear the interviewer through your earpiece in about a minute” the producer told him. She seemed to Santa to be very speeded up and he wasn’t really taking in much of what she said. “Oh and don’t look at anything else but the camera for the whole interview”  she added over her shoulder as she left Santa alone in what he now realised was a padded sound-proofed cell.

Santa got a bit bored as he waited and waited for what was definitely much more than a minute. Finally just as he was wondering  whether to leave, he heard a whooshing noise in his ear and several people shouting about something and then a voice said very fast “Can you hear me Santa – can you hear me? “  “Yes “ said Santa looking around for someone to talk to . “Can you look at the camera? “ said the voice in an urgent tone. “Yes” , said Santa again. “Look at the camera  now” said the voice bossily, adding “You’ll hear the interviewer in ten seconds. “

Suddenly Santa wasn’t sure what to do next.  Why should he talk to the camera when he could now see the interviewer on a TV screen on a table to the left of the camera? He decided to talk to the monitor. He felt this second interview went better than the first as he did manage to get two sentences out in a couple of his answers.

“Snow, snow, snow. How I love it “ Santa told his reindeer as they made their way back through an Arctic blizzard to the lovely frozen North.  

“How did it go?” asked Santa. “So so “ said Senior Elf diplomatically.  “By the way, Simon Cowell’s people called. They think you’re not right for the X Factor.  They think you should try Blue Peter.   That’s BBC TV's Blue Peter,” he added helpfully, “ the children’s programme where they make things and say : ’And here’s one I prepared earlier’.  That’s good advice for TV interviews too.”

“Doh, doh, doh”  said Santa briefly turning to Homer Simpson for aid in expressing himself.  “ Where’s that email you mentioned from the media training people?”   “TV News London? “ said Senior Elf . “I’ll book you a session right now.”

Published 14 December 2011


Is Journalism a Blood Sport?

By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London Ltd

Remember how the Romans used to enjoy watching Christians and slaves being thrown to the lions and torn apart in front of huge crowds for sport?  It’s become increasingly clear to me that  what the UK’s Leveson inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press is now showing us is the extraordinary sight of today’s version of the Christians and slaves fighting back with public statements of how much blood the newspapers have drawn from them in recent years.

Listening to the complaints of celebrities like Hugh Grant , Sienna Miller, Charlotte Church, and J.K. Rowling, we can all now understand more of the price of fame in the modern media world and get glimpses of the huge media pressure famous people can face in their personal as well as their professional lives.

Should we be sorry for them?  Should we feel as much sympathy for celebrities – and their families - as we do for Kate and Gerry McCann, parents of still missing Madeleine, pursued by crowds of media, private diaries published without permission, and subject to  unfounded speculations about them having a role in their 3 year old daughter’s disappearance ?

Are celebrities to be pitied and/or in future protected as much as Sally and Bob Dowler, parents of murdered teenager Millie, whose mobile phone messages were hacked into after her death, giving false hope to her parents that, as a message had been deleted, Millie might have deleted it and therefore might still be alive.  Plus what Sally Dowler described as ‘ such an intrusion’ when the News of the World ran a picture taken with a long lens of a walk she had her husband took which they had thought was private.

Intrusion – that’s a key word. When I started in journalism, we were told there was a code of conduct for journalists. We should not intrude on private grief, not upset or involve children etc.. I’m lucky enough never to have worked at the mucky end of the journalistic market. Tabloid journalists have always taken a more robust approach to these issues. But what’s gone wrong to make journalists think they can hack into private mobile phones, or photographers bang on the doors of cars and frighten children – as both JK Rowling and Kate McCann testified to the Leveson Inquiry?

Newspapers used to be first with news, Now the press has lost this role of news primacy to first radio, then TV 24 hour news, and now social media pictures and rumours as well. So why buy a newspaper?  The answer is for comment and background, and also for celebrity gossip.   You only need to look at the online websites of tabloid newspapers to see the power of the pull of celebrity news. But of course a lot of celebrity news isn’t really news. It’s manufactured events and opinions, sometimes with the co-operation of the celebs themselves, and sometimes not.  But it does sell papers and magazines and the numbers of media in pursuit of for instance Sienna Miller when she had her on-off relationship with Jude Law– especially the numbers of photographers literally chasing her down the road  like a pack of wolves  - has grown hugely in recent years because there’s money in exclusive pictures. And of course exclusives are increasingly hard to find when so many are pursing the same aim .

“For a number of years I was relentlessly  pursued  by about 10 to 15 men almost daily  Anything from being spat at or verbally abused.  I think the incentive was to get a as strong a reaction as possible. They seemed to go to any lengths to try to upset you. I would often find myself, I was 21 being chased down the road by a pack of men.

“It’s really terrifying” she said adding that if she had been pursued at midnight down a dark street by men not carrying cameras, the police would have been involved.

Should there therefore be tighter controls on the British press? Lord Hunt, who has just taken over as Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, the self-regulating body for the newspaper industry, has speculated that he may well be the last chairman of the PCC.

He said on the BBC’s Politics Show recently:

“PCC is a mechanism for dealing with complaints.  It is not a regulator.  It has power to reprimand an editor or a journalist.  It can have an apology put on the front page. What I am worried about is that there is no-one independently regulating the press.”

It does now look as though the public and political mood is for the press to face official regulation, just as TV and radio already have regulations under Ofcom.  Even a celebrity photographer told BBC Radio Four’s Media Programme that the paparazzi should be licensed.  Although he did point out that even if professional photographers were licensed there would still be nothing to stop a member of the public snapping a celebrity on their phone and publishing it to the world on Twitter or other social media.

So in terms of regulating the print media in an age of social media, shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted may well be the place we are now in.  Just as the press is losing its audience to unregulated social media the press will be more regulated while rumours spread unrestrained on the social media.  The Christians and the slaves, today’s celebrities and families of murder victims,  are now rightly fighting back against today’s media audience – we are the equivalent of the Roman audience in the arena.  

Sections of the media may have given up on basic decency such as not intruding into private grief, either physically through their presence or through phone hacking, but shouldn’t the rest of us be less willing to be an audience baying for blood?    

Published 12 December 2011