An Education Minister Who Needs a Lesson in Media Relations
By Grant Ainsley | Tips | [comments] | Posted [date]
I've done media training for over a decade and have developed a simple formula to teach people how to deal with the news media. Start by figuring out the questions you'll be asked and then decide how you'll answer them.
Pretty simple isn't it? The problem is, simple isn't always easy. In many cases actually, simple is difficult. Last week an Alberta cabinet minister found out the hard way.
Unfortunately for Adriana LaGrange, it came at a time when she's in the middle of a back-to-school controversy.
Skating on Thin Ice
Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was front and centre at a news conference last Thursday to announce proposed changes to the province’s education curriculum.
A lot has been written and said about the merits (or lack thereof) these changes. I’m not going to go there in this blog, because that’s not my field of expertise. I am however, going to write about what happened at the newser and how LaGrange dropped the ball.
Keep in mind, LaGrange had already received weeks of media criticism for wanting to send kids back to school with no plan to keep them safe. Her plan seemed to be “You figure it out”, as school boards grapple with finding the money to run safe classrooms in just a few weeks.
To her credit, earlier in the week she held another news conference and announced mandatory masks for most school kids and financial help for schools, but didn’t have any suggestions on how classrooms could operate safer. She certainly didn’t want to rehire teachers, or teaching assistants chopped a few months ago by her department’s budget cuts.
A Question Without an Answer
At the Thursday news conference, LaGrange ran into a big problem when she talked about the importance of changing the social studies curriculum because she’s seen cases where bias existed.
Two Calgary reporters wanted more details about that statement and here’s an edited version of the “highlights”.
What a mess, especially her final answer.
As soon as LaGrange said her staff would send details to the reporter, any intelligent journalist would have alarm bells going off in their head. She either couldn’t state a specific example to illustrate her point, or she didn’t want to. Neither was good.
When I do media training, I explain to people that if you make a statement, it has to be defendable, because it could be questioned by a reporter. Making a statement is like opening the door to a reporter and inviting them into your house and then a few minutes later telling them they have to leave. Maybe the reporter doesn’t want to go? They don’t plan to leave until they’re given a decent answer to their question.
That’s exactly what LaGrange did and it didn’t turn out well for her. She needed to be able to list at least one example. Now, that could have led to other questions from reporters, which she also should have been prepared for.
Optics Are Important
There was one other aspect to this news conference that was pointed out later by somebody on Twitter. I hadn’t realized it, but it’s true.
The person said they found it ironic that while LaGrange wants to send children back to schools packed together in classrooms, she held a news conference without any reporters allowed to be there in person. Like most other Alberta government news conferences since the pandemic started, all questions from reporters need to be asked over the phone.
This isn’t LaGrange’s fault. It’s what Dr. Deena Hinshaw and many others have been doing for months. But optics are important and if LaGrange is seen as sending kids back to school, even though many parents see that as dangerous, she shouldn’t be holding a news conference in an empty room.
It’s not easy being in any government these days and that’s why good media moves are more important than ever. People holding news conferences need to be 100% prepared for every question, especially the difficult ones.
We’ll never know what happened behind the scenes leading up to the news conference, but her response to this question, combined with the statements made by the Angus McBeath, Chair of the Curriculum Advisory Panel, turned this newser into a dumpster fire.
Photo and video credit: YouTube
Don't Get Caught Without an Answer
I offer media training workshops for groups and also one-on-one media coaching and work both in-person and virtually.