(By Jeff McHugh)
“As a lifelong fan and coach of media personalities, I am sad when talented people shoot their career in the foot.”
I wrote an article beginning with those words in 2017. Blending those ideas with some new advice, here goes a 2020 update: Some on-air and podcast hosts are anxious about saying or doing the wrong thing. The truth is you will inevitably offend somebody if you are being authentic and entertaining.
Some complain that today’s “politically correct” audiences can be oversensitive. Who decides what is good content, the speaker or the audience? The line moves. Move with it.
It is our job to connect with audiences on their terms, not ours. In the United States, we have freedom of speech, but the Constitution does not guarantee anyone a media platform.
Sometimes a listener is so concerned that someone else might be offended by something that it kills their appreciation of a show. If that listener happens to be your advertiser, guess what happens next?
How you interact with others off air is also important. When I started in the 1980’s, broadcasting involved fewer lawyers and HR rules. Shamefully, many of us behaved like drunken louts.
Let us learn from the mistakes of others. Here are seven easily avoidable transgressions that have damaged the careers of talented media personalities.
1. Violence. The Chuck and Julie Show at KNUS Denver was fired for joking that the country needed “a nice school shooting.” You can apologize for most mistakes but harm to others is a no-fly zone that is tough to return from.
2. Racism and bigotry. In Rochester, Kimberly and Beck were first fired from 98.9 The Buzz for hate speech against LGBT people and got fired again from Radio 95.1 for racist comments. On Fox News Channel, where it seems nearly impossible to go too far on anything, advertisers have been fleeing Tucker Carlson en masse.
3. Ignorance. Merriam-Webster dictionary calls it, “lack of knowledge, education or awareness.” We call it “not doing show-prep.” At 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis, Joe Staysniak was suspended for claiming that black folks are never targeted by police (studies prove that they are) and that the Confederate battle flag is not racist (it sometimes is.) Joe apologized, promised to do better and is back on the air.
4. Hoaxes and lies. “Watch out for posts that make your blood boil,” says Jessica Guynn at USA Today. The reason you do not hear some stories on “mainstream media” is because they are not true. Before you ruin your reputation by repeating bullshit, consider Ms. Guynn’s suggestions on avoiding misinformation and have a look at How To Fact Check Like A Pro from LexisNexis.com.
5. Sexual-harassment and assault: Take The Rock Test: Gentlemen, would you tell Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson he looks sexy? Would you touch his body? Do not say or do anything to anyone that you would not with The Rock.
6. Drugs and alcohol. Your talent cannot shine if you are high. If you are at a work event where alcohol is present, aspire to be the most sensible person there.
7. Not being coach-able. I can tell you many tragic stories of personalities who ignored good advice and are now driving Uber.
Audiences crave authenticity. So we advise presenters, “if you think it, say it.” If one day you seriously misspeak or make a regrettable joke, follow these simple steps.
- Apologize authentically. Make zero excuses.
- Say these words: “I will never make that mistake again.”
- Never make that mistake again.