David Parkin on demystifying the media

I’VE always been philosophical.

As you can see from the photograph above, even my media training sessions wrestle with the existential dilemma facing humanity.

The most philosophical things pertaining to the meaning, purpose and value of human existence I have ever read was on a birthday card.

“To be is to do” – Socrates.

“To do is to be”- Jean-Paul Sartre.

“Do be do be do”- Frank Sinatra.

It’s the way I’ve lived my life ever since.

During my years of being single it was the plaintive words of Sinatra that sustained me.

‘Strangers in the night exchanging glances

Wondering in the night

What were the chances we’d be sharing love

Before the night was through.’

Anyway, back to the media training session that I did yesterday for the senior leadership team of an organisation in Leeds.

Who are we and why are we here were questions that allowed me and my fellow trainer, a working BBC TV reporter, to introduce ourselves and explain what we planned to do during the session while also learning about the team we were working with and finding out what they wanted to get out of the day.

I’ve always been surprised about how many people fear the media in general and journalists in particular.

But I have spent my career working in media and know it is not a mystery or rocket science.

In fact I’ve never considered myself scary or intimidating.

I’d like to think I’m very approachable, if not cuddly.

Well don’t take a vote on it.

I always enjoy passing on information that helps demystify the media to those in the business, public and the third sectors and making it engaging, enthusing and enjoyable.

The key is that at the end of the session participants walk away with not only a better understanding of the media but to be able to cope with dealing with the media and be equipped so as not to fear the experience either.

We covered a variety of topics, taking in real life video examples of good and really bad engagements with the media, preparing for an interview and crafting key messages, crisis communications, on-camera training and mock interviews.

I always say that when it comes to crisis communications, if you prepare for the worst then you are equipped for any eventuality.

And even though the worst rarely happens, the skills and tools learned from  crisis communications will benefit you across everything you do.

It was interesting to hear an experience of a previous media training session that one of the participants in yesterday’s session recounted.

It involved being immediately put in front of the camera at the start of the session, being grilled by journalists and then having the film of the interview replayed while the trainers systematically criticised not just the way the person responded to their questions, but how they were dressed, what they looked like and even their accent.

It sounded like a genuinely traumatising experience and I can think that the only possible thing it did achieve was to make the inadequate individuals doing the training feel like big men.

Media training is all about gradually building people’s confidence so that by the end of the session they don’t fear engaging with the media and are looking forward to the prospect.

When participants leave the session smiling and talking enthusiastically, then there is no better reward than that for me.


THERE was a quick turnaround after the media training to ensure I got to the opening night of the latest production by Weeton & Huby Players.

In its 101st year, the amateur dramatic society in the North Yorkshire village between Otley and Harrogate was putting on a play called ‘Ladies’ Day’ by Amanda Whittington.

I’d not heard of the play before, but I loved the concept.

Four women who work in a Hull fish factory decide to have a day out at Royal Ascot in 2005, when it was temporarily relocated to York Racecourse.

It was really well written with a great combination of humour and pathos and a great British uplifting finale.

It has elements from the triumvirate of British playwright Alans, Ayckbourn, Bennett and Plater with a soupçon of Victoria Wood thrown in for good measure.

My interest in the play was prompted because one of the actors in it was my friend Neil Muffitt, a longstanding member of the Weeton & Huby Players with his wife Alison, who directed it.

Now Neil is a trained accountant and finance director by background and co-founder of the financial recruitment business Headstar.

He’s a shrewd board-level advisor, wise man, former rugby player, skier and great company over lunch.

But I can now reveal a hitherto unknown talent that Neil possesses: ladies’ man.

He performs three parts in the play – a Hull fish factory supervisor, a Cockney ticket tout and an Irish jockey and two of them end up with a pair of the fish factory femme fatales.

Not so much luck for his fellow actor Chris Holland, the business editor at the Bradford Telegraph & Argus and former head of corporate affairs at Bradford & Bingley Building Society and Leeds Building Society.

Chris also played three roles in Ladies’ Day, a lascivious TV racing pundit, a drunken penniless gambler and a bookie who suffers a heart attack.

Well, we can’t all be Neil Muffitt.

But I’m working on it.

Have a great weekend.

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