AOPA: Don't Make It Easy For Reporters
In recent weeks, AOPA
has contacted television stations across the country after being
alerted (usually by members) that they were working on stories
about "lax" security at general aviation airports. The wave of
stories is no coincidence: It's the May "sweeps" period, that time
of the year when stations will do anything to get the best possible
ratings. Big ratings mean big bucks because those ratings determine
how much they can charge for advertisers to run commercials. But
those ratings can also give GA a lot of headaches.
Believe it or not — there's now a Website that helps
stations by giving them ideas to generate surefire ratings. Guess
what's high on their list? GA security. The site actually suggests
that an "easy" ratings-grabber is to do a story about the local GA
airport. All it takes is a couple of quick interviews with an
unsuspecting local pilot or airport manager and a law enforcement
official. Then a videotaped stroll on the ramp to see how easy it
is to get near — or in — an airplane.
Back in the editing room, those 15- to 20-minute interviews are
cut down to 15 to 20 seconds, and sound bites are selected to fit
the predetermined story. And in no time there's a promo on the air
— probably something like Death Lurks at Our Local Airport!
Story at 11! — that gives viewers fits and GA a black
"Don't make it easy for
them," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, a former senior TV executive
who knows all the tricks of that trade. "Take sensible steps to
secure your aircraft. Follow all of the Airport Watch guidelines.
Set up a buddy system to check on the aircraft tied down or
hangared near yours. In addition to denying reporters their story,
you'll also deny unauthorized access to your aircraft."
There are good reporters out there, like Chuck McCutcheon who
recently wrote a solid piece on today's GA. AOPA works constantly
to help reporters to better explain the GA side of the story. In
one recent case, AOPA convinced a station to redo an on-air promo
that was highly inflammatory. But by the time the promos start
running and members alert AOPA, the story is already "in the can"
and very difficult to get changed.
"The best way to beat them at their own game is to make the
story a moot point," said Boyer. "Secure your aircraft. And lastly,
think long and hard before agreeing to be interviewed. If you do,
understand you're flying "in their airspace" and they set the
rules. Better yet, refer them to AOPA's Communications Division at
"During sweeps periods, grabbing the viewers' attention is the
name of the game. And remember that, no matter how friendly and
outgoing a reporter might be, they have a job to do — and
it's not likely to be promoting GA."