5 Tips for Handling a Media ‘Scandal’

What a year I’ve had, two media ‘scandals’ in six months. In May I was accused of writing offensive tweets that supposedly meant I couldn’t do my job and just last week I apparently cheated my way into winning a new car.

Between the two ‘scandals’ (and I use the word lightly) I’ve managed to be the most read article on The Age website, the lead story on Channel 10 news and even had a joke made about me by Dave Hughes on The Project.

Here are the five things I’ve learned about handling what is quite a daunting experience for a 22-year-old.

1) Anything can be a story
What I didn’t realise until recently was that anything could be a story.

It doesn’t matter if it’s pointless or what I would deem ‘a non story’. It particularly doesn’t matter if it’s a scandal for the sake of being a scandal.

You might think the content of the story isn’t newsworthy, but you have to ask yourself, “What is the headline?”. Because if the situation can be condensed into a scandalous headline, the rest of the article doesn’t matter. And that’s why something as innocent as a tweet or a mention of the word ‘BFF’ three years ago can apparently be news.

2) Don’t feed the trolls
It’s quite incredible how crazy some people can be. Despite being ill informed and unwilling to be informed, social media has allowed these people a voice.

It’s tempting to respond to their blatant stupidity or cruelty, but don’t. Trolls don’t argue with logic so you’re just wasting your time, and more importantly any response can be used as fodder by journos to make things worse.

Trolls are best left in silence.

3) Don’t feed the journos (some of whom are also trolls)
Again it’s hard not to, but by doing so you’re throwing fuel on the fire and potentially getting yourself into another news cycle.

The quality of journalism and research in both of my ‘scandals’ were incredibly poor, yet the best option was to remain quiet and let the story die as quickly as it came.

No one ever got in trouble for not making a comment.

4) Do the ground work to win the SEO game
Articles and ‘scandals’ like these hurt people, especially when it comes to their Google results. One news piece could cost you and your reputation years down the track when a potential employer (or potential date) runs your name in a Google search.

To avoid this as much as possible, you’ve got to be proactive. Thankfully I’ve got this blog that I’ve been writing for four years and a number of other platforms that help my search results. They will (hopefully) always trump a rogue journalist who decides to use my name.

It’s unreasonable to assume you’ll never be a front page story (just ask 21-year-old Zac!). The best defence you can have to protect your page rank on Google against shoddy journalism is a quality blog or website. If you don’t have one, best you get started.

5) Ride it out
Once the story breaks, you can’t do anything about it.

If you’ve followed the advice above then the story should be dead within a news cycle and the damage won’t be too extensive. You can’t control how you’re portrayed or what people say about you, so you’re best to ride it out and remember that in a few days no one will remember or give a shit.

It’s been a crazy few experiences, certainly not something I want to repeat. Hopefully I don’t have to follow these tips myself ever again.

Two scandals is enough for one lifetime.

  • Matt Granfield
    Posted at November 28, 2011 11:03am, 28 November Reply

    Hey mate, I was thinking of you this week! I'd love to see your comments on the story though! How do you feel? How did the scandal make you feel when it was transpiring? Did you get any help from work on managing the fuss?

  • Bill Gates
    Posted at November 28, 2011 11:23am, 28 November Reply

    Sorry, but is part of your advice to have a blog in case you get caught up in a media scandal?

    Seems a little precautionary, unless perhaps you are some kind of media whore, desperate for attention and endlessly trying to cause some sort of scene in the hope that someone will notice you.

    Perhaps a more sage bit of advice for avoid a media scandal would be 'don't play your life out in public like some kind of poor's mans celebrity'.

  • Zac Martin
    Posted at November 28, 2011 11:25am, 28 November Reply

    @ Matt Granfield

    Hah, you may have noticed I deliberately avoided the topic! I'll tell you about it over a beer some time, somewhere more private.

    @ Bill Gates.

    2) Don't feed the trolls.

  • Bill Gates
    Posted at November 28, 2011 11:34am, 28 November Reply

    Not everything that is said about you that you don't like is someone trolling you. Sometimes it is just people reacting to something you have written which doesn't make any sense.

    Do you honestly believe everyday people should have a blog just in case they are caught up in a media scandal?

  • Zac Martin
    Posted at November 28, 2011 11:50am, 28 November Reply

    If you care about your Google results then yes, I don't think it's the worst strategy in the world.

  • Fill Bates
    Posted at November 28, 2011 11:55am, 28 November Reply

    @billgates i really love your website, very professional we should do business.

  • Joshua Withers from joshuadwithers.com
    Posted at November 28, 2011 12:06pm, 28 November Reply

    Zac, if it helps I have always thought of you as scandalous

  • BIll Gates
    Posted at November 28, 2011 12:09pm, 28 November Reply

    @zac ok I am making notes here…

    1) build a blog and hope that I don't get involved in a media scandal
    2) get involved in media scandal
    3) chill out cause I already have a blog and my Google fu is through the roof.
    4) ?????
    5) profit

    @fill good business plan you have there. Almost as in depth as this how to.

  • Christian Tabacco
    Posted at November 28, 2011 12:56pm, 28 November Reply

    Hi Zac,
    Interesting reading. Unfortunately there will always be that stigma around you winning that car, even though you won it fair and square. What about turning it all on its head and having a competition here on your blog to give away a car?! You don't really need that little tuna can do you?!

    People will remember you giving away a car more then they'll remember the circumstances of which you acquired that car. Great for your Google stats and career I'm sure!

    But that's all easier said than done.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at November 28, 2011 1:05pm, 28 November Reply

    Better yet, drive the car of the cliff. Claim you only live for scandal. Be known as the James Dean of Social Media for all eternity. You'll get hired by The Project as a social commentator and eventually take Kyle Sandilands job. Good life story. The end

  • Zac Martin
    Posted at November 28, 2011 1:09pm, 28 November Reply

    @ Christian Tabacco

    I'm a junior in advertising, I need the car more than you think!

  • Chrissie
    Posted at November 28, 2011 4:36pm, 28 November Reply

    Bill Gates, that seems like good advice from someone who is in the marketing and advertising game. A hermit may tell you that complete isolation from society is the best option for dealing with a crisis, or any other thing for that matter.

    But, in an online world, if you create the content then you control the content. Having a website or blog that comes up high on a Google search of your name helps to push down things that you'd prefer not to have attached to your name – that goes for anything from bad press to someone just having a rant or badmouthing you.

  • Bill Gates
    Posted at November 28, 2011 5:06pm, 28 November Reply

    @chrissie Thanks for explaining the internet to me, pretty sure I fucking invented it.

    I know what Zac was trying to suggest, the point is that tip four is totally fucking useless if you haven't done it before the scandal breaks.

  • Bill Gates
    Posted at November 28, 2011 5:12pm, 28 November Reply

    Also, on point four, the statement "It's unreasonable to assume you'll never be a front page story" is a load of old bollocks.

    That is pretty much the same as saying "It's unreasonable to assume you'll never win the lottery jackpot"

    Most people will never be front page news or win the lotto.

  • Charles
    Posted at November 28, 2011 9:30pm, 28 November Reply

    Bill Gates? How original. What a douchebag

  • GG
    Posted at November 29, 2011 3:56pm, 29 November Reply

    Well said Zac!

  • Jim
    Posted at November 29, 2011 4:23pm, 29 November Reply

    I've been reading your blog for a few months and when I first read the SMH story I laughed my ass off.

    Seriously though, it sounded very inconvenient and now you've got a troll roosting on your blog.

    Although I think the scandal would have been prevented if you actually had no online presence. But where's the fun in that?

  • Bill Gates
    Posted at November 29, 2011 4:27pm, 29 November Reply

    @jim trolls don't roost, they squat.

  • Don Galloway
    Posted at December 9, 2011 11:23am, 09 December Reply

    Tough break man. I too know the in & outs of a scandal. HANG IN THERE! @Socialvution

  • Michael Bian
    Posted at October 17, 2013 6:52pm, 17 October Reply

    Great advice. Thanks for the tips !

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