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Can I talk to reporters?

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By Tony Samson

WHEN JOINING a new organization, be it a company, a board, or a legislative body of twenty-four nationally elected bigshots, there is the awkwardness of trying to fit in without looking like an eager beaver. For the lower levels of new hires, mostly straight from school or with just a few years of work, companies have an orientation program that covers work hours, proper office attire, and health coverage (you need to get your own insurance for personal trips).

Newly elected officials, especially those who did not rise from the lower levels of their new positions, are clueless on what they should do. Do they ask sitting officials privately where to get lunch and how to get free gasoline? Is there the equivalent of an HR group that gives out COA-approved manuals covering such topics not covered by the university professors like how to allocate pork bellies and whether intimate friends can be appointed as staffers, in charge of “special projects”?

Is the maiden speech important, and what do you talk about? For previous winners, and current incumbents, once scoffed for their illiteracy like boxers who happen to be wealthy, was it proper in his maiden speech to quote Robert Frost (clearly a favorite of that official’s ghostwriter) and his Stopping by woods on a snowy evening”, with its famous couplet, “and miles to go before I sleep/ and miles to go before I sleep” in reference to the legislative agenda? (I’m not making this up.) The boxer was scarcely seen after that racking up the highest absence level, until his next bout and the promises he had to keep.

Here are some thoughts on appropriate behavior for anyone just joining an august organization, and attending his first meeting.

Avoid being chatty and picking out people you know around the room with overfamiliar greetings — Bro, good to see you here. Remember when we used to take the jeepney to get massages in Binondo? A quiet demeanor and waiting to be recognized by those already established in the organization is less embarrassing. Let them recognize you — remember when we used to…Yes, it’s the establishment that will invite you into the inner circle.

Wait for the game to come to you. Discussions will inevitably lead at some point to a topic where you are recognized as an expert. When the subject of penology and recidivism come up, someone is likely to call you out — let’s see what our friend has to say about the time he spent in jail management. Conversations stop as all eyes swing on the jailbird. It’s showtime — yes, recidivism tends to drop when you introduce the death penalty.

Never ask questions just to show off, or humiliate a staffer making a presentation. (How recent are these statistics you are showing us? Are they fresh and less than one week old?) A question meant to show off reflects more on the interrogator than the one he is trying to embarrass. And what if the chair of the meeting intercedes for the presenter — let him finish his presentation before you ask you stupid question, Rookie.

It’s best to treat the first meeting as a learning experience, observing who talks a lot, who is ignored, and whether to pick siopao or siomai when served. Blending with the furniture is a good strategy. You will have your time when penology comes up again.

Reporters, who have mastered the art of the ambush interview, are especially on the lookout for the newbies. Even a seemingly soft question filled with empathy and caring can be risky to answer — so, Sir, how was your first session among the trapos? The response can range from the diffident (I am overwhelmed in the company of intellectual giants) to the arrogant (I didn’t realize they were so laidback).

Anyway, novices talking to reporters should avoid being quoted in screaming sound bites. It’s best to be bland and forgettable. With the ruling majority in the legislature, it is risky for a rookie to take personal stands on any issue, according to his moral compass — where’s it pointing now, Bud.

When asked by media about controversial topics and one’s opinion, it is best to demur, “it’s still under study and not all the facts are in at this time”. Which is another way of saying — I am still waiting for my marching orders.

 

Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.

ar.samson@yahoo.com

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