opinion

Dealing With the Press Can Be a Mixed Blessing

Dealing With the Press Can Be a Mixed Blessing
Eric Paul Leue

For those new to the industry, mainstream media attention can seem like a fast-track to fame and success in an increasingly competitive market.

A mention on Buzzfeed, Maxim or Howard Stern can translate into new fans, increased members or followers, and a chance to become a household name. The next Vivid! The next Mia Khalifa! The next Sybian!

Your media experience should be like your on-set experience — enjoyable, consensual, informed and negotiated in writing beforehand.

But if you’ve worked in this industry for any time at all, you know that media attention can be a mixed blessing.

Over the past few months, numerous producers and performers have come forward to talk about the negative effects of being featured on “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On,” a new Netflix docuseries.

The Free Speech Coalition took aggressive action against “Hot Girls Wanted” and helped bring performers’ stories to light in the media. We produced informational videos for the media, set out a media advisory and put producers on notice that we not only know our rights, we’re unafraid to speak out when they’re violated.

Along the way, we heard from dozens of performers who detailed negative or unethical treatment by the media. Some of that stems from ignorance — the media doesn’t always know, for example, what a serious issue privacy is for adult performers. Other times, it’s rooted in stigma and moralism about what we do as an industry.

Your media experience should be like your on-set experience — enjoyable, consensual, informed and negotiated in writing beforehand.

We gave a lot of individual media advice to performers and producers this summer, and it seemed like it was worth bringing some of those strategies to a larger audience.

Research Who You’re Talking To

The first thing we do when a journalist contacts us? We Google them. We read their past articles. We read through their tweets. This allows us to not only see their reach, but it lets us get a sense of how they’ll treat us. Are they disrespectful of performers? Of adult issues? Are they likely to be sympathetic to our position, or sensational tabloid journalists looking for an expose? As a general rule, we speak to almost every reporter, but we go in prepared.

If it’s a documentary or film crew, ask them to send you over samples of their other work before agreeing to anything. Ask them who else they’ve interviewed. Ask them where it will air. If they don’t give you satisfactory answers, they’re either not reputable or hiding something.

Start “OFF The Record”

Every interaction you have with a journalist is on-the-record, meaning they can use what you say directly it in their story, unless they agree otherwise. If they really want to speak with you, make sure they’re doing it on your terms. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking about an issue by phone, tell them you’ll only communicate via email or text. Or tell them you’ll only agree to speak to them off the record until you feel comfortable. (Just make sure that they agree to it before you speak — you can’t retroactively claim something is off the record once you’ve said or sent it.)

For example, for a controversial or difficult topic, you might agree to speak off the record by phone, but ask that any on-the-record comments be done by email.

Remember to start slow. You can always agree to more as you feel comfortable, but you can’t take back things you’ve already said.

Find Out What They Want

Interviews by email are relatively easy — you can think before you reply, or choose not to reply at all. Phone and video interviews are different. They can catch you off guard, ask you something you don’t want to talk about, or provoke you with questions that are invasive or offensive in hopes of getting a reaction. But you do have some ways to control the process.

Some journalists will send you questions ahead of time. Other times, they’ll send you the topics, but not the exact questions. (For many video and radio journalists, sending questions ahead of time is a breach of journalistic integrity, so don’t be offended if they won’t.)

Just be aware that even if they send you questions, it doesn’t mean they’ll stick to them. If that happens, keep calm and work toward a graceful exit.

Get It In Writing

In the case of “Hot Girls Wanted,” several performers said that they had been promised that certain information wouldn’t be used, or that they wouldn’t be asked specific questions. When they saw the final product, they were outraged — but the release they signed contained none of those provisions, and the producers denied making the promises. They were left with little recourse.

The same goes for letting a film crew on your set, in your store, or in your manufacturing facility. Very few will let you review the footage once it’s shot, but if there are specific details that you want left out — real names, sales figures, photos of your kids — make sure that it’s agreed to, and in writing, before the camera goes on.

We recommend that anyone who is approached by a film crew to have a lawyer review the release, to detail what is and isn’t allowed. And if a producer promises something in the process, make sure they update the release. If they won’t, there’s no reason to believe they’ll keep their word. Stop filming.

Follow Up Politely

While journalists have no obligation to change a story once it’s been published, but if asked nicely, they might just make some adjustments. You can always ask if you can clarify a statement, delete a sales figure, cloak a private address, add a link or even replace an unflattering shot. But journalists bristle at being told what to do — so raging demands are less effective than polite requests.

When In Doubt, Call FSC

While we can’t provide legal advice, we can help you find out more about who you’re dealing with, and talk to you about strategies for preserving your rights. We can answer more detailed questions about how to deal with particular situations or particular journalists.

We can help determine what questions you should be asking, or point you toward resources in the industry who can. We can help strategize a response, or reach out to a journalist on your behalf to ask for a correction. We want to make sure that coverage of the industry and its workers is fair and ethical. If you’re getting into uncharted waters, call us. We’re here to help.

Eric Paul Leue is the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition.

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