Limited Attention Spans: How to Stand Out in the New Age of Media

Mar 7 12:42 2009 Karen Friedman Print This Article

In this new age of media generated limited attention spans, being quoted doesn't equal credibility. As blogs, podcasts and social networks compete, fact and fiction frequently blur as the media tries to cut through the clutter and attention-seekers clamor for press.So,how can credible voices become the go to source who's quoted on the front page?

Copyright (c) 2009 Karen Friedman

For the past eight years,Guest Posting my husband and I have had a running joke about our somewhat odd, yet lovable dog. I ask, "What's wrong with that dog?" to which he replies, "What's right with the dog?"

It occurred to me that the same question can apply to today's media who are constantly criticized for shallow and sensational coverage and often accused of rarely getting anything right. Yet, as a former card-carrying journalist, I believe there is still a lot right with today's media who are more challenged than ever to interest, engage and generate any kind of loyalty in an age of overwhelming public limited attention span (LAS). In the face of so many media vehicles screaming for attention, it's hard to know who's credible and who's not when almost anyone can be quoted if they spout off a quick quip?

Understand that being quoted doesn't equal credibility. In this new age of media-generated LAS, reporters have choices ranging from traditional to social media. Reporters have always chased the competition, following up on other media and reporting those facts as their own. But in today's climate of blogs, podcasts and social networks, fact and fiction frequently blur as the media tries to cut through the clutter and attention-seekers clamor for press. Just the other day, a high-level executive asked me, "How can I be the sound bite?"

First, it's not about the sound bite. Sure, the one-liner might get you on CNN, but is that what you really want? Before you silently say "yes," ask the real question: "Do I want a one-shot deal or do I want to position myself or my client as an ethical and credible source who the media will repeatedly call for insight and perspective?" If the latter is true, allow me to share today's rules of media preparation to give you a reliable and competitive edge.


Reporters are storytellers, so help them help you tell your story. Think about the story you want to tell and look for opportunities to create an emotional connection so that people care about what you have to say. Think about how reporters approach stories. They help you understand what they saw, touched, smelled and heard so you feel as if you were there. That's what they want from you.


Though reporters love quotable sound bites, the sound bite alone isn't enough. It's important to condense complicated information into nuggets that are meaningful and relevant to readers, but think about what you can say only because of what you've seen, done or experienced.

For example, a reporter can report on a news release that says: "U.S. scientists have mapped the cascade of genetic changes that turn normal cells in the brain and pancreas into two of the most lethal cancers." But they can't offer the same perspective as a researcher who says, "This means that when we looked under the microscope, we found clusters of genes that work along the same pathways. So, instead of hunting for drugs that target a single gene, which is what we currently do, we are looking for a way to target entire pathways shared by most patients."

By humanizing the information and offering context, this person increases his or her chances of becoming a reliable resource.


While style is important, it does not trump content. When asked a question, answer it. If you don't know the answer, then say so. If you don't want to answer a question, explain why so that the reporter doesn't assume you have something to hide by saying something like, "This matter is in litigation so it would be inappropriate for me to discuss it." This doesn't mean you shouldn't look for opportunities to communicate your message, but most people can spot the media-trained robots that ignore questions. It's important to acknowledge the question and briefly address it if you can before segueing to what you want to discuss.


When discussing banks looking for bailouts, I recently heard an economist blurt: "They want a savior  a pre-nuptial of sorts," which is a great quote because it's short, memorable and captures the bottom line. But the one-liner wouldn't have been as effective if the spokesperson had not explained the problem first. Never assume people understand the problem no matter how often it's been reported. By stating the issue at the outset, the solution or recommendation becomes more significant.

Finally, it's important to remember that you are not really talking to the reporter. You are talking to the reporter's audience. So, it's important to understand what those readers or viewers care about so you can prepare meaningful messages that position you as a go-to resource.

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About Article Author

Karen Friedman
Karen Friedman

Karen Friedman is an international communications coach and award winning television reporter who helps executives, spokespeople and celebrities shine in every interview, appearance and presentation. President, Karen Friedman Enterprises and co-author of Speaking of Success, she is frequently quoted by publications including the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. Details:

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