Since Leaving Mundania came out a few months ago, press, larp, and the relationship between the two of them has been on my mind. Rather than advise journalists and scholars on how to cover larp, I thought I’d focus on the other end of the equation, offering press tips for larp groups, helping larp organizers manage media coverage. In April, at Solmukohta, I spoke with many other lovely and smart people on a panel about how to do just that.
Here’s the synthesis of that discussion, and some of my thoughts for organizers on letting media into their games in the US:
- Vet your media. All members of the media are not created equal. Reality TV is different from a newspaper article, which is different from a documentary film. Journalists are bound by truth and accuracy while reality TV producers may have different concerns. I’ll talk mainly about journalists, below, since that’s what I’m familiar with.And of course, some filmmakers and journalists do better work than others. Think about what type of media producer has pitched you — do you want a documentary film crew at your game? — and look at their prior work — is it good? is it impartial? is it fawning?. If someone wants to come report on your event, it’s fair game to check out their earlier work and judge its quality. This is the main control you are able to exercise over a journalist – whether you will give them access to your larp or not.
- The reporter/source relationship is based on trust. They trust you to tell the truth and help them get the information they need; you trust them to tell the most compelling story.
- Do not tell a journalist that they can only talk to people you’ve vetted. It evidences contempt for their skills by suggesting they can’t separate good sources from bad. It also suggests you have something to hide, that there are certain people you wish to prevent them from meeting. For a reporter this begs the question, “why? What are they afraid I’ll discover? What are they ashamed of?” Not a great way to project a positive image.
- Explain the jargon. Larp is a highly technical hobby with lots of words that might not be familiar to the average journalist – OOC, GM, boffer, etc – and sometimes journalists forget to ask about all of them. Help them out by explaining as you talk.
- Explain the big picture. Journalists covering larp will want to capture the human story. The hobby seems odd at first, so a driving question is “why do people larp?” I think it’s important to communicate that there are many reasons, in part because I think this breaks down the stereotype. Ideally, reporters are supposed come to a story with their personal assumptions checked at the door; in reality, sometimes it’s hard to see one’s own assumptions. It’s also important to communicate that there are many types of larp that are equally good. Offer to connect them with local groups who larp in a different style from your own.
- Keep it short. The job of a journalist is to listen. And listen. And listen. If you can be informative, but brief, they’ll appreciate it.
- Niceness goes a long way. Larpers often complain that they are stereotyped. And yes, there is a cultural narrative about larpers out there and yes, it’s lazy reporting to just accept it. But the stereotype goes both ways – plenty of larpers — and other people — have stereotypical ideas about journalists as untrustworthy, sell-their-mother-for-a-dime, sensationalist jerks. Only recently have journalists jumped ahead of politicians in polls about trustworthiness. Translation: many people will happily be mean to journalists before they’ve so much as introduced themselves. Niceness means so much more in this context; it’s a psychological hack to their heart.If you want to be helpful:
- Hook them up with other larpers with interesting stories, if they ask.
- Make the game creators available to them
- Lend them costuming and invite them (and their kids) to your game to try it first-hand.
- Offer to be available if they have extra questions about terminology, or fact checking, or refer them to someone who can. [A note on fact-checking: don’t expect your quotes to be read back to you, or to read the piece unless it goes to press. Expect the reporter to ask other folks for verification of stuff you’ve told them. It’s standard practice to triangulate facts, to verify something one person has said by asking others.]
- The press won’t write the piece you would have. Their job isn’t to publicize your larp group, it’s to write an interesting, even-handed story for their audience, which might be mainstream, rather than say, gamers. This means including the awesome stuff — adventure! community! — as well as the not-so-awesome stuff, the middling stuff, and sometimes, the extremes. Perhaps that local reporter has exactly 12 hours to file a story on your larp and doesn’t have time for depth and makes a couple errors, despite their best effort. Try to be gracious about this.
- Get the story out on your own. The best way to control the narrative about larp is to make your own narrative. Write press releases and send them out to members of the media to get them to cover your event. When you pitch media on your event, try to think like a journalist — what is new and different about this particular event, and how can I package it as part of a broader cultural movement? Blog about your hobby so that you own some of the keywords in Google searches. Or else journalists will steal them. (Search “Ars Amandi” to see what I mean). If you’re easier to find on the Internet, it’s more likely that the media will find you.