5 Media Training Lessons from Rolling Stone Co-founder Jann Wenner

Here are 5 Media Training Lessons from Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner’s recent interview with the New York Times regarding his upcoming book “The Masters,” which features interviews he conducted with artists such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and others while at the helm of Rolling Stone.


Wenner, when interviewed about why his new book profiles only white males as pioneers of rock, made various statements about blacks and women that have set off a firestorm of criticism.


Among his infamous statements, The Times quotes Wenner as saying, “Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”


Such a quote makes Wenner a perfect example of why media training is vital before any media interview.


Lesson 1:

Wenner personifies a lesson I’ve taught in every media training class since the mid-1990s, which is for a spokesperson to ask themselves, “If I could attach a dollar to every word I say, would I make money or lose money?”


Wenner’s verbal faux pas was done in conjunction with an interview to promote a book. How much has Wenner damaged his book sale? Plus, how much has he damaged the revenue, reputation, and brand of Rolling Stone magazine?


Lesson 2:

Many executives arrogantly think they can enter any interview without preparation. Arrogance combined with denial are a one-two punch that few executives survive when they enter an interview without practice. I’ve long taught executives in my media training classes that it is better to make a verbal mistake in private than to make that mistake in public.


Lesson 3:

Media training is not supposed to make a spokesperson change their core beliefs. But if the spokesperson’s core beliefs will stir unwanted controversy, it is the media trainer’s job to coach the spokesperson on how to rephrase their statements, since controversy will undoubtedly hurt revenue, reputation, and brand.


Lesson 4:

In an interview, the spokesperson must understand the difference between their internal monologue and their external conversation. Case in point, Wenner is quoted as saying, “For public relations sake, maybe I should have gone and found one black and one woman artist to include here that didn’t measure up to that same historical standard, just to avert this kind of criticism,” and “Maybe I’m old-fashioned and I don’t give a (expletive) or whatever.”


Guess who does give a (expletive)? Women, blacks, and many other potential readers of Rolling Stone and potential purchasers of his book, The Masters.


Lesson 5:

You can’t put the genie back in the bottle and you can’t put lipstick on a pig to make an “ugly” creature look prettier. In a clear “oh sh*t” moment, the publisher of Wenner’s book issued a statement that says, “In my interview with The New York Times I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius and impact of black and women artists and I apologize wholeheartedly for those remarks.”


Wenner’s quotes caused Rolling Stone magazine to go into crisis response mode. The magazine issued a statement that says, “Jann Wenner’s recent statements to the New York Times do not represent the values and practices of today’s Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner has not been directly involved in our operations since 2019.”


In conclusion, no media interview should be taken lightly, and no media interview should ever be done without practice. Every word, phrase, and nuance of an interview will be scrutinized by the journalists. There is no margin for error.



To discuss media training for you and your organization, schedule a complimentary, confidential call with me

Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…” and founder of SituationHub crisis communications software.

More crisis communications articles:

15 Questions to Ask Before You Use Facebook for Crisis Communications

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Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

4 Media Relations Lessons from Rolling Stone and 5 Public Relations Ways to Deal With Bad Reporters

rolling stoneBy Gerard Braud

The Rolling Stone Magazine retraction of their University of Virginia gang rape story is filled with parallels I often warn of in my media training and crisis communications programs.

Here are 4 realities:

1) Reporters love an underdog and generally value the word of the accuser more than the word of the authority. I’ve witnessed it as a reporter and as a communications consultant representing companies and organizations that have been wrongly accused by zealots. Giving more credibility to the underdog represents both bias by the reporter and a lack of proper training on ethics and fairness.

The perception by reporters is that the accuser is honest and a victim, while the institution in question has something to hide. Sometimes that is true, but often it is not. The reporter’s job is to conduct as many interviews as possible and to allow all parties to tell their side of the story.

2) Generally in an underdog story, the media interview the underdog at first, then call the authority figure for a response, often asking you to defend your actions. That should be a big red flag. (Although the investigation by the Columbia School of Journalism seems to indicate the reporter didn’t even call the fraternity accused of the gang rape to get their side of the story.)

3) The media get sloppier each day. Deadlines and budget limitations have frustrated members of the media from editors to reporters. Their self-defeating attitude about the media industry bleeds over into the belief that they can only dedicate so much time to a single story and that they can’t be as thorough as they’d like. That mindset needs to change, but likely won’t. Budget cuts and the downfall of quality reporting is what inspired me to resign as a television reporter at WDSU-TV6 in New Orleans and to not move on to a full-time job at CNN, where budget cuts were already underway and continue today.

4) A growing number of people in the media want to classify themselves as “advocate” reporters. In other words, they believe it is their moral responsibility to report on a point of view or on behalf of a group. This frightens the daylights out of me when I hear this. It is a clear example of bias and managers should not allow it, but they do. (The world as we know it is over.) Such individuals should be bloggers, but never paid reporters.

How should you deal with these issues? I suggest you consider these 5 options:

1) If you are called for an interview in which you are expected to “defend” your position or organization, always ask the reporter who else they have talked with and what those individuals said. You have the right to know.

DSC_01142) Make a list of specific questions you would ask the accuser and then ask the reporter if he or she asked these questions. You can even suggest that the reporter delay the interview with you until those questions have been asked.

3) If it appears the reporter is asking you questions that put you on the defensive, your goal should be to make your story compelling in ways that puts the accuser on the defensive and places you on the offensive. This requires research, key message writing, and media training before the interview. This is never accomplished through spontaneity or ad libs in an unpracticed interview.

4) If you perceive bias from the reporter, call the managing editor of the media outlet to have a conversation about your concerns. Better yet, tell them you’d like to visit them in their office with the editor and reporter present. I’ve done this many times. Many times it results in the story being killed. Other times, it swings the story to our point of view.

As with number three above, this requires research, key message writing, and media training before the meeting. This is never accomplished through spontaneity or ad libs in an unpracticed meeting. Yes – practice and role-play for the meeting, including using video cameras to evaluate what was said so you can parse your words.

5) If you’ve done your best to manage the story before it is written and it turns out poorly, write a letter to the editor. Aim for 150 words and settle for 250 words. Nothing any longer will get published.

Warning: Many executives will want to “just let it die” because they have been taught to “never get in a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” Those are outdated ways of thinking. The internet gives you as much ink as the media. Furthermore, search engine optimization requires that you post a well worded reply, i.e. letter to the editor, so it is recorded in history and on the internet, especially on the internet site of the accuser.

Remember: There is a huge reputational and monetary impact on any organization that is reported on by the media. You can’t afford not to play the game and win.

Yet to be answered:

1) Why the story of the alleged rape was fabricated by the accuser?

2) Why no one has been fired?

Reality: An interesting case study is ahead as the fraternity sues Rolling Stone.