Nov 272012
 

Preppers should approach the issue of investing from a different perspective.

A reader comment in reply to our article about not investing in gold made us realize that we need to consider not only what are not good investing strategies but also what truly are good investing strategies, from the perspective of the prudent prepper, and with an eye to an uncertain future.

First of all, a disclaimer.  We are not registered or licensed in any form to provide any sort of financial advice, and our own past record of investing has seen some colossal losses and mistakes.  As always, do your own prudent research and consider all perspectives before choosing where and how to invest your own funds.  Most of all, realize there truly is no such thing as a ‘guaranteed winning investment’.  If there was, everyone would rush to invest in it, and so the opportunity it represented would quickly disappear as the law of supply and demand resulted in the return this mythical investment offered diminishing down to the same as everything else.

One more disclaimer.  This applies any time anyone is suggesting you invest in anything, particularly if they are professional brokers or other forms of investment advisors/salesmen.  Ask the person who is recommending the investment exactly how much of their own money they have already invested in the same thing, and – quite reasonably – ask them why, if it is such a great deal, they are now sharing the opportunity to make money with you rather than secretly making the investment only themselves.  Also, ask to see a record of their past investing history.  Lots of people claim to be experts on financial matters, and if they are truly expert, then surely the proof of their expertise is obvious for us all to see, in their bank balance and overall net worth.

Investing Strategies in General

Let’s start off with some general comments about investing strategies – things for you to keep in mind when assessing all the different ways you can invest your money.

There is no such thing as a perfect investment, or a ‘best’ investment.  Your choice of what and how you invest depends on many things to do with your own personal situation, so that what is best for you is quite likely very different to what other people may feel to be best for them.

This means that anyone who tells you that something is a great investment without first taking the time to understand how you approach investing, and what your needs and concerns are, is clearly not someone who is sensitive to finding the best product for you, but rather someone who is more interested in simply selling whatever investment it is he is recommending.

Here is a far from complete – but still lengthy – list of factors to consider when evaluating investment alternatives.

  • Are you willing to accept a risk of losing some or all of your principal, or must you protect your principal at all costs?
  •  Are you a passive or active investor – are you willing to spend time participating in your investing and/or your investment?
  • Do you have any special skills that can help you to effectively manage an investment better than other people might?
  • Do you need to receive a monthly/annual income from your investment or is it acceptable to have nothing happen for years or decades before then cashing it in for a capital gain?
  • Do you want to make an investment as a one-time lump sum deal that you don’t have to pay anything further on, or are you comfortable buying an asset which will probably go up in value, but which has some associated ongoing costs of ownership?
  • Might you need to be able to get your money back from your investment at short notice, or are you happy with a relatively illiquid investment that might take a long time to cash out?
  • Might you need to cash in your investment in stages?  In other words, can your investment be a single thing that is either owned or sold in its entirety (like a piece of land) or something that you can sell in stages as and when required (like stocks and bonds)?
  • Do you have personal preferences that impact on the form of investment you will consider?  For example, some people choose to only invest in ‘green’ companies; others refuse to invest in arms-related companies, and so on.
  • What about tax implications – are you in a high or low tax bracket, and does the potential tax liability on your investment return make a significant difference?  A tax-free return on an investment is worth a great deal more to someone in the top tax bracket than to someone in the bottom tax bracket.
  • Do you have any special knowledge that can help you evaluate and invest in a less well-known opportunity?
  • Do you have any relevant circumstances that might cause an investment to provide you with other non-investment benefits as well as financial benefits?
  • Are you looking for short-term or medium term or longer term investments?
  • How much money do you have to invest?

Please keep these and any other factors that are important to you carefully in mind any time you consider any sort of investment.

Background and Assumptions Relevant to Prepper Style Investing

First, if you haven’t done so already, we recommend you read some of our articles in the section on economic issues after TSHTF.

To quickly summarize, we make several key points in these articles.  We predict that normal regular money will become much less valuable and will be less and less generally accepted, the more severe and extended the social disruption becomes.  So too will gold, silver, diamonds, rare art, collectibles, and most other current forms of storing abstract wealth.

You can’t eat or drink gold (or any of the other ‘valuable’ items such as those listed in the previous paragraph).  You can’t create or maintain shelter with such items.  The only things of value will be those things with intrinsic real value – those things essential to the preservation of life – shelter, water, food.

We see a new form of currency evolving to permit more convenient trading, and it will be a return to an asset backed currency rather than a ‘fiat’ currency such as our nation uses at present.  Furthermore, we suggest the type of asset backing will not be an artificial thing like gold, but rather will be the essential building block of everything we need and value in a Level 3 situation – energy.

So, what does that mean to us, today?  How can we best protect the assets/wealth/money we currently have, and how can we do the best we can to ensure our current things of value don’t lose their value if/when TSHTF but rather will keep their value or increase in value?

At the same time, we also need to protect our net worth in the present day world and economy, too.  Let’s never lose sight of the fact that while we’re preparing for an adverse future, it is not something we wish for, and indeed it is something we hope may never happen.  Our modern-day life as it currently is will always be better than anything we can recreate TSHTF and society collapses.  We need investments that will maintain or hold their value in the ‘normal’ world as well as investments that will maintain or hold their value in a Level 2/3 situation.

This means that the primary form of prepper type investing – investing in more goods and supplies that can double as trading goods in the future – while prudent in preparing for a Level 2/3 scenario, is not so good as a multi-purpose investment for the present day world.  Buying up bulk supplies of fuel or ammunition, while clearly beneficial WTSHTF, is not so useful if you need to cash them in next week.

Two Current Factors that Suggest an Investment Opportunity

We see two distinctive things in the country at present.  The first is the drop in property prices that has occurred in the last four or so years.  This was an unusual but not an unexpected thing.  It was a correction, returning property prices to something closer to their underlying sustainable rate of appreciation and value.

We don’t see the drop in property prices as now making the concept of investing in property a questionable concept.  If anything, we see it as validating the concept, and now that property prices have dropped back to where they perhaps should be, perhaps now is a good time to consider getting back into the property market.

The second factor is that interest rates are at all time lows.  They are unfortunately and ridiculously low if you are depositing/lending money, but they are excitingly low if you are borrowing money.  Now is not a good time to be saving money, but it surely is a great time to be borrowing money (assuming you have some way of productively using the money at the greater than 3.5% or thereabouts it will cost you to borrow it).

These factors apply whether the world continues as it is, or if it changes dramatically.  Indeed, let’s consider three more things.

Economic Impacts of a Level 2/3 Situation

What would occur if TSHTF and we find ourselves dumped into the middle of a Level 2/3 scenario?

First, what happens to any money that was sitting in a bank account?  That money has gone, hasn’t it.  You’ll probably not see it again – maybe you’ll never see it again, or maybe you’ll not see it again until after order has been restored.

Second, what about any money you’ve borrowed?  At the very least, there’ll probably be a freeze on the money you owe, and perhaps the business you owed the money to disappears entirely.  If nothing else, how will you make payments to the company that lent you the money?

Maybe, just like with money you had deposited somewhere, your debt will reappear at the end of the Level 2/3 situation, but that is at some uncertain point in the future rather than during the period of the crisis.

In addition, maybe there will be a period of inflation such that the value of your real estate increases, while the cost of the monthly payments decrease.

Now, for a third factor.  There will be a shift in the values of property.  All of a sudden, those fancy penthouse suites on the 35th floor of the downtown building won’t be quite so desirable when the elevators no longer work, and when the water pumps have stopped working too, meaning the closest tap water will be somewhere hopefully not too far from the building, and on the ground level.  Most of all, there’s nothing except tens of thousands of starving people all around, all with no forms of food production.

But the cheap farm land, remote from the big city – land you could buy up for a few thousand dollars an acre today; that will now become the most desirable type of land there is.  That will increase in value.  Now you mightn’t be able to sell it for dollars, but you for sure can trade it in some other way that would be advantageous to you in a Level 2 or 3 situation.  Maybe you’d not trade it in at all – maybe you’d rent it out to tenants who would work the land and pay you rent in the form of a share of the crops they grow.

Rural land is appreciating in value anyway, due to normal pressures and economic forces, and it is likely to expect that the combination of population growth and associated ever-increasing demands for food, exacerbated by land increasingly being taken out of ‘inventory’ due to environmental exclusions, and land being increasingly required in larger and larger amounts for agro-energy production, rural land prices – for land suitable for farming – will continue to increase.

A Warning About Rural Land Values

Although we’re very positive on the concept of rural land values, we also very much subscribe to the theory that there is a natural sustainable rate of value appreciation, and any time that values for anything get substantially ahead of that rate, there is the risk of a correction occurring in the future to drop values back down to where they should be on the timeline series.

This is part of what happened with housing prices over the last four or so years.  The rapid rises in prices during the five or more years previously were over-valuing property prices, and so, eventually, the correction occurred.  For some people it meant their property prices froze in value or dropped slightly, for others, it meant their property values dropped by half or even more.

Some farmlands, over the past few years, have undergone enormous increases in price; in part because of the growing demand for bio-fuel production and government subsidies that are driving that market unnaturally, and in part due to speculator action, buying up farmland not from a perspective of what makes economic sense in terms of the productive profit the land can generate, but rather from the perspective of hoping the land will go up still further in price.

If you do choose to buy farmland, make sure that its price is at a level that is sensible and realistic, related to the ability of the land to ‘pay for itself’ through normal farming activities.  If the land is overpriced – perhaps because it is expected to be annexed into a city, or by speculators hoping the prices will continue to rise irrationally, you are running a risk that the inevitable correction may occur while you are holding on to the land.  In addition, your ability to have the productive return from the land help you to pay for the costs of buying/owning the land will be greatly diminished.

So, we are saying that fair priced land is a good investment, but overpriced land is not sensible.  It is hard to disagree with that logic, isn’t it.  But be careful not to get swept up in ‘irrational exuberance’.

Any Crisis Will Have a Financial Dimension

No matter what sort of crisis might occur in the future, it almost certainly will involve some type of financial crisis – either as the thing which causes the crisis in the first place, or as an outcome of the crisis.

As we’ve discussed in other articles in our series on the Economy, a Level 2/3 crisis will probably see the banking system collapse.  The loss of electricity would kill ATMs, for a start, and as soon as backup power supplies failed, banks would lose access to their central mainframe databases, too.  How can you prove you have money in your bank account, if the bank’s computer system is down?  The simple reality is that you can’t prove this at all.  Even if you could somehow prove it (and don’t think a bank statement would help – the bank would worry that between the statement printing date and when you showed it, you had somehow cashed all the money out, or written out checks, or who knows what) how could the bank then give you cash and keep a record of it and update their systems.

Even if all this was possible, guess what?  The banks would all quickly run out of money.  These days, most of the ‘money’ in our society is not real paper money, but instead is represented by credit cards and other electronic forms.  If the electronic money forms failed, there wouldn’t be enough paper money to go around.

So when a crisis hits, you’ll pretty much be limited to the cash and assets you physically have with you.  You might have millions of dollars in bank accounts, and billions of dollars worth of shares, but none of that and not even all of that will buy you even a single cup of coffee until the banking system and stock exchanges re-open.

Who knows when banks might recover sufficiently to allow normal banking withdrawals to recommence, and who knows when stock exchanges will open their floors to trading again; and who also knows what value the shares in any company might then have.  Meanwhile, until those uncertain times, you may need to buy food and water, and to survive in general.

Our point here is a very simple one.  By all means have some of your savings and capital tied up in ‘abstract’ forms, but you need to realize that all non-tangible investments you have may become inaccessible and possibly meaningless and of no value during a crisis.

Considerations for the Prudent Prepping Investor

So, put all of the above together, and what do you have?  Clearly, after looking at all the different issues to consider, each person’s best investment strategy is likely to be different from each other person’s strategies.  There is no one obvious automatic ‘best’ scenario for everyone to slavishly follow.

Furthermore, it is one of the fundamental concepts of investing to not ‘put all your eggs in one basket’. For example, a normal person investing in the stock market would be well advised not to buy shares of just one company, but instead, to spread their money among several different companies.

Not only should you invest in more than one company, you should also invest in more than one industry.  Maybe some of your investment is in high-tech, but you should also have some investments in other sectors, whether it be health-care or energy companies or whatever other sectors you feel are suitable for you.  That way you are less affected if one particular company fails – although the balancing part of that equation is you also benefit less if one particular company becomes spectacularly successful.

Most people are happy to accept a lower rate of potential return as a fair trade-off in exchange for a much lower risk of losing some or most or even all of their investment.  You should be the same way.  Never risk any capital you can’t afford to completely lose.

We suggest that at least some portion of your overall total savings and capital be in ‘prepper-appropriate’ forms.  In other words, don’t have all your savings tied up in shares and bonds and other intangible forms – our expectation is that in a Level 2/3 situation, many companies will completely fail, causing their shares to become worthless, and we’re also not at all clear on how readily you’d be able to cash in bonds in the middle of a crisis.

Don’t invest all your money in physical assets that have little or no intrinsic value.  In other words, don’t invest in gold or other precious metals, don’t invest in artwork, or other types of ‘asset’ where the value of the object is unrelated to its productive value.  This also means not investing in ‘investment’ wine and whisky – in a crisis, your $10,000 bottle of whisky will be no more valuable than the next guy’s $10 bottle.

Don’t invest all your money in things that are only valuable and can only work if society continues to function normally.  Maybe you are investing in, for example, internet routing equipment (sure, a crazy thing to invest in, but this is an example, not a suggestion) – this would only  have value as long as the internet was still functioning.  Maybe you might own your own cell phone tower – again, this only has value as long as the cell phone networks are functioning.

The best form of tangible asset to own is agricultural land.  Although in the short-term, land prices may go down as well as up, in the long-term, land will almost always go up in value, both in good times and bad.  And in a crisis, your land immediately translates into a crisis-appropriate resource.  It provides you with somewhere to stay and live, and provides you with the base on which to become self-supporting.

We recommend you invest in productive and producing land.  If you invest in residential real-estate, what happens in a crisis when your tenants say ‘I’m sorry, we can’t afford to pay you rent any more’?  Maybe you evict the tenant, but who else will be able to pay you rent, instead?  And in a lawless scenario, an empty property is vulnerable to being looted and damaged – you’d almost want to pay your tenants for them to stay there as caretakers!

But land – if the present person farming it for you says ‘I can’t afford to pay you to keep renting your land from you’, you either say ‘That’s okay, I’ll take a share of the crops instead’ or you say ‘That’s okay, there are millions of other people who will work my land for me and share the proceeds with me instead’.

Summary

Put all this together, and what do you have?  You have a chance to borrow money at lower rates than probably any other time in your life, and you have a type of land/property that may continue to steadily appreciate, both in normal times and in extreme Level 2/3 situations.

If your financial situation can withstand it, we’d urge you to buy farmland.  And don’t just buy some empty land and ‘sit’ on it.  That means you’ll be paying land taxes each year, but not getting anything back.

Maybe you can build your retreat on part of the land you now own.  Maybe you can hire a farm manager to manage your farmland for you, or maybe you simply lease the land to someone to use to grow their preferred crops on.  You might be able to rent land for housing horses, for growing crops, or even for grazing cattle or growing trees.

It doesn’t really matter what type of land use your property is being used for, but it does matter that your new asset is not only slowly appreciating in value, but is also paying its way in the meantime through some type of productive use, with the income from the land’s use being used to cover the costs of owning the land (ie land taxes, and possibly property maintenance, both of dwellings and fences and other improvements on the property) and hopefully a good measure of the payments on the money you borrowed to pay for the land you bought.

If you don’t have enough cash to put a down-payment on a suitable piece of land, consider going into it as partners with other friends or family members.  The legal procedures to create a partnership or limited liability company or some other legal entity suitable to allow a number of people to make unequal contributions to the subsequent purchase(s) of land are fairly simple and inexpensive to create, and it is an easy thing to specify the formula for how much each investor will receive in proceeds from the land’s ownership and possible resale.

Another opportunity which might be appropriate for people considering investments in a wide range of different amounts would be to consider investing in the Code Green Community.  Even if we do say so ourselves, the underlying dynamics of this scenario are positive both for investors and for participants.

Nov 252012
 

International bug-out locations may be tempting, but getting there in an emergency may be too problematic to make them practical.

The whole idea of a retreat is to get away from the worst of any problem situation and to go to a place, away from the problem, where you can hope to live a safe, satisfactory and sustainable life until the world as we know it returns back to normal.

Usually people confine their thoughts for retreats to locations within a day or (at the most) two drive of their main residence.  But, on the basis of ‘if some distance is good, maybe more distance is even better’ why not look further afield?  And, in particular, because some problems will be confined to specific regions or political/social zones, why not set up a retreat very far away, and in a totally different region and political/social system – in a foreign country?

As part of our ongoing series on international retreats, we look in this article on the topic of traveling to your international retreat – ie, bugging out, particularly when TSHTF.

We’ve written several times on the topic of traveling to your retreat when you sense the onset of a Level 2 or 3 situation, but primarily in the context of traveling only a short distance, domestically.  Now we consider traveling longer distances, internationally.

Distance is Not Your Friend When Bugging Out

Many people worry about the possibility of encountering difficulties when moving to their retreat, and generally people limit how far away they locate their retreat so as to make it less challenging to get to in troubled times.

When you start thinking about traveling to an international location, clearly these difficulties magnify greatly.  Assuming you’re not simply considering Canada or Mexico, then pretty much anywhere you might choose to relocate to requires either a plane ride or a boat trip, and certainly in the case of flying, would require you to travel on a commercial jet service because any affordable type of light airplane you could own yourself would not have nearly the range needed.

The thought of having to rely on an airline, and a regular ordinary scheduled flight, as a means to get to our bug-out location makes us very uncomfortable.  There are several reasons why we don’t like this arrangement, starting off with the fact we don’t like needing to rely on people and things totally outside of our control, a dislike made greater by the realization that in an EMP or solar storm event, planes will be some of the first things to be disabled.

There are two more reasons worthy of mention too.  The first is cost.  Anywhere international is by definition going to cost more money to fly to, because it is further away.  This cost differential is made even worse because international flights can be less competitive than domestic flights.

Furthermore, ticket costs for international travel are more directly related to how far in advance you buy your tickets.  That is somewhat the case for buying domestic tickets too, although not as much these days as was the case before.  For an international ticket, you’ll usually find the cheapest fares require a 21 day (or sometimes longer) advance purchase, and if you are buying tickets within a week of when you want to travel, you could be paying two, three or four times more money.  If you are within three days of travel, expect the fares to go even higher again.

Let me ask you this – how often do you expect to have more than three weeks clear advance warning of a Level 2/3 situation occurring?  Usually, by their very nature, such things are completely unexpected.

The second issue is availability.  These days, flights operate with a greater percentage of passengers on them than ever before.  A couple of decades ago, flights averaged about a 65% load factor – in other words, one seat in every three was empty, and, if needed, a flight could take half as many people again as they typically would.  This gave a good amount of ‘surge capacity’ – if one flight was cancelled, then the offloaded passengers could be quickly loaded onto other flights, for example, and at peak travel times (eg Thanksgiving) it was still possible to get seats on flights, even when booking last-minute.

But these days, flights often operate with 80% – 90% loads.  That gives flights much less ability to accept additional passengers, and some popular international routes are often close to full on every flight.  A single cancelled flight can disrupt travel patterns for days, and if you want to travel at peak times (eg around Christmas) you might find that if you haven’t booked your flights two or more months in advance, there are no seats to be found for a week or more either side of your preferred travel dates.

Let me ask you this – how comfortable would you feel if, WTSHTF, you had to wait a week to get a seat on a flight out of where you live and on to your retreat?  Will the flights still even be operating a week later?

The Need to Plan Ahead

One of the things we conclude about bugging out to a domestic retreat is that you probably have a several day head-start on the large mass of evacuees from cities when a Level 2/3 event occurs.  Even if there is a small immediate growth in people bugging out (ie other far-sighted prepared people such as yourself) it will be some days before gridlock – and panic – sets in on the roads, and hopefully you’ll be well and truly at your retreat long before that happens.

But what about bugging out internationally?  Instead of simply driving somewhere on freeways that can easily accept twice the normal/average amount of vehicles, you are needing to squeeze onto flights that are already at close to capacity.  Instead of an additional capacity on freeways for maybe 50,000 – 500,000 extra people to travel out of a city each day, you’re instead on an air route that might have excess capacity of only 50 – 500 people a day.

We also expect that international travelers will be quicker to respond to ‘the gathering storm’ of any adverse event.  It will be harder to ‘beat the rush’ and the rush, when it happens, won’t just mean very very slow travel; it will mean days at an airport with no movement away from ‘Ground Zero’ of whatever problem you’re seeking to avoid at all.  Meanwhile, unless you’re an ultra-frequent flier paying full fare for first class travel, you’ll regularly be finding new people arriving at the airport and being placed ahead of you on the waiting list, with higher priority access to flights based on their elite frequent flier status and/or the higher level fare they can afford to pay.

Making it worse, this all assumes that air travel schedules remain in place and unaffected by whatever the problem is that may be developing.  Air travel is an intensely infrastructure-reliant means of transportation, and when flying by commercial carrier, you are unable to influence any of the dependencies your flight is based upon.  Will jet fuel be available?  Will planes be able to fly in and out of your airport?  Will air traffic control systems be operable?  Will the ground crew and air crew all report for duty?  Will the planes be commandeered by the authorities and diverted for other ‘essential’ purposes?  Will the airlines themselves redirect their flights and planes to serve other markets as a result of whatever the event is that is causing your need to bug out?  And so on.

Don’t forget, as mentioned above, the fact that if the Level 2/3 situation comes about as a result of an EMP attack or massive solar storm, then the avionics on planes and in their engines will likely be fried and many of the planes themselves will be inoperative.

Plus, a week after TSHTF, maybe the country your bug-out location is in has altered its immigration policies to avoid a flood of refugees, and you might find yourself turned away at the border, once you do manage to get there.

The Opposite Strategy – a Delayed Bug-Out

Some people say they’ll survive in place as long as they can and only bug out to their retreat when things are truly bad and after the ‘first wave’ of evacuees has passed.

We’ve never felt this to be a good strategy, but depending on where you live and where your retreat is located, it might be feasible to consider it in some cases.  Maybe your bug-out will involve flying by light plane somewhere, or traveling by boat – that way, when you do travel to your retreat, you can do so without exposing yourself on the regular roads, and without relying on the roads remaining open and freely passable.

But if you’re bugging out internationally, our guess is that the ability to fly out of the US – and into the other country – is something that will get more and more difficult with the passing of time.

The Cost of a False Alarm

So, clearly a bug-out strategy to another country requires you to leave at the first sign of trouble.

It is no big deal to risk false alarms and to bug out possibly unnecessarily, when a domestic bug-out simply sees you and your family piling into your pickup truck and driving 500 – 1000 miles.  You can turn around at any time and return home and only be out the cost of the gas, and maybe you’ve had to ‘pull a sickie’ and take a day or two off work.  But other than that, a domestic bug-out is something you can undo at pretty much any time with a minimum of fuss or cost.  You simply do a U-turn and start driving back again.

This is good, and encourages you to ‘head for the hills’ at the first sign of trouble (which is also good).

But if your bug-out involves a 12 hour flight to a foreign country, things are not quite so simple, and neither is the cost quite so trivial.  There’s nowhere you could fly at short notice for less than $1000 per person, and in many cases you could find yourself paying $2,000 or more per person to travel.  First class tickets can go the high side of $10,000 per person.

In other words, for two of you, you need to anticipate that a short notice bug-out on your part might cost as much as $5,000 and perhaps much more, and if you are mistaken, you’ll be out of the country for at least a couple of days and potentially much longer.  That surely discourages you from getting out of Dodge at the first sign of any trouble, doesn’t it!  And it adds a huge cost penalty any time you unnecessarily evacuate only to then come straight back home again.

Regular Visits to Your Retreat

Wherever your retreat is, you’re going to want to visit it at least once a year, just to make sure it remains in good functional order and condition, and to remain somewhat familiar with the retreat and living conditions there.

Even if your retreat is more than 500 miles away domestically, you can still go there, spend a night, and come back in little more than a single weekend, and with no more cost than a few tanks full of gas.

But heading to a retreat somewhere in the southern hemisphere or Asia – that’s a very different issue entirely from both a time and cost point of view.  It is unlikely you’ll be able to visit so often, and you’ll be less familiar with everything – your retreat itself, and the society/country in which it is based – if/when you have to bug out for real.  You’ll be much more an obvious outsider and foreigner and much more vulnerable to local scams and corruption than would be the case if your retreat was merely in a nearby state, and still in the US.

International Travel by Boat

Flying is not the only way you can get to far-away places.  You could also make your way to a US port and then travel from there by ship or boat.

Although, in ‘normal’ times, it is possible to arrange to travel by freighter to some places around the world, you can forget any such thing in a crisis.  Freighter schedules will be disrupted, the crew will board their own families, and the booking support systems for such services will cease functioning anyway.  Plus there aren’t daily departures.  You might have to wait 2 – 3 weeks, even assuming that the ship then departing would agree to accommodate you on its sailing.

Cruise ships are also unreliable as a way of bugging out somewhere, besides which they don’t really go anywhere very useful.

But it might be possible to bug out on your own boat.  You’d need to own a big boat for it to be capable of safely carrying out ocean crossings, and you’d ideally need to have three or four or more people traveling with you so as to crew the boat 24/7 while at sea.  Plan on a 50 ft or larger motor boat, or a 60 ft or larger yacht as a bare minimum size, and note that it will need to be constructed to oceangoing/passage-making standards, rather than to more common ‘floating gin palace’ standards such as you’ll see in the marinas around the coast.

The boat would also have to have the capability to travel many thousands of miles.  The longest leg of any typical international journey is about 2500 miles (ie west coast USA to Hawaii); just about all other routes can have you island and coastal hopping in shorter legs.  But this requirement to be capable of a 2500 mile voyage assumes resupply and refueling capabilities upon arriving in Hawaii; and for that matter, even the island and coastal hopping routes also assume similar refueling/resupply services at each stop.

There will be two negative impacts on your ocean voyaging after an extreme event.  The first will be disruptions to normal refueling and resupply capabilities.  The second is that lawlessness may see pirates attack your boat.   You might have heard about the Somali pirates, but piracy at a low-level, and of smaller private boats rather than large commercial ships is dismayingly common in many other parts of the world as well, including central/south America and much of Asia.  Such lawlessness can be expected to massively increase in a Level 2/3 situation.

Ideally your boat should be able to travel all the way to your destination without needing to be refueled or resupplied.  That probably means using sail power for much of your journey – while wind is free, it is also unreliable and your speed will probably halve, meaning you’ll need more provisions (and possibly more water depending on what water makers your boat has) for the journey.

Taking any boat on an ocean-going voyage is a fairly daunting and challenging experience, and sailing requires considerably more skill and experience and the speed you’ll proceed at is of course weather dependent.  You might cover less than 50 difficult miles in a day, you might cover 200.  So you have to plan for the worst, while hoping for the best.  You don’t want to find yourself becalmed in the middle of the ocean with no food and no water.  And in a situation where maybe the weather reporting services will be down, you’ll not be able to rely on state of the art assistance for finding the best routes and weather.  Oh – you’ll also have to assume that the GPS service is down too.

On the other hand, the good news is that a sailing vessel – or at least, its sail based propulsion – is EMP resistant.  But remember all the electronic accessories and other devices on the boat and be sure they are protected.

Summary

Most people will find that choosing an international location for their retreat is not a practical solution.  While, on the one hand, it might be the very best theoretical solution in terms of avoiding some types of scenarios that could massively destroy the US while leaving much of the rest of the world unharmed, the practical challenges of bugging out from one’s normal home to one’s international retreat are massive.

Most of us will find ourselves with the choice between an international retreat that has associated with it a high risk of not being able to get to it in the event a Level 2/3 situation occurs; or a domestic retreat that while not quite as effective a solution to surviving a Level 2/3 event, is much more readily reached in such a situation.

The other choice we may face is between spending our money to build a really good retreat in the US and to create a reliable way of getting there, or to spend much more money to build a retreat offshore somewhere and to drain a lot of our funds into some way of hopefully being able to get there in an emergency.

Ideally, for those with no shortage of funds, one should have both domestic and foreign retreats.  But if you have to choose between only one of these two options, most people will probably concentrate on doing the best they can with a domestic retreat.  ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ – or, in our case, a for sure reachable retreat is much more desirable than a retreat which may be impossible to get to.

Nov 242012
 

This NY Times photo shows a prepper family and their supplies. But there’s as much missing as is included in what they proudly show us here.

Here’s an interesting article with a great picture to start with – as you can see, it shows a family of eight with their stockpile of prepping supplies.

Pretty impressive, yes?  Everything from solar panels to salt, and quite literally, from soup to nuts.  The man who heads the family is a ‘professional prepper’ so you’d expect him to have a good inventory of things.

But – and it is a huge but…..  what can you not see in the picture?  What is missing?  While there’s plenty of food, and a strange assortment of other ‘self help’ items for the future, there are also many important things not present in the picture at all.

For example, they’ve a bucket of laundry detergent, but no bars of soap.  Talking about soap, where is the toilet paper?  Towels?  Spare clothing?

How about a book or two to read?  Paper to write on, and pens to write with?  Some board games and packs of cards?

They’ve got a dismayingly small-sized generator, but what about lights – or, more to the point, spare light bulbs?  It also seems their total gas supply is four 5-gallon gas cans – probably enough gas to power their generator for a day, but no more than that.  And while they have a propane burner of dubious value, we don’t see any propane.  They have some solar panels, but how about batteries to store the charge from the panels?  Radios and other electrical and electronic goods?

We’re not seeking to criticize this family, and almost certainly they have lots more resources that are not included in this photo, and it could even be debated if the newspaper didn’t deliberately choose to omit a lot of the resources the family has so as to make them look slightly ridiculous for what they apparently do and don’t have.

But the picture does illustrate an essential point.  There’s a lot more to prepping than stocking up on long life food and barrels of water.

Sure, without food and water, you’re not going to live for long.  But is it your intention to live a miserable life of extreme hardship, or is it your intention to be able to live adequately – not luxuriously, but not in great discomfort, either?

Particularly in a Level 1 or 2 situation (click link for definition) your ability to survive and thrive, and your ability to maintain your morale and will to succeed will be as much measured by the amount of toilet paper you have as by the amount of dried food.  To keep everyone in your group feeling positive and confident of your ability to get through the situation and emerge successfully out the other end, you want to keep as many of life’s semi-essentials available as possible.

The good news is that a year’s supply of light bulbs or toilet paper costs very little.  The same for a small library of books, and some pen and paper for people to keep their own personal journals.  Many of these ‘optional extras’ cost very little, and the reason that preppers often overlook them is not due to lack of money, but rather due to lack of forethought.

There’s another category of essential items that also doesn’t appear in this photo, but which you need to consider.  Tools and other things necessary for maintaining the things in your retreat, and a generous inventory of spare parts to replace the things that will almost certainly fail during a Level 1/2 situation.

A tool kit (we recommend as many hand powered tools as possible rather than air or electric tools, for obvious reasons) is not expensive, and some of the more essential spare part items for the various things around your retreat are not necessarily expensive either.  That way, when something fails, you actually feel good and experience a small triumph when you produce the necessary spare part and the tools to replace it with, rather than feeling abject and despondent as, little by little, item by item, your conveniences and comforts fail, making life increasingly less pleasant.

What Do You Need?

It is very hard to come up with a definitive list of all the non-food and non-essential items that would help to make a Level 1/2 situation more endurable, because everyone has a different lifestyle and a different concept of what may or may not necessarily be essential.

But there’s a way for you to start to build your own list.  What we suggest you do is get a tiny pocket notebook (we use one which measures only 2 1/2″ x 4″ with about 50 pages in it) and carry it with you, everywhere you go.  Any time you use any thing, write it down in the notebook, along with whatever you can think of that is related to the thing you are using.

For example, you turn on a light, and that makes you think :  Spare switch, lightbulb, fuse.  It might also make you think :  electrical wire, screwdrivers, side cutters, pliers, electrical tape, multi-meter, soldering iron, and who knows what else.

For example, you go to the bathroom, and that makes you think :  Toilet paper, water, sewage.  It might also make you think :  ‘toilet spare parts kit’, soap, towels, plumbing snake, cleaning fluids, bucket, and who knows what else.

You turn on television, and that makes you think :  Television, electricity, spare parts for tv.  It might also make you think :  satellite receiver, old-fashioned external antenna, radio, shortwave radio, walkie-talkies, and who knows what else.

You turn the temperature up when it gets cold, and that makes you think :  Thermostat, furnace parts, filters, humidifiers.  It might also make you think energy sources, alternative heating strategies, insulation, warm clothes, CO and CO2 detectors, and who knows what else.

You go to the kitchen to heat up a can of beans and that makes you think :  Can openers, pots and pans, cutlery and crockery.  It might also make you think :  knives, knife sharpeners, kitchen gadgets in general (preferably hand-operated) and who knows what else.

As you live your normal life, continue entering the details of things you use and do into your notebook as often as you can, for everything you do, and as you can see from the examples above, try to think not just about exactly the thing you are doing, but the immediate and reasonably related other items that the thing you are doing/using relies upon as well.

Finding Subtle Obscured Dependencies

Note from the examples above that you try to think through the layers of dependencies and consequential issues with each thing you do or use.  If you find yourself thinking about the need for laundry detergent, you should try to think through the entire washing clothes process, which of course includes drying them after washing has been complete.  How will you do that when you can’t just turn on the drier unit next to your washing machine?  If the answer is ‘hang them on a washing line’ you next thing ‘hang them with what?’ and realize you not only need a clothes line but also clothes pegs.  Next, for ‘bonus’ points, think also about the life of the clothes and other things you’re washing.  If you have children, what will happen when they grow out of their present clothes.  What will happen when you’ve worn holes in your shoes, socks and clothes – and think not just about replacing, but also having repair kits to extend the life of your garments too.

Most of all, be alert for some of the things that we take so much for granted because they almost never fail; but when they do fail, they can have major impacts on our lives.  This starts with the structural integrity of your dwelling itself and external threats that might be posed – do you have trees around the property that could – either now or in five years time – fall and crash through your house?  What is the state of its roof?  Might it start leaking?  Do you have large picture windows, and if so, what would you do if a pane of glass was smashed in the large picture window?

So, how long should you do keep recording everything you use and rely on for?  We’d suggest two years.  That seems like a very long time.  Of course, the number of new items you’ll uncover in the second year will be much less than in the first year, but the longer you do it, the more robust and resilient your preparations will become and the more likely you’ll be to uncover/encounter some of the unusual but important problems you might have.

The first few weeks will be a rush of a huge number of new entries into your notebook, and then things will start to slow down, but each new season will bring about new seasonal related issues and requirements.

As time and money allows, you should of course work slowly but steadily towards addressing each of the items on your list and coming up with a suitable preparation.

How Much Do You Need?

How high is up?  How long is a piece of string?  And how large an inventory of food and non-food supplies do you need?  Three questions, all with no exact answers.

Ideally, you want to retain some balance in your stockpiling of items.  There is no point in having a decade’s worth of light bulbs if you only have three months of food, is there.  On the other hand, once you have laid in a three-month supply of food, and the means to ensure a reasonable ongoing supply of water, then you might want to pause in your food stockpiling efforts and add in some of the other non-food items that can keep your overall quality of life at an acceptable level, before continuing to add more food.

By all means stock up more than you need of some items, because you might be able to use the extra supplies of the item to trade with other people.  But if all the preppers for miles around have stockpiled extra quantities of salt and hard liquor, then you’re going to find the supply and demand equation for those items will have depressed their value greatly.  Try and think of things which other people are less likely to stock up on.  Ideally such things should last forever rather than have a short-lived expiry date, be of high utility value and low-cost for you to buy up front, and be able to be stored in a small amount of space.

Packs of playing cards and books of card game rules might be an example of a ‘quality of life’ thing – they are inexpensive to buy, last forever in storage, and with the probable demise of high-tech electronic entertainment options, might become very popular in the future again.  Even better still, while a pack of cards can last a long time, sooner or later the cards will get damaged and lost, and so you stand to sell more packs of cards from time to time to the same people who bought them from you in the first place.

On the other hand, toilet paper, while low value and long-lived, and definitely a consumable item, is perhaps not so great as a trade item to stockpile, because it does take up a lot of space.

Use your imagination, and your own life experiences as recorded in your notebook, to come up with not only what you need, but also what might be great to keep spares of as trade items, and try to more or less balance your food/water and non-food/water prepping so that you have adequate amounts of everything.

Summary

Sometimes we feel there is too much focus on food and water, and too little focus on ‘everything else’ when it comes to preparing for a future adverse scenario.

Of course, without adequate shelter, water and food, life itself is at risk.  But once you’re ensured the ability to sustain life, you then want to start to focus on improving the quality of your life, by prudently adding non-essential but greatly appreciated extra things.

Keeping a notebook and listing everything you do and creatively working through that to everything that the things you do/use are in turn dependent upon can help you come up with the list of non-food items you would benefit from having.

Nov 242012
 

A section of the 4,000 mile border with Canada; much/most of which is wide open to anyone who wishes to walk or drive across.

Canada would seem to be an obvious potential bug-out location, particularly for people who already live reasonably close to the border.

On the face of it, Canada might be thought to have a lot going for it – apart from some parts of Quebec, English is the primary language, the people are reasonably honest and friendly and more or less like Americans, their standard of living is in line with what we’re used to, we’re familiar with their social structure, and we fit in without having a huge big ‘I’m a Wealthy Foreigner – Take Advantage of Me’ sign invisibly on our foreheads.

On the other hand, many of the issues affecting the US and which might cause a societal collapse might spill over into Canada as well.  In particular, most of the suitable parts of Canada for people to consider retreating to tend to be close to the US border.  If you go much further north, the weather gets increasingly extreme and life is harder and harder to sustain.  So any type of regional impacts will spread across the border without being concerned about such artificial things as a change of country on the 49th parallel.

EMPs in particular are likely to impact on much of Canada – see the coverage map part-way down our article explaining what EMP is and does.  And because many of our major cities are relatively close to the Canadian border, any nuclear attacks on our cities might end up impacting on Canada (although most prevailing winds are likely to take fallout east and south rather than north).

Canada also has an overstressed electricity grid, so a solar disruption that destroyed the US grid would probably cause problems to Canada’s grid too.  On the other hand, Canada is fortunate to have a surplus of power (and exports electricity to the US) so the loss of generating capability might be less harmful to Canada than to the US.  Canada also exports oil and natural gas to the US, so is less dependent on international energy sources – an event that ended international oil shipments wouldn’t necessarily result in Canada being without gasoline and other oil products (although having raw oil is only part of the problem – the other parts being the need for refining capacity and then the need to be able to efficiently distribute/ship the gas, diesel, etc across the country to where it is needed).

There are some other considerations too.  Canada has a population of 34.5 million people.  It has only one ninth as many people as the US.  We’re not sure how many refugees from the US it could or would allow in before adopting a ‘managed solution’ to the problem, which would be a polite way of saying they’d close their borders and/or establish refugee camps, but not allow people to simply enter into the mainstream of their society.

On the other hand, our northern border is very porous and largely undefended by Canada – most of the border defenses are on our side, not on their side of the border.  Even the defenses on our side are largely absent – a Buffalo News story from 2011 reports of a GAO finding that only 32 of the 4,000 miles of border were adequately patrolled and defended.  If it seemed Canada was restricting the flow of refugees, it would be far from impossible to slip across the border at a deserted unpatrolled location and to quickly blend into their population.  We’ll avoid making a snide remark about how easy it is for Mexicans to do the same thing when entering the US at present, but you can probably guess our thoughts.

Assuming you do get to Canada, and assuming you are in a moderately favorable region, you’ll probably find yourself somewhere with a low population density, plenty of water, and reasonably fertile ground.  If you’re close to the ocean or a lake/river, you may also have access to fishing, and you may be close to forest lands too.

But while the land can be fertile, Canada’s big drawback is its climate, which is why we referred to ‘moderately favorable regions’ in the preceding paragraph.  As long as you have access to affordable energy, allowing you the ability to heat your retreat during the sometimes harsh winters, and as long as you are in a place with a sufficiently long growing season as to allow for practical growing of crops, you should be okay, but if you lose your energy (be it electricity, natural gas, propane, gasoline or diesel) then you’re going to have potentially severe problems.

Although the climate is harsh, Canada is little affected by severe storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or earthquakes.  The country also has few dangerous/poisonous animals.

Canada’s government is more ‘socialist’ and participative/interfering in its citizens lives, and – with some notable exceptions – we’ve found that Canadians tend to be more reliant on their government for many/most things than is the case on this side of the border.  Life in Canada is subject to more social controls and general government regulation than is life in the more libertarian/conservative US states, and of course, how can we discuss life in Canada without pointing out the draconian restrictions on firearms ownership, which applies with even greater force to foreigners such as ourselves.

Summary

There are some positive and negative issues associated with bugging out to Canada, but more predominantly negative than positive.  Its geographical proximity to the US means that many ‘natural’ type disasters are likely to spill over into Canada, although its considerably different position in the international community means that terrorist/war type actions against the US are less likely to be directed at Canada too, although the effects of EMP type attacks in particular would inevitably spill over into Canada too.

The elements of Canadian society that appealed to ‘draft dodgers’ back during the Vietnam war probably have less appeal to preppers.  Overall, preppers could expect more government intervention/interference in most aspects of their lives north of the border; and in general terms, they would find themselves in a harsher climate and more dependent on energy to assist in farming and living.

If you are considering establishing a retreat in Canada, we’d suggest you think also about having your retreat slightly on the US side of the border rather than slightly on the Canadian side.  We can’t see many substantial downsides to being based in the US, and neither can we see many substantial upsides to being based in Canada.

Our feeling is also that the cost of living is slightly higher in Canada than in the US – particularly at present with the Canadian dollar being worth about the same as the US dollar – that is why US border states have such excellent business these days from Canadians streaming south for shopping tours to the US.

All in all, we can’t recommend Canada as an international bug-out/retreat location.

Nov 192012
 

Being invited onto a radio or tv show can be fun, but can also be frustrating.

If you’ve never been on television or radio before, you might be very excited at a chance to become ‘famous’.  Trust us (and we’ve regularly done radio and television shows) it is no big deal and not something that will change your life (unless you make a colossal fool of yourself!).

However, we are not saying you should refuse to participate in media programs; quite the opposite.  The fact that you’re reading this article now means you have more likelihood of doing a better job than most other people, because you’re a bit more aware and educated about the issues.  Better that you do an average to good job, than someone else instead does a poor to bad job!

But be cautious (and see our article about why the media is typically biased against prepping).  Try to remember that the friendly interviewer is no more your friend and no more truly trying to help you than is a ‘friendly’ policeman asking you about a crime you are alleged to have committed.  Police officers, if talking honestly, will tell you that no-one has ever talked their way out of being charged with a crime they committed; all they have done is incriminate themselves and make the arresting officer’s job easier.  It is a bit like that with a reporter, too.

Is the Interviewer Positive, Negative, or Neutral?

There are perhaps two main types of reporters – the ones who unfortunately have already written their story in their mind, and now are just looking to get some quotes and ‘local color’ to round out the story, and then there are a few who approach the story with a relatively open mind and look for interesting things to come out of an interview.

If you’re reasonably sure that the reporter is looking to do a ‘hit piece’ on prepping, then you are better advised not to participate, because it is not and never would be a ‘fair fight’.  The reporter is massively more skilled than you are at verbal jousting, plus he gets to choose the introduction, the questions, when to cut you off, and how to end the piece.  No matter how eloquent and skilled you might be, in such a battle with the odds so unfairly stacked against you, it is better not to participate.  Hopefully no-one else will participate either, but if they do, that is their problem, not yours.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Even with friendly reporters, be careful in what you say, and don’t use summary statements that are absolutist; but instead, always use cautious statements that are qualified.  Don’t say something like ‘When a gas attack occurs, we have everything we need to survive it’.  Instead, say, ‘in the unlikely event that a gas attack might ever happen, then we are probably better able to hopefully get through it than most other people’.

Don’t say ‘WTSHTF, everyone around us will die, but we will survive’.  Instead say ‘in the unlikely but not impossible event of some type of future disaster, many people will suffer and not everyone will survive, but hopefully we’ll have a better chance of getting through it’.

Don’t say ‘I’ve got a basement full of guns and ammo, and after TEOTWAWKI, I won’t hesitate to shoot all my neighbors who come demanding I share my food with them’.  Say ‘In an extreme food shortage, I’m worried that groups of looters may attempt to take the food from me and my family by force.  If I must, I will attempt to defend myself and my family, but I hope it won’t ever come to that.’

If pressed on how many and what sorts of guns you own, say ‘Like most Americans, I do own some guns.  They are all legal and lawfully owned, but owning guns is not really what prepping is all about.  I’d rather talk about positive things like how I can grow my own food and become self-sufficient rather than talk about guns and hunting’.

Do you get the idea?  You want to show yourself as a thoughtful regular kinda guy (or gal).  Yes, you have invested time, money and resource into preparing for possible adverse things in the future, but it is only a small part of your overall life and lifestyle.  You’re also an employee (or employer), possibly a parent, probably a son or daughter, a sibling, maybe a member of a local church or sports group or community organization, and so on.

And while you do prepare for future challenges, you also acknowledge that they may never occur.  Indeed, you fervently hope they don’t occur.

Here are some more specific suggestions and recommendations and explanations about dealing with the media.

Radio and Television Interview Preparation and Presentation

If you are approached by a print media journalist, then of course there is a difference between his talking/interviewing with you, and the article he subsequently writes, and you can interactively work together to build his piece.

But if you are approached by a radio or television show presenter or their producer, and are invited to participate in a segment on a show, you want to try to do as much groundwork as possible before the show – both for your sake and for the sake of getting good fair coverage of the topic.  The only control you have over the final piece is what happens before you get on air/on camera.

Don’t just say ‘Yes, sure, I’ll be on your show, when and where is it?’.  Instead say ‘Yes, I’d be pleased to help you with the show.  What exactly are you hoping to cover?  What is the angle or focus of the piece?’  Find out what they are trying to demonstrate or explain; and then help them with the research and interesting facts and figures and suggest some questions they could ask you and answers you would give.

The more you can help prepare the ground before the interview, the more you can help shift the topic of the interview onto issues that are positive and matters you are comfortable discussing.  Indeed, tell the show’s researchers, presenters, or producers up front about what you are and are not knowledgeable about, and what you can and can’t talk about or show or do.  Also ask them about their typical audience and how to present in a manner in keeping with the show and its audience expectations.  Don’t be difficult – everything should be offered in a helpful and positive manner, or else they’ll simply drop you from the show and choose someone ‘easier’ instead.

Try and get a copy of the script that will be used to lead in to your interview, and try to see what the questions are that you’ll be asked, so you can prepare answers.

The chances are that the presenter will go off script quickly during your actual piece.  Maybe you said something that was interesting and unexpected they want to pick up on, maybe you went off topic, or maybe they are rushed for time and wanting to move on.

So your focus should be on setting the general topic coverage before the piece is put together, and on understanding where the piece is coming from and what the first question to you will be.

When you know what the topic is, try to include among your answers some independent facts and figures – not too many, but one or two, so as to give substance to what you are saying and to make you seem like an authoritative expert.

Reviewing/Correcting

You need to understand if you’ll be on a live show or if your piece is being pre-recorded.  Appearing live has its pluses and its minuses – the minus for most people will be that if you make a mistake or get tongue-tied, you just have to live with it and keep on moving forward.  The plus is that what you say is what is shown; no-one can play editing tricks on you.

Having your material pre-recorded also has pluses and minuses.  The plus is that if you make a mistake, you can (and should) redo the part and have it edited for the final production so your answers seem more smooth and well delivered.  The negative is that you have to rely on the honesty and ethics of the editors so as not to distort your answers.

Here’s an interesting article on how the main stream media edited an innocent conversation to make it sound very different indeed.  There is no polite way to say this – the main stream media deliberately distorted the context and meaning of this.  It could happen to you, too.

There’s not much you can do to protect yourself against such distortions – which can either take the form of cutting up your answers, or the form of changing the questions that it seems you are answering.  The interviewer might say ‘Do you believe in God?’ and you answer, proudly, ‘Yes, I do’; but then it might be edited so that the question you are answering is now ‘Do you believe in the supremacy of white people over black people?’, with the same positive answer ‘Yes I do’ then being played in apparent answer to the new question.

Okay, that’s an extreme example of what could (but probably won’t) happen, but an offline editing process can, whether accidentally or deliberately, introduce errors or cut off important parts of your replies.

However, we make these comments largely for your information rather than action, because there’s not much you can do about it.  Programs won’t switch from being live to pre-recorded or vice versa just to suit you – even leading politicians and other public figures have to conform to the program’s format, rather than vice versa.

So accept the format with good grace and do the best you can.

One thing to be careful about, when pre-recording, is to realize that your statements might be edited, deleted, or played out of sequence.  So don’t say in your answer to the second question ‘As I said before …..’ because maybe the earlier question and answer will be deleted.  Each of your answers should be a self-contained statement.  Similarly, don’t make your answers simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, because maybe they’ll want to edit out the question and just play your answer.  So if you are asked the question ‘Do you think it is sensible to prepare for future problems’ don’t just say ‘yes’; say ‘I believe it is sensible to prepare for future problems’.  And if you are asked ‘How many months of food do you have stored’ don’t just say ‘six’; say ‘I have six months of food stored’.

Whereas with print, you usually have a chance to read over the almost completed article and suggest (but not demand!) changes, if a radio/tv program is being pre-recorded, you almost never have a chance to see it before it airs or to participate in the editing process.  That’s just something you have to accept.

The One Thing to Never Say/Do

You can say or do many things to most reporters, and that’s okay.  They’ve heard and seen much worse before.  But there’s one thing to never say or do.  Don’t call them dishonest or biased.  Even if they are – and even if they know they are – it is one of the unwritten ground-rules that everyone pretends they are honest and fair and balanced.

You can criticize many aspects of their coverage, and many technical elements of the presentation, and they’ll either accept or ignore your comments (but better to never criticize at all!).  However, never ever say ‘this is biased’ or ‘you are biased’.  This will get their backs up immediately and completely.

The best way to get things improved accepts the adage ‘You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’.  Start off by saying ‘This is a good treatment, and you’ve done a much better job than I could ever do at summarizing a complex topic into a short clear statement’.  Then, pause, and say ‘But….’ and then thoughtfully offer a suggestion for an improvement such as ‘maybe, do you think, it might be better to mention xxxx as well as the comments on yyy you already have’ or ‘I’m worried if your readers will understand the backstory to my comment about zzz, perhaps it might help to add a bit of explanation’ or ‘It is good that you include a reference to qqq, but maybe it would be better to save that for a follow-up article later, and to keep this first piece fairly clean and clear and more focused on rrr.’

Never talk about bias.  Never talk about ‘corrections’ (instead talk about ‘clarifications’ or ‘enhancements’ or something positive, and if you’re really stuck, apologize for you having done an earlier poor job explaining, rather than accuse the presenter of doing a poor job of understanding).  Oh – never ever ever talk about attorneys or suing!  If the worst comes to the worst, you can say (and formally put in writing) ‘I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable with the piece as it is written and I must withdraw my agreement to be included/mentioned/pictured/photographed’.

Photographs and Video

Please – refuse to be photographed (or videotaped) wearing a gas mask.  Refuse to be photographed with guns, or in camouflage.  Simply say ‘these things are such a small part of what prepping is about that I don’t want to cause them to be blown out of proportion’.  Say ‘I’d rather be featured in a picture that shows that real, normal people are preppers’.

Now the media outlet of course wants something that will grab the attention of their audience, and again there’s the worry that if you won’t agree to be photographed in a gas mask with an ‘assault rifle’ and tens of thousands of rounds of ammo at your feet, they’ll find some other fool who will agree to that instead.  So suggest something else instead – ‘How about a picture of me next to my well stocked pantry, or a picture of me running my standby generator?’.  A neatly stacked and stocked pantry (not in some sort of unlined earthen cave, please!) is something normal people would envy and appreciate and aspire to.  The same with a generator – there’s nothing crazy or strange about a person with a standby generator, and it is again an aspirational image rather than a crazy image.

Maybe you have a ham radio and you could be pictured in your ‘shack’ with some of your radio gear.  Backup communications is another part of prepping which is less subject to misinterpretation.

Your objective is to appear as mainstream and ‘normal’ and to show an aspirational image.

Radio

If you are being interviewed on the radio, the chances are you’ll be on a phone call to the radio station rather than turning up in person to do the interview in their studio.

So be sure to use a good phone and landline rather than a cell phone or cordless phone with perhaps poorer sound quality.  If you have a good computer and reliable internet connection, you might find a Skype call is even better quality than a regular phone line.  Make sure there are no background sounds or distractions to interfere and interrupt.

On the radio, the only thing you have to share with the audience is your voice, so you need to speak clearly and well, and with expression.  Here are three tips that are used by professional broadcasters.

  • First, use a headset rather than a handset.  That way your body is more relaxed and you are free to move your body and your arms.  Which leads to the other two points.
  • Second, stand up.  When you are standing up, your chest is more opened up and you can project your voice better.  We don’t mean shout, we just mean speaking clearly and strongly, like you would if in a room with twenty people.
  • Third, move your arms and body a bit to give emphasis to what you’re saying.  The physical movements will translate into voice intensity, too.

Remember, also, keep smiling and be friendly.  Talk clearly and well, with stress and emphasis, but also conversationally as you would with a friend.

Television

You should watch the show for a few days before appearing, if at all possible, so as to get a feeling for its format and style; its pacing and its presenters.  If time doesn’t allow for this (often you’re approached in the morning and asked to participate in the afternoon) see if there are some clips on their website so you can at least get a little familiarity with the format, the presenters, and how you might be filmed.

Dress well to appear on the show.  Try to copy the dress style of the presenters.  Needless to say, wear ‘mainstream’ every day street clothing.  No BDUs, no boots, not even cargo pants or vests.  Choose slacks or chinos and a jacket, or a suit, and similar/equivalent things for women.

If you’re wearing a suit, wear a white shirt and a non-red color tie (reds are the hardest colors for television).  Don’t wear clothing with tight patterns – they will get distorted through the television process.  White shirts imply honesty and trust.  Keep your jacket buttoned.

In general, you want to look at the interviewer, not at the camera(s) or other things around you.  You never know when you’re going to be in close-up on the screen, so act all the time as if that is what is happening – even when the interviewer is talking (part of the editing process involving using pictures of the non-talking person to cover up an edit and cut to what the talking person is saying).  Either be smiling (but not like a mindless fool) or adopt a look of intelligent uncertainty and concentration.

Ignore the cameras, even though it can be fascinating to watch them moving about the studio, but be aware that whichever camera is focused on you might be showing more of your body than you expect.

One time I was on an interview and was told that the cameras would only be taking my head and shoulders, but then when I saw the interview played on television, they were using a wide-angle that showed me and the interviewer, and all my body, down to my feet, showing my legs which were swinging back and forwards.  Ooops.  Made me look a bit stupid, and of course, there was no way I could then say ‘Hey, no fair’.

What’s Next?

Okay, so you’re now reasonably prepared and done all you can to make sure you and the interviewer are on the same page about the questions that will be asked and the answers you’ll give.  Please now click on to read our follow-up article ‘How to Give a Radio/TV Interview‘.

Nov 192012
 

Don’t be overwhelmed by all the technology in the studio. Concentrate only on the interviewer and their questions.

So you’ve agreed to do an interview for a radio or television program, and you’ve done all the preparation prior to the interview.  Now for your big moment – giving the interview.

In truth, this can sometimes be a daunting experience, but it is something that practice makes perfect with.  If you don’t have a lot of experience being interviewed on radio/television shows, you should practice with friends before the interview.  After following the steps in our related article Preparing for a Radio or Television Interview you’ll know the sorts of questions (maybe even the exact questions) the interviewer will ask you, and you can then practice answering them with a friend pretending to be the interviewer.

If it is a radio interview, record yourself giving the answers and play back the recording.  Don’t worry that your voice sounds strange or different – everyone hears themselves differently to how other people do (due to bone conduction transferring sounds directly from our vocal cords to our ears).  Instead, listen for any unnecessary things you might not be aware you are doing – obvious things like saying ‘ummm’ or ‘aaah’, or less obvious things like over-using a figure of speech, or using jargon terms that ordinary people unfamiliar with prepping might not understand.

If it is a television interview, it is helpful to videotape yourself so you can also look at how you are visually presenting yourself.  Are you looking calm, relaxed, and smiling, or are you nervous and twitching?  Also evaluate the audio the same as above for radio shows.

When listening/watching a recorded playback of yourself, you’ll notice things you’d never realized you were saying or doing.

Giving a TV/Radio Interview

The biggest thing in being interviewed for radio or television is to keep your answers short, clear, and understandable.  Avoid jargon.  Give simple ‘headline’ type answers to questions; if the interviewer wishes, they can then ask you for more explanation.  Don’t give only monosyllabic grunts, of course; you want to be brief, direct, and relevant rather than terse.

Practice at home, with a friend being the interviewer.  You’ll get a sense for how much talking the interviewer does and how much talking you as the subject can do, and try to in general, keep your answers to about 15 seconds at a time, and 30 seconds as an absolute maximum.  If you can’t explain something in 15 seconds, you’re risking losing the interest of the audience and risking being interrupted by the interviewer (in a live presentation) or being edited out (in a pre-recorded situation).  More to the point, perhaps, if you’re edging up to 30 seconds, your explanation is too complicated – you need to ‘dumb it down’ and simplify it.

Be relaxed and friendly, and call the interviewer by their first name on occasion – certainly at the start and end of the segment, and maybe once in the middle.

When answering questions, be thoughtful and positive and friendly and smiling – a physical smile helps your voice to sound friendly, too, even on the radio.  Don’t use jargon.  Don’t talk about ‘WTSHTF’ or other prepper slang.

Good and Bad Interviewers

There are so many different radio and television programs these days, plus amateur podcasts and all sort of other content providers, that the level of professionalism and training you can expect of your interviewer has massively decreased.

Of course, you understand and expect the person interviewing you will know next to nothing about prepping.  That’s no surprise.  But the really disappointing thing is that sometimes these people know very little about how to interview well, either.

A good interviewer allows the person they are interviewing to be the focus of the piece, and the interviewer slips into the background, acting more as the ‘mirror’ of the audience, asking questions of the interviewed person such as the audience might want to know the answers to as well, and, on occasion, asking for clarification and following up on the answers given.  It goes without saying that most of the time, the talking will be done by the interviewee, rather than by the interviewer.

A bad interviewer will do most of the talking themselves, and will base the interview on their own opinions and thoughts and views.  They may be rude, they may argue, they may interrupt.  It is – in their eyes – all about them and their relationship with their audience; you as an interviewee are merely a conduit for them to sound off about their own opinions and views.  In such cases, you’re either there to provide quick validation, or to be a stalking horse to be attacked and put down.

If you have a chance to listen to past programs by the person who wishes to interview you, it is possible to quickly identify if the person is a good or bad interviewer.

If you have a bad interviewer, you can either decide not to participate, or – if you do participate – you’ll want to phrase your answers more directly to the interviewer rather than to the audience as a whole, and you’ll need to expect to be interrupted and not to have a chance to fully say everything you want.

You get around this in part by saying the most important things first.

If a bad interviewer is also someone who has the same ideas and opinions as you, that is a good thing, but if they have an opposite set of opinions, then be prepared to be given a hard time, and you know for sure you’ll not have the last word on the topic.

One more thing to appreciate about all interviewers, good or bad.  Assuming it is not a brand new show which you are appearing on the inaugural episode of, the interviewer(s) and presenter(s) have built up a relationship with the audience.  The audience will predominantly like the interviewer – if they don’t like the interviewer, they won’t be watching or listening.

So if you get into an argument with the interviewer, most of the audience will immediately side with the interviewer rather than with you.  Plus, the interviewer is way more experienced at such things than you are, and you’ll almost certainly be the loser.

Answering Difficult and Unfair Questions

You don’t have to slavishly answer every question exactly as it is asked (as witness just about any interview with any politician!).  And if you think questions are unfair, by all means say so.  ‘Well, Joe (or whatever the interviewer is called), that’s not really a very (fair/relevant/important) question.  The real issue that is most important to your audience is xxxxx….’ and after saying that, ask yourself whatever question it is you want to then answer.

For example, an interviewer says ‘So why do you think it is necessary to have such a huge arsenal of assault rifles in your basement?’.  You could answer ‘Well, Joe, that’s not really the most important question.  The real issue is what anyone can do, and whether the government could help us, if a solar flare destroyed the nation’s power supply….’ (or something else that doesn’t imply violence).  You could go on to say ‘Of course the government could help in the event of a localized loss of power.  But what if power is off all over the country?  What then?  That’s one of the worries I have, particularly when leading astronomers say there is one chance in eight of such a massive solar flare killing our entire power grid in the next decade.’

What can the reporter do next?  He can’t easily argue against what leading astronomers say.  He could of course circle back to the gun issue and say ‘So that’s why you have guns – in case of a solar flare destroying our power grid?  But, even so, why do you have so many?  Isn’t one enough?’

You could then answer ‘You are correct, there is indeed a grave danger of a solar flare destroying the power grid.  I don’t know what would happen in such a case – would society survive?  But I do know that many times in the past, even small disruptions to normal life have seen outbreaks of rioting and looting.  I’m not going to become a looter myself, but I do want to be able to defend myself, my family, and my loved ones.’

This is a good answer, because first you put words in the reporter’s mouth, and secondly you avoid answering the question about ‘so many guns’ and instead phrase things in terms of being a loving caring family man seeking to defend himself and his family from rioters and looters.

In the very unlikely event the reporter keeps on at you about the number of guns you have (and hopefully you’ve refused to tell him how many you have in the first place) you could have an exchange like this :

Reporter :  But, surely you only need one gun in such a case?  Why do you have so many more than one?  Isn’t that being extreme?

You :  Of course I can only use one gun.  But what if it fails or jams?  Plus, my wife and adult children would also join in defending our family against looters.  Maybe the neighbors will come and help to mutually protect us all against attacks from looters.  In any such terrible situation, I’d rather have more than I need than too few.

Your answer here has defused the situation still more.  You only want one gun yourself, and a backup gun in case of failure.  That doesn’t sound too extreme, does it.  Then you talk about your wife and adult children joining in to defend your family, and maybe your neighbors too.  So the audience is now thinking either ‘I have’ or ‘I am’ a wife/child/neighbor and they are identifying with you and your situation.

Compare this answer to a hypothetical answer someone else might say :

Someone else :  I need a lot of guns, because I want to use different guns against different attackers.  I have sniper rifles for long distance, assault rifles for closer killing, and shotguns for up close and personal.  I have extra guns and ammo around my house in strategic locations so I can’t be surprised.

Doesn’t that sound aggressive and offensive?  Plus it clashes with some pre-conceived notions – do people really need a lot of guns?  The word ‘attacker’ is more ambivalent than the word ‘looter’, the word ‘sniper rifle’ sounds very nasty, as does ‘assault rifle’ (a term you should never use) and ‘up close and personal’ sounds way too aggressive and blood thirsty.  As for having guns and ammunition all around your house, many people think guns should always be locked up in a safe.

While the second response has a measure of tactical sense associated with it for some situations, there is very seldom an excuse for using a ‘sniper rifle’ for picking people off at a distance, is there!  Much better to answer the way we recommend.

The Most Important Rule

Never lose your temper.  Never show any sign of being upset or cross or riled.  Smile, be friendly, by all means be sad, but never be angry or cross or mean-minded.

And avoid saying something like ‘Well, if that’s the way you feel, I’ll tell you one thing for sure – when doomsday comes and you arrive begging at my door for food, I’ll order you off my property and shoot you where you stand if you don’t leave’.  Instead say something like ‘I’m truly sorry – for your sake, and the sake of the people in your life who rely on you – that you feel that way.  But if I’m proven right, and something terrible does happen to us, come looking for me, and if I can help, of course I will.’

What’s that you say?  There’s no way in the world you’d help that person after they so unfairly interviewed you on their show?  Well, that’s as may be, but you didn’t have to swear an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth prior to going onto the show, did you?

We’re not suggesting you should lie about anything at all, but remember two things.  The first is that you’re not in a court of law and you didn’t swear an oath of truthfulness.  The second is that you’re there to put your point of view across as best you can in the limited time available to you, and if that requires you to, ahem, oversimplify some things or skip over other aspects, so be it.

Don’t outright lie, of course, but do ‘put your best foot forward’.

Before and After the Interview

Before the interview, try to be as helpful as you can to the interviewer, and give them as much background material and additional help as possible.  Give them some good lines to use in the interview.  If you help them to look good, then they will reciprocate and help you to look almost as good.

Offer to put them in touch with other people – both others who might support your point of view and also, if they wish it, people who might disagree with you too.

After the interview, of course thank them for your chance to participate, and then offer to help them with any future related pieces.  Tell them you’re happy to provide background material and assistance for which you’d not require attribution, and you’re also happy to be interviewed in the future too if they need to add interview segments.

Give them phone numbers and email addresses where you can be readily reached, 24/7, and tell them you’re always happy to help out, at short notice, any time they need your participation.

If you ‘get into their Rolodex’ as a useful helpful resource, and as someone who isn’t just looking for free personal publicity, but instead as someone who can help in general, they are likely to call on you in the future, and to become more favorably accepting of your perspective on prepping.

Summary

You need to remember that the people who are interviewing you have different priorities and objectives to you.  Their priority is to interest, amuse, and entertain their audience, and secondarily, perhaps to make themselves look great.  They may be willing to make you and what you represent look foolish or stupid as part of achieving their objectives.

You are absolutely not in control of any part of the process other than what you say and how you say it.  But that’s not to suggest you should passively give up.  You should concentrate on being able to deliver very short, simple, clear and positive answers to the questions you’re likely to be asked.  You want to help the audience, who will be passively uninvolved and uncommitted to prepping, to become interested in the subject, to understand a bit of what it is about, and to realize that prepping is good and that preppers are good normal sensible people.

Good luck.  Let us know if we can assist.

Nov 192012
 

Being fairly featured in a newspaper story requires finesse. Here’s how.

One of these days, you might have your phone ring or your email beep, to reveal a request from a journalist writing a story about prepping, and wishing to interview you for his (her) article.  This might be for a newspaper or magazine or journal or website or blog or in some other form, it will be a print piece rather than a radio or television piece.

What do you say?  Here are some helpful guidelines as to help get the best, fairest, and most positive coverage of your views.

Understand the Reality of the Article

Maybe the person approaching you will explain where the article is being published, but maybe not.  If they don’t tell you, go ahead and ask them – ‘Do you have an assignment on this topic or are you writing on spec and will you be pitching it later?’.

If the journalist/writer is preparing an article for a specific assignment, ask ‘what is your deadline’ (in other words, when does the story have to be submitted to the publisher)?  Maybe the answer will be ‘today’, maybe it will be further out.  If there’s reasonable time before the deadline, you have more opportunity to delay your reply to the questions the journalist is about to present to you.

It is helpful to know what type of newspaper or magazine the piece will be appearing in.  Obviously, something appearing in the New York Times will have a different slant to something appearing in the National Rifleman magazine!

Ask also how many words the article will be, and if the journalist is looking for any pictures, too.  The more words, the better (as a general rule of thumb) because it allows for a more detailed explanation and discussion of what prepping is.

If the journalist is seeking pictures, maybe you can offer to help there too, and ‘quality control’ the pictures – in other words, leave out the unfair ‘scare’ pictures of guns, gas masks, camouflage clothing, etc, and concentrate on more truly representative ‘normal’ pictures of normal people doing normal prepping-related things.

Interview the Journalist

The journalist of course wants to interview you, but see if you can’t interview him first.  Explain ‘So I can best understand where you’re coming from and what you’re looking for, can I ask you a bit about your story and angle first?’.  He’ll almost surely agree, because you’re implying that you’re going to be helping him better by knowing the answers to these questions.

Ask what the central theme or premise is of the story, what topics it will be covering, and who else the writer will be interviewing.  Ask where the writer is at so far in putting the story together, and what exactly he hopes to cover with you.

Also ask the journalist ‘Will you be including some arguments against prepping in your article?  If so, I’d be pleased to offer rebuttals/responses to those points.’  That way, if the article is going to have some negative commentary in it, you have a chance to get some responses/answers to the negative points inserted into the article as well.

At that point, you then have a decision to make.  If the deadline is still a few days out, and you’re not fully comfortable talking right away about the topic, say that you’re busy, that you’re just about to go out, and ask if you can talk more a bit later.  You could – and should – also say ‘Can you email me a list of your questions so I can prepare for them when we next talk’.

On the other hand, if the journalist is on a tight deadline, and if you feel you’re fully up to speed on the topic, maybe you can move forward to the interview right away.  We generally prefer not to, even if it seems a safe and easy subject.  Indeed, more often than not, our interviews for print publications have been entirely by email, with maybe a short phone call to start or end the process.

The reason we prefer not to?  See the next section.

Providing Pre-Written Material

If you can get a list of questions, you can then prepare some pre-written answers to give to the writer, complete with some researched independent facts and figures.  You’re doing much of the writer’s job for him, and he will love you for it.

It gives you the time to prepare well written and factual replies to his questions.

If you are reasonably good at writing, you can also offer to send the journalist some pre-written material.  Tell him it has never been published before and that he is welcome to take it and use it as he wishes.  No reputable journalist wants to take something that has already been published, because he can’t then recycle it and claim it as his own work.  But if you have unpublished material, that’s a different situation.  Say something like ‘I prepared a sheet about the topic that I handed out when I was giving a presentation to my local XXX club a month or two ago, maybe I can send you that along with answers to your questions’.

The easier you make the journalist’s work, and the more prepared material you can send his way, the more likely his final article will draw heavily on the material you’ve provided and be accordingly more positive.

When you send in your material to the journalist, you should also send in a list of resources – send him the three or four websites you think best cover prepping issues, maybe links to other articles which have appeared, and anything else which can help make his job easier.

You want to be more than just a passive interviewee, you want to be a positive cooperating resource who helps the journalist build his article.  If he finds the experience positive and easy and efficient, he is more likely to want to write more stories about prepping in the future.

On the Record vs Off the Record

The (probably unstated) ground rules, whenever you are dealing with any type of journalist or writer, is that anything and everything you say is ‘on the record’ and can be quoted or used by the journalist in the article he is researching/writing/presenting.

If you have comments you want to make that you don’t want quoted, you need to say ‘this is off the record’ or ‘I can tell you as background, but don’t quote me’ or ‘this is not for attribution’.

But be careful not to contradict what you say on the record with what you say off the record.  That is a bit like saying to a policeman ‘officially, I am pleading not guilty, but just between you and me – and promise not to tell anyone else – I’m actually completely guilty of this plus some other crimes you don’t yet know about, but I’ll tell you about them too’.

Certainly nothing off the record should contradict anything on the record.  Instead, it might be things that are too personal – for example, you might say ‘On the record, I can tell you I have a second holiday home about 100 miles from here’ and then when the reporter asks you more about it, you can say ‘Off the record, it is located in the small town of XXX, 93.5 miles from here, but I want to preserve my privacy a bit and not share that sort of personal information with your audience’.  That way you are satisfying the reporter’s curiosity and also showing a valid reason for wishing to be a bit vague.

Another example of an off the record comments could be something like ‘Off the record, I’ve got to tell you that we think mountain men Aryan Nation survivalists are just plain crazy, but on the record, if you don’t mind, I’d rather avoid that subject entirely and merely stick to the positives.

Reviewing/Correcting

You can also ask for a chance to review a print article before it is published, although you have to term such a request carefully so as not to give offense.  You can say something like ‘I realize it is difficult summarizing everything you’re researching into a short article, and perhaps it would be helpful if I had a quick look at the piece before you send it in, just to check that something hasn’t got lost or inadvertently misstated as part of the editing and revising.

Most journalists will be happy to do that.  They don’t want people subsequently complaining to their editors and publishers that they’ve written unbalanced unfair or just plain wrong articles, and by allowing you to have a look at what they’ve written, they not only reduce the risk of you complaining, they also – with your help – reduce the risk of other people complaining, and if anyone does, they have someone to share the blame with.

You also need to realize that the final part in the publishing process is usually out of the journalist’s control.  This is the part after the article has been submitted to whatever media outlet, and then someone else – a sub-editor or editor – may then write a headline of their choosing, and possibly cut out or re-arrange the material to fit within the space available and to give the overall article the look and feel and style that this person feels is consistent with the publication as a whole.  This may result in what you feel to be important parts of the story being lost, or a headline that doesn’t fairly reflect the content of the story, but it is just an unavoidable part of the process.

Note also that you and the writer have very different views about the subject matter.  You probably know much more than the writer about the subject.  But he is more of an expert at getting the basic essentials and outline of a story across to his/her audience, and may even best know which bits to include and which bits to leave out.  He also understands the stylistic guidelines and requirements of the publication he is writing for, and remember, he is writing to both entertain and educate.

You might disagree with the final form of the article, and of course, you might want to see two or ten times more information included, but you have to understand that most general articles are never going to be as in-depth as you’d wish them to be.

Go with the flow, and if you can make a tweak or two to ensure an important point isn’t left out, or an important error doesn’t go uncorrected, then you’ve done well.  Whatever you don’t do, don’t start demanding changes or being rude/offensive.  Confine your comments to factual errors or essential omissions, don’t tell him his job at how to put the piece together.

After the Article Has Been Published

Here’s a very important thing that many people overlook.  In golf, you are taught that the follow-through is an important part of your stroke, and when firing a shotgun you continue to move your shotgun as and immediately after you fire it.

It is the same with publicity.  The follow-up after the article has published can make a big difference for what happens in the future.

Assuming that the piece ended up being more or less okay, you should send a note to the journalist after the piece has appeared, thanking him for the piece and his professional coverage, and offering to assist in any further stories on the topic.

Then, once a month or so, whenever something interesting or newsworthy happens, consider sending him a brief email ‘heads-up’ in case he wants to take the development and build another story from it.  Don’t become a pest and don’t send every last little trivial thing to do with prepping, but do stay in occasional touch.

Summary

Working with a journalist who is researching and writing an article for a print type publication is usually the easiest form of media contact you’ll have, because you’re not under any time pressure, and no matter how you may stumble through questions and answers with the journalist, the final print piece will read smoothly without any ‘umms’ and ‘aaahs’.

That’s not a reason to treat such opportunities casually, however.  The more responsive and helpful you are, the better and more positive the story is likely to be.

Nov 192012
 

Media bias is a fact of life. Regrettably, as preppers we’re on the downside of the media’s preferences.

You’re not just imagining it.  The media truly is biased against preppers and prepping.  This article will help you understand why; with that understanding, you are better prepared to respond to media bias and you will better know what to say and do if you are approached to appear in a media article on prepping yourself.

As preppers, we generally perceive that we’re thought of being on the fringes of society and its accepted norms, and in large part, that is a true perception, even if not an accurate reality.  The reason for this misperception is two-fold – some extremists who are viewed as being preppers are then taken as being representative of us all, and the inadequate way the media fails to fairly describe us and convey our ideas to their audiences.

The good news is there is no reason why prepping shouldn’t be a mainstream and universally accepted part of everyone’s lives.  Anyone who has a spare lightbulb in their cupboard at home is already a prepper; the only difference between everyone else and ourselves is the question of how much prepping we variously do.  We have a positive and prudent message to communicate to non-preppers, and in any reasoned discussion with a reasonable person, it is likely they would end up accepting our views, to a greater or lesser extent.  Even if they didn’t immediately start out-prepping ourselves, they would no longer think of us as strange or threatening, and they’d probably make a few positive changes to their own lifestyle and prepping level.

The bad news is that we are like fish trying to swim upstream.  We are having to struggle to get our reasonable and reasoned message heard and appreciated and accepted, in large part because the mass media likes to make fun of preppers and prepping.

Let’s see if we can understand why and how the media have become so negative about prepping in general.

The Evolution of How the Media Treats News

The main stream media – newspapers, television programs, radio shows, and most media outlets in general these days exist more to entertain than to inform.  Even their so-called news programs are based more on entertaining than educating.  This colors the topics the media cover, and the way in which they treat the topics they do pick up.

The media makes money in proportion to the number of people who watch/read/listen to their content, and it is a sad truth that, most of the time, people find it easier to read stories that make them laugh, or which confirm their own beliefs, whether they be correct or not.  Readers prefer stories that make them feel good, rather than stories that make them feel anxious.

This has been a slowly evolving thing.  In the past – say, 50+ years ago – the media took their role as promulgators of news much more seriously and saw their role primarily as educating rather than entertaining.  They were also careful to report on the news fully and reasonably fairly, and to avoid allowing their personal feelings to intrude or influence how they covered the stories they reported on.

But this has slowly but surely evolved over the last some decades.  Television – a primarily visual medium – created a desire to come up with visual content, rather than the earlier type of television news show that features a newsreader sitting at a desk and reading stories from sheets of paper.  At the same time, new printing technologies made it possible and affordable for newspapers to start printing higher qualities pictures, and in color, and so the newspapers became more visually oriented too.

Another change was simultaneously occurring.  People’s attention spans were shortening.  Whereas, 60+ years ago, people could concentrate on a topic for 45 – 50 minutes (hence the reason for the ‘academic hour’ and the length of classes in schools/colleges), these days people have a concentration span of 5 minutes or less.  This means that most topics now are given much shorter treatment than before, and with short treatments comes over-simplification, with much of the nuance and detail being lost.

The ever more intense competition among more and more television stations and other media outlets also made the different media outlets do whatever it took to keep and grow their audience, and this meant that the media started a slide down from being ‘boring’ educators to being ‘interesting and fun’ entertainers.

This change in focus also allowed for another very important change.  While it is probably true that the media’s treatment of anything at any time has always been slightly shaded by the personal opinions and values of the people who select, write, film, edit and present the stories, in the past that was something that the media attempted to obscure, and if exposed, it was something the media would be embarrassed about.

But today the media no longer hide their bias and preferences at all.  A dispassionate analysis of – for example – the media coverage of the last presidential campaign shows more than ten times as many favorable stories about Obama as were present about Romney.  Whereas the media clamored for Romney to disclose tax returns and all sorts of other personal information, the media ridiculed or refused to report on the vast gaps and contradictions in Obama’s limited disclosures about his shadowy past.

Whereas the media delighted in reporting anything that could possibly be described as a misstatement by Romney, the verbal gaffes by Obama (and Biden) were ignored.  Previously the media treated as real and prominently covered documents that were clearly fraudulent, which implied Bush was a draft dodger; but when confronted with the fact that Obama uses a social security number that couldn’t possibly be his, they ignored it.

Here’s a great article documenting the different perspective as between Fox News and MSNBC in the run-up to the Presidential election.

Bottom line :  It seems incontrovertibly true that the main stream media has a left-wing bias.

Prepping as a Controversial Political Statement

Now, you might think that prepping is an apolitical subject that both Democrats and Republicans can agree upon without any political tension, but that’s sadly not the case.  The concept of prepping strikes at one of the fundamental differences in the two political parties – should people be responsible for themselves, or should the government be responsible for people?

As preppers, we are taking responsibility for ourselves and choosing not to rely on the government.  While we do this not because of political ideology but rather because of what we see as unavoidable facts and outcomes – no matter how well intentioned, national government type responses to some types of emergencies will just not be possible.  There are possible scenarios that will necessarily become ‘every man for himself’.

But people who believe the government knows best and should be involved in all aspects of managing the lives of its citizens feel very uncomfortable with this expression of what they see as distrust in the government.  So although prepping is a totally apolitical concept, some people with left-wing preferences – including many/most journalists – view it negatively and inappropriately in political terms.

The Media’s Guiding Principles When They Cover Prepping

Ignoring (if we can) the regrettable political overtones and their media consequences, when the media decide to approach the subject of prepping, how do you think they instinctively decide to shape the story?

Do you think they want to scare their readers, and make them uncomfortable with stories like ‘You’re a Fool if You’re Not a Prepper’ and ‘Are You Storing Enough Food and Water’?  Do they want to tell readers ‘if you’re not preparing extreme solutions for extreme problems, you, your family, your friends, and everyone else around you will probably die one of these days’?

Or do you think the media would get better readership and loyalty by running stories ‘Preppers are Crazy, and You Have Nothing to Fear’ and ‘Don’t Worry, Nothing is Going to Happen’ and ‘If Anything Ever Goes Wrong, the Government Will be Here to Save Us All’.

Feel good stories always win out over fear/bad stories.  Comfort always wins over discomfort.  And humor and sarcasm always wins over careful reason and logic.

The other thing is that it only takes two or three minutes (which is the maximum length a news story is likely to be) to selectively make fun of a randomly selected aspect of prepping, but it would take tens of minutes or even hours to carefully and completely discuss society’s current vulnerabilities and how people should best prepare to respond to them.

So when the media cover prepping, they typically approach it from the desire of creating a reassuring story that will allow their non-prepping audience to relax and feel good about their unpreparedness.  They will want to explain the sometimes visible actions of preppers as being something that normal people don’t need to be concerned about.

For example, prepping came unavoidably into focus after the government’s and aid agencies’ inadequate response to the problems caused by Hurricane Sandy.  The media loved the human interest stories of people suffering from Hurricane Sandy’s effects and consequences, but there came a point where they realized they were creating a monster – by focusing on all the problems and inadequacies in the response to Hurricane Sandy, they realized they were validating the concept of prepping and one of the central premises of the prepping community – that when things go wrong, you can’t rely on other people helping; you have to be able to help yourselves.

So what did they then predictably do?  Visit our article on ‘An Example of Media Bias When Covering Prepping‘ to read an analysis of a USA Today article about prepping written immediately after Hurricane Sandy.

Summary

The media has stereotyped prepping as being non-mainstream, as being odd to the point of crazy, as being vaguely threatening or scary to normal people, and as being something to laugh at and make jokes about, rather than as something to take seriously and carefully think about.

We in turn need to respond by showing ourselves as being normal mainstream people with sensible ideas.  We can best start that process by showing that almost everyone is already a prepper because we all keep spare supplies of various things in our homes already, and we all prepare for disasters by, for example, taking out insurance on our homes, our cars, and our health.  Our article ‘Who Are Preppers‘ talks about this in more detail.

We can also point out the federal and state and local governments all encourage disaster preparedness.  That is what FEMA is all about, after all, and if you do a bit of research, you’ll be able to find the equivalent state agency or the parts of several different state agencies that are involved in state disaster preparedness and response, and possibly similar organizations at county and city levels too.

The only difference between us and anyone else is how much and how extensively we variously prepare.  We’re not crazy, we’re prudent.

When you portray things that way, all of a sudden, being a prepper doesn’t seem quite so bizarre and totally not scary.

If you are approached by the media, this is the line of reasoning you should give.  You are simply doing what the federal, state and local governments encourage everyone to do, and you are merely doing a bit more than everyone does already.  You’re not seeking to overthrow the government, you’re merely wishing to supplement the government’s response by being less needy in the first place.  And, most of all, you’re a normal person, just like your neighbors and everyone else.  You watch ball games, you enjoy beer, you participate in the society around you, and so on.  Prepping is only a small part of your total life.

Nov 192012
 

This picture and headline was the featured front page story in USA Today on 12 Nov 2012.

USA Today – the largest general interest newspaper in the US (the Wall St Journal has a slightly larger circulation but it is more ‘special interest’) ran a major front page headline story on 12 November – you can see their front page photo at the top of this article, and this link takes you to the online version of the story, without the scare picture that jumps out at you from the print edition.

Is this a fair balanced coverage of the concept of prepping?

The Bias in the USA Today Article

I write for a living, and I know all about how the choice of words from a list of apparent synonyms can massively alter the tone of an article.  I know how to make an article seem fair but actually be biased.  I’m not saying I’m the best at such things, and I seldom use such rhetorical trickery myself, but I know it when I see it used elsewhere.

In the case of the USA Today article, the bias leaps off the page at readers.  Indeed, it is so prominent that I saw it out of the corner of my eye while walking past a newspaper box on the street.

The first bit of bias was their choice of photo.  Maybe you think it is really cool to have state of the art gas masks, but surely you’ll also admit that they make the wearer look about as scary/nightmarish/alien as anything ever possibly can do.

USA Today could have chosen any type of picture at all of this family.  They could have had them all wearing their church-going best clothes, seated on a coach in a family ensemble like some people do for formal family photos.  They could have had them standing proudly next to some of their food store in casual clothes.  They could have had them outdoors, and so on.

But for their ‘hero picture’ the newspaper chose to make the family look as scary and as unusual as people ever can look.  Normal people don’t own gas masks, and people who do own gas masks don’t normally wear them (along with the rest of their bio-hazard clothing too).  Anyone looking at that picture will feel an immediate sense of rejection and revulsion, and young children may have nightmares for days afterwards.

Now let’s look at the headline – the next most visible element on the page.  As you can see in the picture, it read

For ‘preppers’, every day could be doomsday

First of all, note what are termed ‘scare quotes’ around the word “prepper”.  By putting that word in quotes, there’s an implication that there’s something unusual or artificial about the term, and thereby, something unusual or artificial about people who call themselves preppers.

Keep reading.  Once you’ve got past the scare quotes on the word prepper, you’ll then be assailed by two more rhetorical devices.  The first is the use of the word ‘doomsday’.  That’s an emotional term that implies despair, incredible defeat, disaster and suffering, and is attached to concepts like nuclear Armageddon, the movie Dr Strangelove, and crazy people wearing hand-written billboards on street corners.

To make the term doomsday even stronger, the headline says that for ‘preppers’, they believe that every day could be doomsday.

So the headline uses a term that is far removed from most people’s normal frame of reference and thinking (doomsday) and then tells us that these strange people – ‘preppers’ – worry that every day might be doomsday.  Normal people not only seldom/never think about a doomsday type event, but they sure don’t think that every day might be doomsday.

So the headline has already broadcast a none-too-subtle message.  These ‘prepper’ folks are plain crazy.  Add that to the picture that ‘proves’ the headline’s claim, and the reader’s perspective has been massively shifted from open-minded and curious to close-minded and rejecting of prepping before he has even read the first word of the text that follows.

Let’s now look at the article’s ‘lede’ – its opening paragraph.  It reads

Terrorists, nukes, Sandy-like storms and financial chaos haunt their dreams.  What to do?  Stock up and head for the hills.

There’s a bunch more emotionally negative words here.  First of all, the story again tells readers that preppers are ‘not like us’, because normal people don’t obsess over terrorists, nukes, massive storms of financial chaos.  Second, the phrase ‘haunt their dreams’ shows us two things – first, that this is all a dream-world rather than a reality, and second, a gentle suggestion that preppers are unbalanced, because they have haunted/nightmarish dreams all the time.

Now, to ‘prove’ the unbalanced nature, the lede closes with a throwaway dismissive summary of what prepping is all about – the suggestion that preppers not only live a life haunted by baseless fears, but also have an irrational response – to ‘stock up and head for the hills’.  The phrase ‘head for the hills’ is another phrase that has a social meaning as being a ‘giving up/running away’ type of action, so now we’re being told that not only are preppers crazy, but also they are defeatist.  All of this is of course completely opposite to the reality of who and what we are.

We’ve not even started to read the article itself, and already we’ve had our thinking carefully massaged to ensure that we completely reject anything to do with the concept of prepping, and anyone who claims to be a prepper.

We’re not going to continue analyzing the actual article itself, but hopefully our look at just the picture, headline and lede has already clearly shown you the biased nature of the article and how it is designed to ridicule preppers and make its readers reject the prepping concepts.

An Alternative Opening that USA Today Could Have Offered

Let’s however just quickly look at another way the article could have been handled.

First, the picture.  A fair treatment of the topic would have the family in a normal type of pose, with normal clothing and normal things – looking like ordinary people, rather than looking like strange and frightening crazy people.

There are many different ways to write a fair headline.  For example, it could say

Ordinary folk are increasingly becoming self-reliant in preparing for future disasters

The lede too can be written any way – positively and neutrally as well as negatively.  For example, it could read

The government’s bungled response to Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent problems suffered by millions, are encouraging more and more Americans to learn to look after themselves, no matter what type of disaster they encounter.

Do you see the difference?  Both approaches introduce the same broad story concept – prepping.

But whereas the USA Today treatment did everything to make ‘preppers’ seem like weird strange people beset by irrational fears, and totally unlike normal people, our alternate treatment emphasizes that preppers are normal people who do normal things in anticipation of normally foreseeable possible problems.  We don’t even use the term prepper (with or without scare quotes) in the headline or lede.

Summary

For a complexity of reasons, most mass media have little interest in fairly and properly covering the subject of prepping (see our article ‘Why the Media is Biased Against Prepping‘ for an explanation why).  Not only do they have little interest in providing a fair explanation of the subject to their audiences, some media outlets actually and actively seek to make fun of prepping and preppers.

If you are approached to be featured in a media item about prepping, you need to be careful not to unintentionally help the media perpetuate the negative stereotypes they often seek to portray.

For more information on how to avoid being tricked into helping the media paint preppers as strange unusual people, please see our articles on what to do if approached by the media (they appear in the linked category).