Aug 102014
 
Who knew there were so many potentially significant health events in the US at present.

Who knew there were so many potentially significant health events in the US at present.

As realistic preppers, we know that we don’t always get unfiltered ‘real’ news and sometimes there are ‘policy issues’ that intrude on how news is shaped and reported.

This is particularly true of enormous potentially world-changing events.  While your local newspaper can be relied upon to be first to break the story if a local cat gets stuck up a tree, and also to give prominence to news that furthers their own ideological agenda, other stories can sometimes get delayed, re-written, or totally ignored.

The good news is that these days the major news outlets – the three traditional television networks and our local newspaper and radio stations – have now been eclipsed by all the other news sources out there, and all equally close to us through the internet, no more than a url and a click away.

The problem is that there are so many of these second and third level news outlets, news gatherers, and news finders that they all tend to get lost in the crowd, and it is hard to know where to find reliable and timely news that is important to us.

One vital thing that we as preppers are very focused on is getting early advance warning of trends and changes that may impact on our society and which may herald an oncoming significant event that might see a Level 1/2/3 scenario as a result.

We like the Drudge Report for general news distribution, but his selections of articles tends to be broadly focused at more or less mainstream readers.  We subscribe to a number of prepper type reader forums as well, but these tend to be a mix of rumor and nonsense, with only occasionally useful/important alerts mixed in with the other content.

The current prominence given to Ebola frankly has us unsettled, but perhaps for the opposite reason to what you might think.  We are puzzled why this present outbreak in West Africa is being given so much exposure and importance.  Is there something the authorities know which they’re not yet telling us?  Is there some other hidden agenda item?

Similar issues sometimes surround other important trends and stories and developments in the world.

We came across an interesting and very useful site today that automatically scans much of the internet for health related news.  It is so good at doing this that it found the first stories about the latest Ebola outbreak nine days before the outbreak was labeled as Ebola, and long before the western press started to write about it.  The site is www.healthmap.org.  It was originally intended as a tool for public health agencies, but it is open for anyone to use and for anyone to sign up for email alerts, and most of their content is in ‘plain English’ rather than in obscure obtuse medicalese.

We see on their event map (using the ‘diseases near me’ feature) that at present it is reporting on the spread of West Nile virus further into the American Redoubt (a mosquito borne virus that is taking over the world and not receiving nearly enough attention).

In addition to the general map, they also have specific tracking projects for diseases such as flu, Dengue Fever (another relatively new but significant entrant into the US) and a ‘Predict’ map that apparently anticipates possible future diseases that are spread from animals to humans.  A lot of good stuff.

They offer a newsletter alert service that we recommend you sign up for.

All in all, a great and free service that hopefully helps us to keep better informed and ahead of health/disease type issues.

Jul 072013
 
The Midland WR300 and the WR-120B are excellent and affordable SAME equipped NWR EAS compatible radios.

The Midland WR300 and the WR-120B are excellent and affordable SAME equipped NWR EAS compatible radios.

We’ve written before about the need to urgently make your way to your shelter if you receive a warning of pending nuclear attack, and about setting a policy for how long you wait for others to join you in your shelter.

But these considerations overlook one vital issue.  How can you get any such warnings of any type of pending disaster that you need to respond to?  It isn’t just pending nuclear Armageddon you have to be worried about, either.  All sorts of weather related events, or other local emergencies – dangerous chemical spills, public safety/law enforcement alerts, and so on – might occur, and it would be advantageous to be among the first to know of such issues.

In scenarios where seconds may literally make a life and death difference to your ability to adequately respond to an urgent threat, you can’t rely on noticing an item on the television news or hearing a special announcement on a regular radio.  You need some type of specific warning system that will grab your attention directly if an urgent warning is issued.

The good news is that there is a national system in place for such warning messages to be promulgated, and it is tied in to the National Weather Service – the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) service.  You can get special radio receivers that will be activated by such warnings (see below for details).

These Emergency Alert System (EAS) emergency messages are sent out with additional data attached to them, specifying the type of alert message and the county it applies to.  Messages can be for a single county, for up to 31 different counties, for an entire state (or multiple states), or for the entire nation.  The geographic tagging of the message is referred to as Specific Area Message Encoding or SAME.

Alert messages fall into one of various different descriptive categories (ranging from Avalanche watch messages to volcano warnings) and have one of four different status codes signifying their degree of immediacy.  The four codes are :

“W” for WARNINGS “A” for WATCHES “E” for EMERGENCIES “S” for STATEMENTS

  • A WARNING is an event that alone poses a significant threat to public safety and/or property, probability of occurrence and location is high, and the onset time is relatively short.
  • A WATCH meets the classification of a warning, but either the onset time, probability of occurrence, or location is uncertain.
  • An EMERGENCY is an event that, by itself, would not kill or injure or do property damage, but indirectly may cause other things to happen that result in a hazard. For example, a major power or telephone loss in a large city alone is not a direct hazard, but disruption to other critical services could create a variety of conditions that could directly threaten public safety.
  • A STATEMENT is a message containing follow-up information to a warning, watch, or emergency.

Emergency and Statement type messages are sometimes grouped together as ‘Advisory’ messages, making for a three level set of categories.

Here’s a list of different message types that might be sent as part of a NWR EAS message.

SAME/EAS Capable Radios

Clearly it makes sense to buy a specific radio designed to receive these types of messages.  The radio, while switched on, would normally be silent and would only come to life if it received a message coded to the county or counties that you wanted to receive alert messages for.

Ideally, you’d want the radio to be mains operated but with a battery backup capability so if the power goes out, the radio will still continue functioning.

You want to be able to program the radio as to which counties you wish to receive alert messages about.  We suggest you should program alerts for adjacent counties as well as your own county, especially if your county is small or you are close to the boundary with another county.

Some radios also allow you to filter out some types of alerts that you don’t want to be advised about – for example, if you live a long way from the coast, you might not be interested in coastal flood warnings, and you might decide to forego receiving child abduction messages no matter where you live.

And, of course, you want to be sure the radio has some type of loud warning device – an alarm or siren – that will sound when it receives a warning so you’ll be instantly notified.

noaaSome radios might be certified as complying with either the Public Alert Standard or as being approved by the NOAA as having the necessary capabilities for the system.  You can see the two logos displayed here.  Radios that are so certified might not be fully featured, and ones that have not paid for the certification may be equally featured or even better.  So these certifications are interesting, but not mandatory.

publicalertWhile some model radios can be expensive, you can also find excellent units for under $30 – for example, this Midland WR-120B which sells for about $25 at Amazon .  If you wanted to spend a bit more, the Midland WR-300 is also a good choice (about $45), but doesn’t have any additional ‘must have’ features compared to its cheaper cousin, the WR-120B.

Summary

All the preparations in the world will be useless if you’re not warned in time to respond to a sudden unexpected threat.

The NWR EAS system might send out warnings in time for you to respond to them, but only if you have a compatible radio receiver that will ‘switch on’ and alarm/alert you when it receives the specific types of warnings you have told it to respond to.

While the NWR EAS system isn’t guaranteed to always give you adequate notice of all pending threats, it certainly increases your odds of being alerted in time to adequately respond.  With compatible radios costing as little as $25, it is something you should invest in.

Dec 252012
 
The Unabomber was portrayed as a 'survivalist' - and vice versa, alas.  Make sure people understand the huge difference between people like that and preppers like yourself.

The Unabomber was portrayed as a ‘survivalist’ – and vice versa, alas. Make sure people understand the huge difference between people like that and preppers like yourself.

It is hard to know what exactly to call ourselves, isn’t it.  And the name we use has been largely chosen for us, and in some cases, has been stolen away from us again.

It is probably fair to agree that we used to consider ourselves – and I hesitate to use this word now – as survivalists.  That was our whole shtick, wasn’t it – we wanted to be sure we could survive whatever adverse situations occurred.

But somehow, the media took over the term whether through ignorance, laziness, or wilfulness (probably equal measures of all three) started using it to describe people very different to ourselves.  White supremacists were now labeled survivalists, as were religious groups, gun lovers, people seeking off-grid lifestyles, and anyone strange and non-mainstream.

Survivalist became increasingly a negative term and concept, via this ‘guilt by association’ trend.  Some people and businesses have found themselves trapped with the name – for example, the very popular survivalblog.com site can not easily rename itself now.

However, the community of people-formerly-known-as-survivalists cast around for another term, and it seems the most common term now is to describe oneself as a prepper – one who prepares for future challenges and problems.  That’s a fine term, and one which hopefully can’t be so easily taken from us and twisted to mean something negative again.

While we now know we are preppers, not survivalists, the general public and the media don’t.  So we need to now help educate them and explain that we are very different to people who are now commonly termed survivalists.  Rather than fight the confusion in the term survivalist, we need to now use it to our own advantage, we should turn a negative into a positive.

The basic concept you want to share is ‘Oh, no, we aren’t survivalists.  We are preppers.  That is a whole different thing!’

Here are some differences between preppers and survivalists.

  • Survivalists reject society, and even encourage and possibly seek its downfall.  Preppers enjoy and like our present society, and hope it never fails.
  • Survivalists choose to live a life outside society.  Preppers are happily integrated into the societies they belong to.
  • Survivalists feel less constrained by the rule of law and normal social convention.  Preppers accept and follow normal social conventions and legal obligations.
  • Survivalists are happy with the most basic of existences.  Preppers realize that our current lifestyles probably can’t be supported or sustained after a major collapse in society, but do the best they can to make their future as comfortable and convenient as possible.
  • Survivalists might happily live in unlined earthen caves and cramped underground bunkers (and sometimes even before a collapse in society).  Preppers seek to create sustainable ongoing positive lives above ground, and will transition to growing their own food rather than living off canned rations as quickly as they can.
  • Survivalists have transitioned to their alternate lifestyle already.  Preppers generally remain leading ‘normal’ lives, but are ready to adapt to future challenges and constraints when and if necessary.
  • Survivalists probably don’t have large inventories of supplies and stores over and above basic food items.  Preppers, probably, do.
  • Both preppers and survivalists probably have guns.  But a prepper lawfully owns the guns he has, and does not seek out fully auto weapons, and owns his guns only for hunting and defensive rather than aggressive reasons.
  • Survivalists generally tend to be more solitary.  Preppers, ideally, would prefer to be part of a larger community of like-minded folk.

You can probably think of more differences too between being a survivalist and being a prepper.  But these preceding eight points should get you started if you ever need to differentiate between being a survivalist and a prepper, and to explain to friends (or media) what it is you are and what it is you aren’t.

In other words, being a prepper is all about positively preparing to succeed in an uncertain future.  That’s a good thing, not a bad thing, right?  While people might be anxious at having a survivalist next door, they should welcome the presence of a prepper.

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).

Sep 012012
 

Don’t be secretive about your support of prudent prepping. But don’t shout it out at everyone all the time, either.

It is easy for us preppers to feel isolated; indeed, a key part of choosing an ideal retreat location is to seek out a measure of isolation and remoteness.

Even though the concept of prepping is becoming more widely understood, the unfortunate fact is that by far the majority of the people around us have no interest in prepping, and view it as a cross between something slightly strange and something threatening, almost as something akin to plotting to overthrow the government.

This surely doesn’t make it any easier for us to be open about what we believe and do.  One survey recently suggested that there are now more than 3 million preppers in the country.  That’s good, but it leaves more than 300 million people who are not preppers, and that’s not so good.

And then there is the doctrine of ‘op-sec’ – something many preppers misunderstand and misapply – that seems to require us to be secretive about all aspects of our prepping.

All of this creates a perfect Catch-22 and self-fulfilling prophecy.  By being furtive and secretive about our prepping, we not only imply that there is something to be ashamed or embarrassed about, but we allow the naysayers to ridicule us and shape overall public awareness and perception into a form that generally disapproves and rejects the concept of prepping.

Becoming Positive Opinion Leaders

Perhaps if we were all more open and positive about what we do, we would help to bring prepping into the mainstream of society’s awareness, and make it more generally accepted as a good and sensible thing.  After all, everyone prepares for disasters to some degree and extent; the only difference is that we prepare more thoroughly than do most other people.  It isn’t a difference as stark as that between, say, communism and democracy, it is more like the difference between Libertarians and Republicans – both groups share many views in common to start with.

You almost surely have friends who spend lots of money on their hobbies and interests.  Maybe you know someone with a motor home.  That could be a $100,000+ investment up front, plus plenty more in ongoing costs, maintenance, and so on.  Maybe you know a keen golfer, and when you start to look at the money he (or she) spends on golf clubs, clothing, professional lessons, memberships, green fees, travel to far away courses and golfing events, they can be spending tens of thousands of dollars every year, and spending hundreds of hours of time in the process.

And so on, through all sorts of other interests.  In all such cases, the people who have these interests are not shy about sharing their interests with anyone and everyone.  Indeed, some of them become colossal bores and want to speak about nothing else, even to people who don’t share their same interests.

Now we’re not suggesting you should become a colossal bore, but we are suggesting that you shouldn’t avoid talking about your interest – your prepping activities and values.

If you have a retreat, there’s no need to call it your wilderness mountain man survival cabin to help you survive Armageddon.  Instead you can talk about your second home/holiday home/retreat, as a lifestyle enhancing investment for now, and as a hedge against any future issues too.  That is a positive way of explaining your interest.  After all, the money your friend spends each year on his hobby is probably money gone forever, but the money you spend on developing a retreat is an appreciating and lasting investment.  With the notable exception of the last few years, any real estate investment can reasonably be expected, over the longer term, to appreciate in value and bring a profitable return to its owner.

When things happen in the news, and you and your co-workers discuss them around the coffee maker or photocopier at the office, you can gently add your own prepping perspective.  For example, as we write this, Hurricane Isaac’s impacts on the New Orleans area are just starting to subside.  Typical office chit-chat about events such as this is ‘how horrible it was for the people affected’, but it is a passive sort of concern with an underlying smugness (unstated) of ‘thank goodness it would never happen to us, here’ (assuming of course you don’t live in the next parish over from Orleans or Jefferson!).

There’s an opportunity for you there to say something like ‘I wonder what people in this area would do if we had some sort of disaster strike here, too’.  Depending on where you are, you might be able to cite a local vulnerability – maybe your area has a low risk of earthquake, or flood, or is coastal and so vulnerable to tsunamis, or has a nuclear reactor not far away, or a volcano that conceivably might surprise everyone and erupt, or who knows what else.

Your point isn’t so much the specificity of any particular threat, but rather the question of what would the people in your area do if such a thing impacted on them.  If you can get people thinking about that, you’re halfway to having a positive discussion about prepping in general.  Don’t be aggressive at forcing a conversation your way, and ensure you suppress any type of smugness you might feel about your own resilience to disasters of all kinds.  But simply raise the issue, and focus on the people who look thoughtful, rather than the ones who shrug it off as not a problem that would never happen, and who cares, because if it did, the government would come along to save the day and help everyone.

Such brief and casual conversations, repeated occasionally but not too frequently, will help you to decide who in the group of people you interact with are open-minded to the concept of prepping, and who are uninterested or close-minded.  In a gentle and slow manner, you can befriend the more open-minded people, and start to share a bit more about your concerns and what you do to counter those concerns and respond to the risks you perceive.

Don’t be a Single Minded Bore

We spoke before about people who are very one-dimensional.  All they seem to be interested in, and all they talk about, is whatever their particular fixation may be.  Maybe they are a dedicated equestrian.  You know that no matter how any conversation starts, it will inevitably twist and turn and end up with them telling you about their new saddle, or their riding experience the last weekend, and so on and so on.

You not only find yourself avoiding that person, but you also find yourself slightly put off the concept of horses in general.  If liking horses makes a person so myopically focused only on horses, then you sort of choose to avoid any contact with horses and horse enthusiasts, for fear of being ‘infected’ yourself and becoming, in turn, a colossal bore too.  (Our apologies to horse lovers – and we like horses ourselves – we’re just using this as an example, not as a real issue!)

It is the same with you and prepping.  You need to show yourself as an ordinary and interesting person with a broad range of interests, and you want to only very sparingly and occasionally allow prepping to enter into your conversations.  Don’t become the slightly strange/weird person in the office, and don’t encourage people to see prepping as being something that makes people become slightly strange and weird.

One thing you can do, and one time when you should lead conversations to the concept of prepping, is to be sure to distinguish your view of ‘normal’ prepping from occasional stories in the media about extremists and the way that extremists are somehow often bundled together with preppers.  You’re not an extremist, you don’t have a swastika tattoo on your chest (well, we hope you don’t!), and you don’t have a week’s worth of food conveniently stashed away in the inner parts of your mountain-man beard (again, we surely hope you don’t).  You are a normal person, ‘one of the guys’, and your interest in prepping is a similarly normal thing and an integrated part of your normal balanced life.

How to Advocate and Explain Prepping

There is a temptation to make prepping seem like a very special sort of thing, and a thing which, alas, very few people comprehend.  But this risks alienating people before they’ve even started to consider what prepping is and if/how they could integrate it into their own lifestyles.

In discussing prepping, you always need to make it seem like an easy concept that people can integrate into their regular lifestyles.  The easier it is to do something, the more likely it is people will choose to do it.

For example, if becoming a cigarette smoker and addict was an enormously complex process that involved expensive special equipment, and consumed a lot of time, and could only be done in special places, and required you to fill out paperwork, pass a test, and get a license, few people would decide to do so.  But instead, as many people know from personal experience, at a young and impressionable age, someone you respect or like offers you a ‘quick puff’ of a cigarette, and then generously shares their own cigarettes with you, and over time what is a special ‘one-off’ occasional event becomes integrated more and more into your life.  You feel the need to reciprocate your friend’s generosity, and you buy a pack of cigarettes yourself, so as to be able to share them with your friend the next time a situation arises where you will have a cigarette, and then all of a sudden, you find yourself somewhere without your enabling friend, but in a situation where, if he (she) were present, you’d probably have a smoke, and, with the packet of cigarettes nearby, you have one by yourself, and before you know it, you’re a pack a day smoker.

Now, don’t get us wrong.  We’re not saying that prepping is addictive or a bad habit or anything!  We’re simply showing how a person’s lifestyle evolves in small steps.  Most of the things that these days are core parts of your life and lifestyle started off small and only over time evolved to become important.  Maybe you have strong political views and are active in that scene.  You weren’t born that way, were you.  You slowly grew into that interest and activity.

It is the same with prepping.  Don’t immediately start urging everyone you meet to spend millions of dollars in building an underground survival bunker in their back yards (indeed, we hope you’ll never suggest that!).  Instead, take their present levels of preparations and make suggestions for slight enhancements of those.  Of course they already keep spare food in their pantry, spare lightbulbs somewhere, a flashlight and batteries, and other sorts of entry-level preparations.  They have insurance on their house and car, medical insurance on themselves and their other family members.  When they go out somewhere, if the weather is uncertain, they bring a jacket or umbrella to prepare for the possibility of bad weather.

Help them to see how they are already a prepper.  All they need to do now is think about preparing some more.  The thing is that the more people start to prepare, the more they realize that they have a lifestyle worth protecting and preserving, and the more committed they become to extending their preparations to counter more difficult situations.

The chances are that your state, county or city government has some type of disaster preparedness advice on their website, urging everyone in the community to keep various supplies and resources.  Use that as a talking point.  The next time there’s a power outage in the area, discuss what you and they would do if a power outage affected you too.

You need to first encourage new potential preppers to consider how they could and would respond to mild problems before you drop them in the deep end of severe national crisis type challenges.  Help them become better able to withstand a Level 1 challenge before you start to talk about levels 2 and 3.

Before you know it, maybe they’ll be going to Costco with you and buying a bulk pack of AA batteries and a dozen spare lightbulbs.  That’s a bit like a person’s first puff on their first cigarette.  Next time they might buy a pail of 25 year shelf stable dehydrated food.  And so on and so on.

Maybe you’ll invite them to spend a weekend at your retreat and maybe they’ll be interested in becoming part of your retreat community, and gradually over time, they’ll become as enthusiastic and active as you are at preparing for the uncertainties of the future.

More Preppers = Less Risk

Here’s the key thing.  If we had to sum up the biggest vulnerability that we confront today, it is the fact that 99+% of the population is unprepared for disaster of any/all kinds.  Our problem is not so much the potential for disaster to occur, but rather the dysfunctional way that our society would respond when a disaster did occur.

If everyone in our community was well prepared, then the outcome of a disaster would be mild and moderate.  We’d have no social breakdown, we’d not have people starving in the streets in a matter of days, and looters would be kept at bay by a determined lawful majority of people.

Even if half the people were well prepared, it would probably be possible for the half who were well prepared to assist the half who were not, and to avoid a meltdown of the city.

So the more people we can encourage to join us in preparing for adverse events in the future, the safer we make ourselves.  If our neighbors are no longer people who potentially will be threatening us and attacking us to get our food and supplies from us, but rather, if they’ll be part of our ‘neighborhood watch’ and sharing their various supplies with us and our various supplies, our situation and our security is enormously boosted.

In a Level 1 situation, the more people in your neighborhood who are at least moderately prepared to withstand a short-term disruption to the normal services in our society, the fewer problems you will have, and the less likely it is you’ll have to escalate your response to a bug-out point and making it into a Level 2 situation.

And, in a Level 2 or 3 situation, the more people who will join with you in a community retreat, the better off you’ll all be.  You will have been able to share in the up-front costs of developing the retreat in the first place, enabling you to get more resource overall for less money per person, and you’ll then have more people to share with you in the ongoing business of living in the retreat and creating a self-sufficient lifestyle into the future.

The best thing you can do to prepare for a safe future for you and your loved ones is to help the people around you to similarly prepare for their safe futures, too.  You make the other people in your world become assets and supporters, rather than liabilities and detractors.  So, not only for their benefit, but for your own benefit too, you need to become a careful and positive advocate of the prepping concept.

Two Final Thoughts

First, if you are in the greater Puget Sound area, we are always pleased to address any type of group of people, giving a presentation on prepping in any form and at any level you’d like.  We can bring high quality a/v materials with us, and provide an interesting, thought-provoking and positive presentation.

We’ll do this for free, because just as you benefit from surrounding yourself with fellow preppers, so do we, too.

If you’re not within an easy drive of Puget Sound, we’ll still come present to any sort of group as long as you agree to cover our direct costs associated with doing so.  If you’re looking for an interesting ‘twist’ to your next convention or conference or whatever, here’s a way you can introduce prepping to a group of non-preppers and also make your overall program seem more interesting and distinctive.  We are experienced public speakers and can positively enhance any meeting activity.

Secondly, the need to build a prepping community does definitely extend beyond having your neighbors buy a generator and lay in some canned goods for the next windstorm that blows down the power lines, or the next snowfall that closes off the roads.  You need to have, build, or join a community for Level 2 and 3 situations, too.  If you can create your own community, we’d love you to come and be our neighbors in our selected part of ID/MT.  Or, better still, please consider becoming part of our Code Green community.