Home Depot lays off 500 people at its Atlanta HQ. It’s a big story. The best way to chase the story is to talk with beleaguered just-fired employees. To find them, the TV reporter beelines to the HQ parking lot. He camps out at the exit. He tries to chat with those who’ve just lost their jobs and are leaving the premises, possibly forever.
It’s an ugly assignment, no question. To produce a story, you only need a couple of the just-fired to talk predictably on camera.
“My gosh, I had no idea!”
“Not sure what I’ll do next!”
And if you get lucky, you’ll get somebody to emote: “How will I feed my family without a job?” Yeah, a soudbite like that would be considered a stroke of good luck if you’re a TV reporter.
It’s one of those how-do-you-sleep stories. Deep down, the reporter knows this: Home Depot probably doesn’t want those ex-employees talking to the news media. In fact, some of the employees hurrying out have probably said exactly that to the mic-holding reporter. And Home Depot has a carrot: It has offered to help those laid-off folks relocate elsewhere within the company. The employee has good reason to drive past those reporters camped at the top of the HQ parking lot exit.
But the reporter has no options. His boss won’t let him off the hook. The boss knows that the story won’t be worth a damn without a laid-off employee or two talking on camera. And your TV competitors are camped out at the same exit, staking out the same folks.
A few — it only takes a couple — employees stop anyway. Their minds are already reeling. They haven’t stopped to consider the ramifications of talking to the smiling, friendly reporters beckoning them at the exit. They stop. They chat. They speak from the heart, then drive off.
Maybe after they appear on TV, they get a phone call from an ex-coworker: Did I just see you on the news? Do you really think Home Depot is going to bust its hump to re-hire you after you’ve spouted off to the media? D’oh!
To the TV reporter, it’s a soundbite in a 70 second package. The TV reporter rationalizes: Surely, an upstanding company like Home Depot wouldn’t punish a laid-off employee for talking to the media. If it does, by gosh — we’ll do an exposé on it!
To the ex-employee, it may be a catastrophic and irretrievable mistake. And another solid citizen learns to distrust the news media. Which, incidentally, was just doing its job.