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Protecting Your Notes from News Cameras

Protecting Your Notes from News Cameras

Last week, news cameras caught a glimpse of a note card given to the President Joe Biden, alerting him that he had “something on (his) chin.” It’s not the first time snooping news cameras with powerful lenses have captured readable images of private notes.

Taking photos and video of speaker notes at public events has become a favorite media tactic. Here’s how to prevent your notes from being photographed.

  • You’ve probably made notes on remarks prepared for media events and speaking engagements dozens of times, but would you want to share those prompts publicly? Most notes may not be newsworthy, although you never know when something you think is benign could be viewed as news by an enterprising journalist. Given the trend of notes being photographed, it would be wise to take steps to avoid having your private scribblings made public without your permission.
  • There are steps you can take to help lessen the chances you’ll have this problem. Simply folding the note, in this latest example, might have kept its contents from prying news cameras.
  • Another way to prevent this is to better manage media access at your events. Deploy a belt stanchion system like those used at banks, to establish a line between you and the audience, preventing camera access behind or near the podium. Photographers will be quick to say they need reverse angle shots for their reports. But you can say that cameras moving around behind you while you’re speaking are a distraction and hamper your ability to concentrate on your message and the audience. Tell the media they can get those shots standing along the wall immediately in front of the first row of chairs. They don’t need to be behind you or anywhere near you to get what they need for their stories.
  • Watch out for powerful telephoto lenses. Cameras far away can still get a shot of your notes. A camera in the back of the room can see what you’ve written if the notes are not behind a podium.
  • Most publicized instances of “note photography” have occurred when the speakers were holding the notes as they spoke. If you step in front of the podium don’t take your notes with you. Likewise, don’t hold them up or in front of you for all to see.
  • Do not leave your notes behind. When you have finished speaking, fold your notes so they cannot be seen and tuck them away in a bag or inside coat pocket. Reporters have been known to casually walk past the podium when others aren’t looking in hopes of grabbing abandoned copies of remarks and note cards. 
  • If you expect to be swarmed by people wanting to speak with you after your presentation, direct a staff member to get your remarks or notes off the podium immediately once you’ve stepped away. Better still, fold the notes and hand them to a staff member for safekeeping when leaving the dais.
  • Journalists will sometimes ask speakers for their remarks following their speeches, and some have unknowingly provided their copies on the spot. Do not do that. If you have not already provided copies at the door, before or after the event, tell the reporter you’ll have a copy emailed to them. The reporter heard the speech, recorded it, and took notes. They do not need your copy of the remarks to write the story. They’re fishing. Don’t bite.

By Robert Johnson, Strategic Communications Officer, Riester Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.