The light in the media spotlight has grown harsher. The continuing bear market and a rush to revive ratings has caused broadcasters and reporters to ask much tougher questions these days.

"Reporters have become more sophisticated and educated about the issues, so they are asking harder questions," said Bill Blase, president of W.T. Blase & Associates, a PR and media training firm in New York.

Both broadcast and print reporters are making a push for more substantive information. "It's been a tough couple of years, and reporters want specifics people can act on," Blase said.

The new attitude among the press is: Don't just tell me something, but tell my why and be as explicit as you can.

A few years ago, fund managers would have been merely asked to describe their investment strategy, said Dan Sondhelm, vice president and partner with SunStar, a PR and media relations firm in Alexandria, VA. Now, they're being told: Your fund is down X%, so why should our audience listen to what you have to say, Sondhelm noted.

Questions have turned negative, producers are looking to more hard-hitting questions and, in some cases, broadcasters have taken to offending interviewees, he added. In some cases, portfolio managers are feeling as if they have been personally attacked.

"The market itself makes for tougher interviews," said J.T. Tuskan, vice president and director of marketing and corporate communications for Federated Investors in Pittsburgh, which built an in-house TV studio in late 1999. The period from 1998 through 2000 was a fun time for everyone, and the questions weren't difficult. Everyone had funds with strong performance, so there were lots of opportunities for managers to talk about their top three stocks, he said.

Now, the media is quick to remind fund skippers how badly those stocks have done. "For many managers, their personal credibility is being put on the line," Tuskan said.

Also gone are the days when interview schedules were plotted out four months in advance. Financial channels that have shifted to being topic-focused are now asking at the 11th hour for managers to be a Johnny-on-the-spot with little or no prep time.

Broadcasters are also becoming much more particular about whom they interview and whom they invite back. In the past, someone with decent credentials was a shoe-in. Now, producers probe to see just how well versed someone is on a specific topic, even limiting some guests only to those with positive returns, and if their answers don't hit the mark exactly, they're a-goner.

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