Material WP5 Media Training Ispra
Media refer to news as ‘stories’. However, newspapers and radio also include longer more detailed items that they refer to as features. These offer a deeper insight into an issue, initiative or problem and give people a better opportunity to speak for themselves. Media focus on audiences – you are in competition for media space Good media are essential for democracy, but media are very focused on their audiences.
All media – newspapers, radio, TV or Internet – seek to maximise audiences. Competition for readers, listeners, viewers or website visitors is intense. Although most media feel that they provide a public service, what they publish or broadcast is focused on what they believe to be of interest to their audience. One journalist put it like this: “Sometimes someone asks ‘Why did you emphasise that part of the story?’ The answer is simple.
That is what I thought would most interest my readers.” To change media perception of what is important, you have to persuade media that what you want to emphasise will interest their audience. To some extent, you have to put yourselves in the shoes of a journalist and be aware that you are competing with all other sources of news – some inside your sector, some that have nothing to do with it.
First-hand sources, diverse opinions As far as possible, news stories are based on primary sources –people who take part in events or who observe events first-hand. Journalists will be more interested in your story if you were present or involved, or can lead them to someone who was. In terms of cancer registries and the figures they produce you are indeed the primary source.
You are the expert who can speak with authority on this topic and who knows the strengths and weaknesses of the data and the stories they tell. You should not be surprised if media also interview someone who has a different opinion from yours. Diversity is part of good journalism. When facts are complex or controversial, there will be many different versions of the same event or issue. One aim of your organisation should be to become a regular source of news and opinion on your special area of interest, but you are unlikely to be the only source.
Confidential sources A source may offer information to the media in confidence, i.e. on the understanding that his/her identity will not be disclosed. Confidential sources may fear they will lose their job or be attacked, or may simply not want their names in the public domain. The media will respect a source’s wish to protect his or her identity. However, an identified source is generally considered more credible. Any arrangement of this sort (e.g. a patient giving an interview about his or her experience) must be clearly agreed in advance.
‘Off the record’ ‘Off the record’ means that neither the source’s identity, nor the information may be reported. Offering information in this way is only appropriate in exceptional circumstances. Never tell a journalist something ‘off the record’ unless you know the journalist well and he or she agrees, in advance, to hear it on these terms. It is not fair on journalists and is not safe for you. If you do not want them to publish it, why are you telling them?