A few tips for small orgs on dealing with the press

The past week I’ve been working on a news story that required contacting small Christian charities for their opinions. This took me back to days when I was doing this more often and finding the experience a tad frustrating. Anglican dioceses often had some particularly interesting media strategies… perhaps I’m impatient because I used to deal with large, well-funded corporate PR teams. However I thought of a few tips to help a small charity serve journalists better – which could lead, hopefully, to more awareness of the charity in the media and the wider community. If you’re doing something great, it’s worth trying to let people know about it!

  • Respond to a journalist’s query as soon as possible, even if just to find out more, or to tell them that you won’t be able to comment quickly. Aim to reply within two hours and have any comment ready within 24 hours. If there’s only one person who can talk to the media, make sure there’s someone else who can take calls in their absence or when on holiday.
  • If the only means of contact on your website is a contact form, general email address or phone line with an answering machine, make sure they’re checked regularly and the people who check them know they should pass on a media query quickly.
  • It is probably wise to be cautious with journalists, before you know what they’re after. However avoidance is not the best strategy.
  • If you are interviewed and you want to check your quotes before publication, be aware that some publications don’t allow journalists to do this. Check facts rather than trying to self-censor or change what you said into corporate gobbledegook. For example, if the journalist (accurately) quotes you saying, “I don’t like hymn books, they’re outdated,” don’t try to change this to “hymn books can be a wonderful addition to a multi-media offering in a dynamic congregation that is reaching out to all generations in the local context, though complementary digital vertical offerings can best serve some sections of our situated population.” Journalists, and readers, tire of double-talk – if you don’t want to say something clearly, best not to say anything.
  • In other words, statements are best given with as little corporate speak as possible, saying what you mean as plainly as possible.
  • Don’t say anything ‘off the record’ without checking what the journalist means by this. It usually means (to the journo) that the information can be used, but you won’t be quoted by name. It doesn’t mean the information won’t be used at all.

In a nutshell, there’s not much point in spending several days getting approval for a long, carefully crafted and nuanced statement if a) it’s not saying anything comprehensible or interesting or b) it’s too late. Either way, the journalist won’t use it.

But, the media can be a great way to get your ideas and your actions across to the wider public. You don’t need expensive PR agencies – some are terrible, anyway! Some of the best PRs I’ve known have been one-man bands – they’re just very good at understanding what journalists (and their employers) need, and supplying accordingly. And if you deal with one query well, it’s likely the journalist will come back to you in the future.

Media folk – feel free to comment with your suggestions…

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Evidence of media bias: airbrushing Christianity out of the (positive) news story

Christians are pretty used to having the positive fruits of our faith being erased from history. The media will happily tag the label ‘Christian’ to ranting or philandering pastors when they hit the headlines, the atrocities of the Crusades or Westboro Baptist Church.

Yet in the secular media, our faith is rarely, if ever, associated with the true inspirations of Christianity: Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Josephine Butler. Such people are presented as modern day humanists, rather than the devout and conservative believers in Christ that they really were, motivated by their faith.

So it’s also the case for modern believers.

Earlier this year, successful rugby player Jason Robinson talked to an ITV programme about how he once contemplated suicide. What changed? His Born-Again team-mate, Va’aiga Tuigamala, talked to him about God, and Jason found new life in Christ:

I honestly believe the Lord sent him. He came to me and said: ‘I’m concerned about you. I had a dream about you last night. You were stood on top of the world and as I watched, slowly from underneath you, the world started to crumble.’ The Bible talks about repenting [changing your mind] and asking the Lord into your life. That’s what I did. After I said it, I felt something lift. Had it not been for him I certainly wouldn’t have the hope that I’ve got now. And hope is something that people can’t take away.

Yet, most of the secular media that reported the story totally ignored the main part of the story. Reports from The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Mirror, and the ITV website, all totally ignored that it was Christian faith that changed Robinson’s life.

There was a brief mention in The Telegraph, Wigan Today, and the Yorkshire Evening Post, but it’s very brief.

Is there anything we can do about this? I’m seeing more and more anti-Christian rhetoric and propaganda on social media, even in people I’d have thought would be open and tolerant.

In the meantime, read about Jason’s faith in his own words from a Christian site:

A player called Va’aiga Tuigamala (Inga) joined my club, Wigan.  As I watched him it was obvious that he had something I did not have, something that I wanted.  He played the same game as me, but didn’t need all the going out and drinking that I did. He was at peace with himself.  He was the happiest man in the place.  I talked to him about it and he explained his faith.  I became a Christian.

(Does believing in Jesus Christ make a difference?) I am leading a better and more fulfilled life than I ever lived. I have been a better father, a better husband, and 100 times better morally than I was before.

Humanists launch a new ad campaign: I chat to their chief exec

The British Humanist Association has just launched a new advertising campaign on the London Underground. Under the heading, “What’s it all for?” the posters feature quotes from atheists such as AC Grayling and novelists like Virginia Woolf. Partly it’s to rival BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the day’ which continues to be religious.

I rang up the chief executive of the BHA this morning, Andrew Copson. He was more friendly than the folk in certain other secularist organisations. It was an interesting exercise in conversing with someone from a different point of view, while asking my questions about the campaign.

I think most Christians would say that there is very little broadcasting that they can relate to as Christians: what little there is, such as Songs of Praise, is often designed more for the older generation, or can come from a very liberal point of view. I suspect other religions might feel the same. But it seems that this feeling is the same for humanists.

This surprises me, because to me, almost everything on TV and radio has an underlying humanist worldview and secularist assumptions, which are definitely not neutral. I’d love to see some quantitative evidence of to what extent religious and humanist views are expressed on TV, and whether they’re given a positive or negative light.

In any case, the conversation did help me to understand this guy’s point of view, at least a little bit. Perhaps we all notice opinions that are different to ours much more often than we do our own. The difficult thing is to communicate with the people holding those opinions, but that’s the way we come to understand each other.