UN-NG0 Briefings - Dated: November 11,2010
On: "Attracting Media: What Makes NGO Stories News"
From left to right: Matthew Lee, Linda Fasulo, Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Patrick Kiernan, Patrick Sciarratta.
Each Fall and during the Winter/Spring Briefing Seasons, Communications Workshops are organized with the objective of teaching our NGO Community new and useful communication skills to assist them in more effectively disseminating public information messages to their diverse target audiences. The Fall Communications Workshop, which took place on Thursday, November 11, 2010, was an opportunity for NGOs to discuss how to attract media attention to their many activities and programmes. NGOs are involved in diverse activities, which seem to get little or no media attention. The last week’s Briefing looked at what makes news and more importantly, what NGOs can do to ensure that their agenda gets the attention of mainstream media so that their many programmes and events can be better covered.
In today’s world, people are overwhelmed with the ever increasing amount of news and information from so many diverse sources. Yet ironically this makes it more difficult for NGO stories, no matter how worthy, to attract press attention. NGOs therefore need to understand better what the media look for in a story and what they need to do to attract media interest in their work.
Report and Photos by:
Sirin CENGIZALP, Lightmillennium.org
The below report is based on the morning session of the UN/DPI-NGO Briefings, which represented the topic "Attracting Media: What Makes NGO Stories News" from the perspective of members of the media that featured a number of well known New York news anchors and correspondents that took place at the Salvation Army Auditorium in New York City on November 11, 2010.
The panel of experts shared their knowledge and experiences on what the media is looking for in covering a story, what in their view makes news and how NGOs can become the news (www.un.org/dpi/ngosection).
Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, was the moderator of the briefing, Information Officer, NGO Relations, Department of Public Information, and she stated the following: "In today’s world, people are overwhelmed with the ever-increasing amount of news and information from so many diverse sources. Yet ironically this makes it more difficult for NGO stories, no matter how worthy, to attract press attention. NGOs therefore need to understand better what the media look for in a story and what they need to do to attract media interest in their work."
Highlights of the presentations:
Linda Fasulo was the first speaker of the Briefing. Throughout her professional career Ms. Fasulo covered the UN off and on for about 20 years. According to her presentation, at certain period of time there’s a wide range of receptivity part of the media to UN news in general. When she started, which was in late 1990; it was very difficult even a UN journalist to get UN news if there was any in that point. Because in 1990 there was still frozen by the Cold War that the UN Security Council was largely paralyzed. On the other hand, there were at least full-time journalists, which were very few and far from the need, because there just was no interest to the UN news. Ms. Fasulo explained about how it changed: "A lot of that changed in August 2nd, 1990; that date might sound familiar to many of you, that’s when Saddam Hussein invaded of Kuwait." Ms. Fasulo described those days as, ”I have to tell you my life as a journalist, as a diplomatic correspondent along with many other journalists’ lives changed. Iraq was a big issue; I own my career as a diplomatic correspondent to Saddam Hussein, I know, he was a ruthless dictator; he was vicious, major human rights violator." Because of the conflict in Iraq, a great attention focused on UN, and that’s how Ms. Fasulo started to cover the UN full-time. At the beginning of her UN career, she argued that UN is a big part of NYC, and it should be covered it at least as local issue. But that did not happened until Saddam Hussein opened the door, and he opened the door in a big way; because what happened was it wasn’t just Iraq that the correspondents were covering, she explained. Ms. Fasulo had done most of her reports about Iraq one-way or another. What it did was it allowed journalists suddenly to branch out. With that much more interest started in UN. She commented that before, there was bias against UN, but that has changed in 1990s, particularly on the UN Security Council. Because the Security Council plays a major role in the world. There was lots of coverage in the 1990s until the early part of this decade. However, since then it has changed because Security Council isn’t viewed as major player as it was in a few years ago. But of course, all that can change in any moment, Ms. Fasulo said. And, continued, "There was a tremendous cut back in the number of full-time correspondents at the UN, because again coverage is news driven, and if not much is going on it is very difficult to get on stories that may not be top breaking news of the day," Ms. Fasulo stated.
"You have to do your homework; you have to know, which media or organizations most likely to be interested in your issues."
In her conclusion, Ms. Fasulo made vital recommendations to the UN-NGO community about how to "Attracting Media: What Makes NGO Stories News", which is also inline with the theme of the Briefing. Ms.Fasulo's observations and recommendations are: "There are many NGOs, which are very effective in getting coverage, and a lot of it depends on several factors. The first one is; it is very important, that you have an important event, an issue, a report, a conference or whatever it is that you feel is news worthy. It is very privilege to target the media. You have to do your homework; you have to know which media or organizations most likely to be interested in your issues. It supposed to be interested, because we don’t want our time to be wasted. The second thing is; you need be to very selective in the media campaigns. It has to get a reality check because not all news have equal value so you have to decide carefully, select maybe one issue once or twice a year and focus on it, develop a campaign. Also if you are not a big organization, which is nationally known, it is important that you develop relationships with the press. Try to establish a relationship with them before your big story."
(Left) Patrick Kiernan, Anchor, NY1 News - (Right) Matthew Lee, Blogger
Patrick Kiernan stated that we-as the NY1- evaluate a story based on a filter, and there is no good way of explaining what that filter is. Because of the bloggers and the publishers in the Internet, the mainstream media is loosing their importance. It is easier now to publish a story on the Internet but it is tougher to get the attention of the mainstream audience. NY1 and other mainstream media organizations prefer to cover the stories that socially important and economically important and politically important, so this is one of our criteria. Another factor would be is, if something previously reported, that can work both ways that could be previously reported so the correspondents may want to do follow up and keep reporting it. Furthermore correspondents prefer stories that are surprising, for instance, the dog bites the man story is mostly common but the man biting the dog sounds more interesting and news worthy. Stories that are on trend are also important to them. Something that has been discussed a lot recently would be also our preferential. Choosing the right time for getting the media’s attention is also very crucial factor. For instance, Senator Charles Schumer is fantastic about this, 40 out of 52 Sundays of every year he calls news conference at the morning about some issues, which is reasonably important but might not get coverage in other time. He has been very good at figuring out what is the best time for getting coverage. Last but not least the deadline aspect is also very important in this business. Correspondents, reporters need to achieve by the time they need it. If there is a reporter who is without a story, and has two hours till the end of the day, they can pick up the phone and report the entire story on the telephone and file it before they leave. In conclusion, there is no secret recipe for getting reporters to cover your story most of these decisions are made on the same day after they see what else they have on their list of possible news stories, and it really combination of all these factors and just a little bit of luck whether the story gets covered or not.
"The UN, they had a policy that UN did not accredit bloggers."
Matthew Lee shared his unique experience with the NGO community at the Briefing saying that; “when I first got into the UN, they had a policy that UN did not accredit bloggers. That’s why I like these DPI presentations because UN made certain changes in their policies. I write 3-4 stories a day about UN at the website called "innercitypress.com”. In addition to that Mr. Lee also writes stories about strikes by the UN, complaints against Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the discovery of bedbugs in the library of UN. As he stated, Mr. Lee also get lots of stuff from NGOs in terms of covering UN since a lot of them are very useful. Most of the correspondents focusing on UN everyday, which are Reuters AP, AFP pretty much they are covering is Security Council meetings, nuclear proliferation on Iran, about the Middle East, about North Korea, now Sudan somewhat, and mostly they deal with the NGOs that focus on human rights, groups that have something to say. There is also less Security Council stories that people take interest in; for instance in 11/10/10 there was an election for the Board of UN Women Agency. According to Mr. Lee’s observation to some degree there was a mainstream media interest in it, a lot of them had to do with Iran was almost put on the Board, Timor-Leste was come for as a candidate. US Mission to the UN promoted the story as very much like our victory over Iran. UNDP has huge communication staff; they make their own videos. They are not looking for UN problems, but they looking for something that could be done better whether it is the UN could do it better, or government could do it better. If your organization have something important pass it in, may be it will be quoted may be it won’t be quoted but if it is your mission then it should be important. Mr. Lee encourages NGOs to share their information on the record and wants them to be quoted rather than sharing their information off the record.
"NGO Reporter now has relationship with constant contact and it is far less expensive than before..."
Mr. Patrick Sciarratta explained that since NGO Reporter became online, and what is great about this is that NGO Reporter now has relationship with constant contact and it is far less expensive than before, and its constant contact does the favor of cleaning up their list so NGO Reporter doesn’t get any return emails. They, team of NGO Reporter, invite everyone who is affiliated with NGO/DPI and with ECOSOC to be on their list and receive the NGO Reporter. And the only thing that they don’t have access to are the new folks that come on board. Therefore giving your contact information to them will make their job easier to get into contact with you; being connected is very important. In addition, they have the editorial board and they like to build on the board that already exists. How to expand the reach of the NGO Reporter in terms of what it covers as well as who receives it? In terms of what it covers most of the articles now are generally related to activities that are either taking place within or endorse by the executive committee of NGO/DPI and in relationship to the UNDPI. Expanding the NGO Reporter’s view could lead them to articles that may be one paragraph long with a hot link underneath them. As the executive committee NGO/DPI website is currently rebuild; it might be possibility for a NGO that has a related activity. Although NGO Reporter is not The New York Times but still they are interested in many of the activities that related to your work both here and broad. It has focused predominantly also on works that have being done locally at UN headquarters and it allows other members of the NGO community to affiliate with DPI around the world to know what the executive committee of NGO/DPI is doing to enable their voice here. Friendship Ambassadors Foundation (FAF) is an older foundation where about 40 years old. As a foundation Mr. Sciarratta and his team focus on cultural exchange as a platform of peace building especially around the world, where they feel the cultural strength is necessary and important. Also they have number of programs that they either are active in the UN with or are active abroad that they promoted the UN. The Youth Assembly at the UN certainly is one of them and its in 8th year, and Mr. Sciarratta co-founded that program will be doing two versions of Youth Assembly at the UN this year. As a team they created it in order to enable young people both youth and youth leaders around the world. And it is an opportunity to come to the UN and discuss what ways to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Interactive Session: Questions & Answers
Q: Patrick Kiernan mentioned that old news is not going to make news. How do you keep the old but important stories updated? The other question is, having work with various NGOs in NYC, what makes the cut in the local news?
A: (Mathew Lee) in this case NGOs play big role over here. In other words, when the story starts to get old and starts to lose its importance, then it is the time for the NGOs to focus on that issue so the issue won’t lose its importance. Therefore NGOs have to be persistent, but also you can over do it either. The best thing is to come up with a new angle.
A: (Patrick Kiernan) our role is to edit the news and to decide out of all things that are there what are we going to share with people in that half hour that they have with us in the morning. We can’t put all the news up there, we have to make decisions and we make decisions about what they need to know, what they might want to know, and what might be helpful for them. Sometimes these decisions may not be fair, just; sometimes it is the matter of time; whose story gets on the desk first and so on. What makes the cut is so many factors and hard to make that prediction.
Q: How much pressure on news editors to put the certain stories up that are politically expedient or business expedient?
A: (Patrick Kiernan) NY1 is remarkably free of someone telling us what to do. Generally in terms of mainstream news organizations there is not a lot of interference.
Q: I would like to know the relationship between blogs and news organizations? Do you use each other’s information?
A: (Patrick Kiernan) Of course it is not possible to follow and read every blog; however blogs do give us a sense of what we should focus on, what are the current news worthy issues that might attract our audiences’ attention. We also use blogs to see what’s happened since we all go to bed. Therefore, blog relationship really depends on how familiar we are with that blog; if we are pretty familiar and trust their reliability we may use their information and rely on these blogs and of course give them a credit.
Q: I believe media has a great role to educate people and the global community. But I also realized that there is very little coverage about MDGs on the media. If media does not cover very important issues such as MDGs, how do we expect from people to make demand from their governments for accomplishing of the 8 goals of the MDGs?
A: (Patrick Sciarratta) Mainstream media is not my interest, my interest is having impact; %89 of Americans do not know that MDGs exists. So trying to get this on the mainstream media is not such a great hit for me. However many of the NGOs here who might have the MDGs in their site could come to our projects like Youth Assembly where we focus on the MDGs, can do a workshop, put it up on Facebook while doing it and hopefully it expands globally. My saying is even without mainstream media, individuals and organizations receive high amounts of press via social platforms.
More about the Panelists:
Linda Fasulo started her professional career with WNYC Local Public Radio Station, and she is a journalist and author who specializes in the UN and US foreign policy. Based at the UN, she is a veteran independent reporter for National Public Radio. For more than a decade, Ms. Fasulo was the UN Correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC. She also worked as special UN correspondent for US News and World Report during the 1990s. Her book, “An Insider’s Guide to the UN,” published by Yale University Press, has received much critical acclaim. An updated second edition of the book was released by Yale in 2009. Ambassador Joseph H. Melrose, Jr., from the Board of Directors of National Model UN, has praised Ms. Fasulo as a person who “brings to the fore the issues and controversies that surround today’s UN; adeptly simplifying without dumbing down, she provides the context necessary to understating both why and how.” Ms. Fasulo is also a member and former officer and board member of The Overseas Press Club and the UN Correspondents Association.
Patrick Kiernan, is a New York-based journalist and television program host. He is currently the anchor of Time Warner’s 24-hour cable news service, “NY1 News.” Mr. Kiernan is particularly interested in business news – and put that knowledge to good use for four years when he led CNN’s “Money Gang” program. Born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada he has been a contributor to Canada’s Business News Network since its inception as “Report on Business Television.” His career in television began in Canada in 1989, when the local CTV network station recruited him from its sister radio station, CHUM Radio Division. In 1996, Mr. Kiernan moved from Edmonton to New York to begin a job with Time Warner. He was recruited to the company’s NY1 News operation as the station’s business news anchor. Less than a year later, Mr. Kiernan was promoted to his current position as NY1’s morning anchor. New York magazine called him the “media junkie’s morning addiction.” Since 2008, he has been the owner and managing editor of PatsPapers.com, a website dedicated to finding the most interesting stories in local newspapers and sharing them with a worldwide audience.
Matthew Lee, is a blogger and accredited journalist at the UN. He is also a public interest lawyer, author and founder of two non-profit organizations, Inner City Press and Fair Finance Watch. In mid-2006, Mr. Lee’s investigative journalism at the UN, published online in Inner City Press, uncovered human rights abuses in the parallel forcible disarmament programs carried out by the Uganda People’s Defense Force. In response to this, UNDP halted its disarmament programs in the Karamoja region of Uganda. In 2009, Mr. Lee reported extensively on the conflict in Sri Lanka, including covering UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the internally displaced persons’ camps in Vavuniya in May 2009. In early 2010, Mr. Lee was invited to speak on the topic of Sri Lanka at the Rebellious Lawyers’ conference at Yale Law School. Mr. Lee is also a frequent video discussion guest on BloggingHeads.tv, discussing matters related to UN internal operations.
Patrick Sciarratta, edits the NGO Reporter, which is disseminated to nearly 3,000 UN-affiliated NGOs worldwide. He has also served as executive director of Friendship Ambassadors Foundation based in Greenwich, Connecticut since 1993. He has spoken at conferences and universities throughout the world on topics related to cultural exchange and global peace building. Since 2003, he has co-created and directed the Annual Youth Assembly at the UN, a leadership program held annually at the UN Headquarters in NY. Mr. Sciarratta was lead faculty member for the Arts Management Certificate Program for over a decade at Purchase College of the SUNY. Prior to teaching at SUNY, he was also the Director for Performing Arts at Hunter College of CUNY. Since 2006, he has been a member of the UN Association of the United States of America National Council. Mr. Sciarratta holds a Master Degree in Theatre Anthropology from New York University, with post-graduate studies at Wroclaw University (Poland) and the Intstitutet for Scenkonst (Sweden). Source: UN/DPI-NGO Relations - www.un.org/dpi/ngosection
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Report and Photos by: Sirin CENGIZALP, Lightmillennium.org
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