Help the media reconnect with real people and real stories

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Sally Hall discusses the role of the third sector in helping journalists get closer to the stories that really matter

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5th September 2017 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

I can remember the story that put the first nail in my journalistic coffin. It concerned a newsagent who sold papers to the father of Pop Idol contestant Darius. 

In case you’re wondering what the news line was – that was it. He sold newspapers to Darius’ dad. 

It was the start of a deluge of TV, celebrity-related nonsense I had to write which ultimately led to a change of career for me.

Sally Hall

Sally Hall

Jon Snow’s provoking lecture last week about the Grenfell Tower fire made me think about what life was like before the celebrity era. It made me think about the calls I used to get in the newsroom from people who were suffering and whose pleas for help had so far fallen on deaf ears. “I’m at the end of my tether,” they’d say, “I don’t know who else to turn to.” 

In those days people used to turn to the press. If mould was spreading through Mrs McGlumfert’s council house, making her asthmatic four-year-old ill, and the council were stalling nothing gave me more satisfaction than phoning that council and uttering the words: “We’re running a story on this.” Lo and behold Mrs McGlumfert’s ceiling was fixed by the time the paper came out.

That’s the reason I became a journalist. To expose lies, to ensure organisations and authorities carried out their responsibilities, to listen to ordinary people who needed the media's help. And in those days we could do it.

The media has since lost a bit of its power. But it's also – as Snow pointed out as he delivered the MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival – lost its ability to connect with the people who need them.

In that address Snow talked about turning up at Grenfell to do a report, only to be met by an angry mob. They asked why the media had chosen to ignore the issues raised by the Grenfell residents prior to the blaze.

He said the tragedy exposed a lack of connection between the media and those they are supposed to give voice to.

“I felt on the wrong side of the terrible divide that exists in present-day society and in which we are all major players,” he said. “We (the media) have to widen both our contact with, and awareness of, those who live outside and beyond our elite.”

So how do we reconnect those who have “borne the brunt of austerity” with the media ‘elite’? 

The third sector is well positioned in this regard. We advocate for the vulnerable, the ill, the young, the displaced, the poverty-stricken. We have a grasp of the issues they face and can give them a voice. The media can make that voice a shout, amplifying the message.

 To do that we have to take our time and build relationships with interested journalists. Buy papers, go online, read Twitter feeds, find the publications, programmes and writers who 'get' the issues. 

Following and engaging with them via social media is good start. The next step is to get in touch but always have something to offer them, preferably a real-life case study that epitomises the issue you're trying to raise awareness of or fundraise for. 

Unlike the Darius story above it needs to have news value. Is it current, is it interesting, is it relevant to their audience? 

If you have what they're looking for and stories start appearing then maintain that relationship (with coffee and chat) but know that these days it's hard for reporters to get out the office.

And don’t be selfish. If you have a good contact why not pass their name on to other colleagues in other organisations who may need the publicity? 

These are the beginnings of reconnecting but they only work if we can see the value in it, and take the time to build the right relationships and offer up real and interesting stories.

Sally Hall runs There’s Yer Dinner Creative Media

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