Working with the Media on SSFFC Malaria Medicines

Step 2: Establish Relationships with Journalists and Reporters

After identifying potential media sources with whom to partner, program staff will want to reach out to representatives to start establishing a working relationship with them.

publicservicemediaMedia engagement can take many forms, depending on the type of media with which programs are working. Activities may include writing editorials or opinion pieces, hosting a media event or news conference or sending out press releases. Speaking with media representatives will help determine what activities can best support and get coverage for the SSFFC malaria medicines program, as well as be mutually beneficial for the media representative, as they will have a reliable and trusted source on a topic.

Before reaching out to journalists and reporters, it is important to keep in mind: 

  • Journalists and reporters do not work for SBCC programs – their stories may look nothing like SBCC messages. For example, while SBCC campaigns focus on its direct messages, journalists may focus on the underlying political and social issues as a means to provide context to the SSFFC malaria medicines issue.
  • Journalists do not work in a vacuum. They have to work within legal, professional and other organizational constraints.
  • Many news outlets have limited resources. Health stories are often assigned to generalist journalists. In fact, most journalists are generalists, even in large media organizations.
  • With few journalists specializing in public health, they may lack expertise in malaria and SSFFC medicines.
  • Many journalists are reluctant to develop close relationships with government or other institutional officials, as they pride themselves on being watchdogs of these institutions.
  • Be aware of how technology has changed the way journalists communicate and how audiences consume news. Respect the fact that journalists rely on a steady and reliable flow of newsworthy information. Journalism deadlines may be very different than SBCC program deadlines.
  • Never discount local reporters in favor of the international news media. They are a direct link to the communities that SBCC programs are trying to reach. 

Preparing to Engage the Media

Credit: Javier Merelo/Internews

Credit: Javier Merelo/Internews

Before reaching out to journalists, take a moment and decide what the unique story of SSFFC malaria medicines is. Think about what story would be helpful to share about poor quality medicines in an area and with whom it should be shared. For example, would media activities want to raise awareness about the presence of SSFFC malaria medicines, gain public approval for a potentially controversial activity like shutting down an illicit market or advocate for improved monitoring or regulation systems? It can be helpful to reflect on the problem, solution, stakeholders with the power to make change, populations who must be mobilized to apply pressure for the change and the messages that would convince those with the power to act for change. While journalists and reporters may want to tell a story through another lens, walking through these questions will help program staff identify their unique story, as well as better communicate their position in a clear, concise and accurate way. Health communication specialists in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, went through a similar process. Click to see the types of story angles they recommended to journalists.

To better share their perspective with media partners, programs staff may want to assemble a media kit that includes helpful information about their program and the issues of SSFFC malaria medicines in their country or community. Media kits can make very nice handouts for journalists and reporters to take away after press conferences or orientation sessions. The kit may include:

  • A press release containing the most important information you want to share. Remember to keep this document short, use lists for key points and display contact information prominently. Program staff may also want to include the date they want the information to become public. Be aware that when information is embargoed until a later date, there is no guarantee that it will not be shared ahead of time. See Step 3 of this I-Kit for more detailed information about writing press releases.
  • Program materials with general information about SSFFC malaria medicines and the campaign.
  • Illustrative examples of campaign materials.
  • business card. 

Engaging the Media

Once media liaisons have prepared their messages and materials, it is a good idea to identify and meet with journalists and news editors who may have written about SSFFC malaria medicines before. After that, they will want to reach out to these sources again from time to time. If SSFFC malaria medicines has not yet been reported on, they may want to hold briefing sessions or arrange periodic roundtable meetings to get feedback from reporters and editors and to share information about SSFFC malaria medicines with them.

It can be helpful to meet with a range of media professionals, including editors, managing editors, producers, reporters and freelance writers or journalists.

Table 1: Suggested Media Professionals

Communicating with editors and news managers (content gatekeepers) is an important step in not only getting their input, but also their buy in and support. They can share their needs, expectations, limitations and opportunities for working together.

Involving senior media figures in making strategic decisions, identifying gaps and providing input, you will strengthen the partnership and increase your chances of amplifying your messages in ways that can exponentially increase your reach. As you will see from the job descriptions column, most media outlets have an individual responsible for content decisions and another more involved with planning and the allocation of resources. Click the boxes below for an overview of each type of media professional.

Personnel
Job Description
Specific Benefits/Considerations

Editors and News Managers

The editor is responsible for the final product of the news outlet. S/he sets the editorial direction, policies and tone for the publication. The editor ultimately decides what type of content appears in the publication and what prominence it will receive. The editor rarely writes individual articles but may write opinion pieces or a daily editorial.

The news manager typically manages the entire news staff, including journalists, photographers, studio managers and producers. S/he manages the operational planning, logistics, production and presentation of news content.

It is important to note that these roles and titles may vary from outlet to outlet, but most of the larger publications would have an individual which directs content and tone (editor) and another which is more involved with production, logistics and planning and the allocation of resources (manager). Find out how the posts are described and the roles allocated at the outlet with which you wish to engage.

 

Communicating with editors and news managers (content gatekeepers) is an important step in not only getting their input, but also their buy in and support. They can share their needs, expectations, limitations and opportunities for working together.

Involving senior media figures in making strategic decisions, identifying gaps and providing input, you will strengthen the partnership and increase your chances of amplifying your messages in ways that can exponentially increase your reach. As you will see from the job descriptions column, most media outlets have an individual responsible for content decisions and another more involved with planning and the allocation of resources.

Reporters/Journalists

The primary job of a journalist is to find and write stories which are relevant for the audience of their publication. In the course of their work, they do interviews with people, build contacts, attend news briefings and launch events or public functions. They at times need to be reactive, responding to breaking news, but more senior journalists pride themselves in proactively finding unique stories through investigations and nurturing relationships with their contacts.

Specialist or beat journalists build up expertise in an area of specialization. A science or health beat journalist, for example, must be well informed on developments in these areas. It is expected that they generate news and feature stories through building a strong contact base and keeping themselves abreast of the latest news and trends in science and health. Having researched their stories, they pitch these to the editor and then create content for publication.

The journalist is your primary point of contact for getting a story done, so it is crucial that you have a circle of journalist contacts, who in time can become allies of your health cause.

They may need you as much as you need them, but be aware of what their needs are. They and their editor will not consider a story favorably if it seems like a public relations exercise.

You may need to provide the journalist with a rationale for why the story should be done. Consider that they themselves usually need to pitch the story to their editor, so provide them with a strong rationale and good case studies to “humanize” the story. For example: “SSFFC malaria medicines cause undue harm because they cannot effectively treat malaria. This story will help raise awareness, therefore, people in the community will have better health.” It is helpful if you can establish and grow relationships with select journalists to foster mutual trust over time.

Be aware of the tight deadlines which journalists have to respect and give them candid feedback, once the story has appeared.

Freelance Journalists Freelancers do the same jobs as employed journalists, but the difference is that they do not have a fixed position or guaranteed income. They usually offer their stories to a variety of news outlets and are paid per story produced. When pitching your story to a freelance journalist, there is the advantage that they have the freedom to tailor it to suit the most appropriate outlet (i.e., they often engage with a range of publications, and thus a wider range of media outlets becomes accessible to you). On the other hand, freelancers will be particularly keen to ensure the story has a strong rationale and news angle, as they would not want to approach an editor with anything but a unique and compelling story.

Producers

Radio and TV producers generate and research ideas for radio and TV programs. They source interviewees on topics that are newsy and relevant to their outlet’s audience. They find and veto content and also manage the logistics of aligning people, resources and equipment to produce recorded or live shows.

Producers also respond to audience feedback and complaints.  Their job can be very demanding and time consuming: they need to do the right thing at the right time – particularly during live broadcasts.

In addition to content production, logistics and people management skills, they also need to be a master of the technology relevant for their medium.

Building and maintaining good relationships with radio and TV producers means you get to understand the engine rooms of radio and TV. Producers are always on the look-out for show ideas, but like journalists and editors, they need to be convinced that a story will be compelling and relevant or “that it matters.” Producers are “ideas-people” who always seem to have little time, but if you make an effort to engage meaningfully with them and have a strong story angle and potential interviewees to propose for their show, you are on your way to building a win-win relationship.

The work does not end after these briefings or meetings. Afterward, monitor news coverage, to not only track the results of these efforts, but also to correct misinformation and provide additional explanations, if needed.

Cultivate a contact person at each of the news media sources identified. Below is a template for a contact sheet to keep track of the different media specialists with whom you are engaging for your SSFFC malaria medicine initiative.

News Group Contact Position Name Email Address  Phone Number Notes/Comments Areas of Follow Up
             
             
             

When working with editors, news mangers or journalists, keep in mind that this outreach may not immediately produce news coverage. Be willing to understand what makes the news and what makes up newsworthy elements. Depending on the feedback from journalists and reporters, you may want to adapt your angle based on these elements, or come back to them at a different point in your project, by attaching your project to other breaking news or an anniversary.

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