Thursday, January 10, 2013

Media and Religion Day 3 - Crisis, Ethics and Getting Noticed

I keep trying to think of synonyms for interesting, because I feel like I have used that word too often here in the past few days. The class has already been more than I expected in several ways. The speakers we have had so far in addition to the expertise brought by Mat and Eric has really added to the course.

Neva Rae Fox works in the Public Affairs Office for the Episcopal Church of America. Yesterday provided a perfect developing case study for us because the news was breaking that the National Cathedral just announced that they would be using the new provisional rights for blessing same sex unions. This was huge news for the Episcopal Church and Neva Rae gave us lots of information about how to keep up with the news in a "crisis" situation. One of the important learnings we all had from her talk was that we don't have to work in this type of situation alone. Neva Rae herself doesn't use Twitter and relies on another person in the staff for that work. She also spoke to not needing to respond to every thing that's out there, especially those that are known to be hostile to your cause. It's sometimes important to let someone else respond first and give yourself a moment to calm down and think through the situation.

Neva Rae had prepared several case studies for us to work through and reflect on. They included handling requests by the media to attend a funeral, dealing with a congregant that is charged with a crime, and having a dignitary attend a dedication for a new church ministry. These were helpful exercises to work through with someone that has been dealing with public relations and crises like Neva Rae.

In the afternoon we spoke with John Brooks from North Park University in Chicago. John is their Director of News and he had extensive experience as a news director and was able to share many techniques that he has used successfully to get his institution noticed by mass media outlets. One thing that struck me was his emphasis on the importance of relationships. John seems to put a lot of time into building relationships with reporters in the area where he is working. In today's age where there aren't as many dedicated religion reporters it takes more effort to become noticed, but by making sure that the local reporters know who John is, they are more likely to be receptive to the stories he sends their way. John is also very selective about sending stories to reporters and puts an emphasis on local stories of interest. By local he also looks for news outlets that aren't geographically local to him but have a connection somehow to the story. For instance, a story about a student will be sent to the hometown paper of that student. While many of the things John spoke to were more applicable to a large institution it was valuable advice on dealing with the media even for a local congregation.

In the afternoon we had some time to compose some tweets and I had asked on twitter whether "No website is better than bad website" is true or false. I haven't received a ton of feedback but one insight was related to how we are defining bad. If bad is incorrect then that is a definite problem. One commenter (@syre) noted that if the website had incorrect information that is more damaging. A very simple website with just the basics like time of worship is better than no website.

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