At Birmingham Friends of the Earth we always work to make our Monday meetings interesting and exciting. We’re also always keen to become even better campaigners by improving our campaigning skills, experience, and knowledge. On Monday night both of these coalesced quite beautifully at a Campaigns Meeting on media work. As a campaigning organisation it’s vital we get our message out there using whatever tools we can find, which includes the traditional media. With this in mind, Monday’s meeting we were very privileged to have Mary Griffin, environment correspondent and features writer for the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail, come and speak to us.
Mary started by talking about her role at the Birmingham Mail and Post and what she covered, as well as explaining a bit more about the papers. Mary’s role is quite unique, because as far as we’re aware no other local paper has an environmental reporter. As for the paper itself, the main points were about their layout, how they were funded, who owned them and who read them. The Birmingham Mail and Post are apparently trying to attract newer and younger reader using their website and social media.
However by far the most interesting part of this area, was that papers had less resource and journalists less time to cover stories. This is a problem but also an opportunity for campaigners, as we’re more likely to get stories covered if we can do the work and give journalists not only the story but the background information.
The meeting then moved onto talking in more detail about getting stories into papers. Mary explained what was newsworthy, and that something had to be quirky, interesting, original, or have some sort of human interest, and what this meant. John Newson’s feat of producing less than one bin bag of rubbish for all of 2012 was used as an example of a quirky interesting story that could raise awareness about an issue. However as John said, the fact that he had done this a second time in 2013 was no longer news, demonstrating that something has to be original and new to be news.
Mary also touched on the basics of a press release that needed to be included: the what where when why and how. She also made the point it was also worth developing a relationship with journalists so you can speak to them before hand and test your idea. This will save you busting a gut on a press release which has little interest or chance of getting covered. When asked how we could generate more interest in our Let’s Get Moving campaign, Mary made a number of useful suggestions including emphasising the human element and giving specific examples of where there are particular problems.
That pretty much wrapped up the time we had. As Mary said her goodbyes we were left to reflect on what we had learnt and how we could make our stories as interesting as possible to the media. It is certainly something we intend to put to good use in the future. Thanks to all the campaigners who came along to make it such a lively discussion, and special thanks to Mary for giving up her time to come and speak to us!