Friday, January 8, 2010

Responding to the Media

I have the good (or is it mis?)fortune of having a journalist for a partner and we talk about ME/CFS and the media from time to time. While I hope to write a longer post at some point, the one bit of advice I have for those who have the strength is to actually *phone up* journalists who write crappy pieces about ME/CFS.

Writing letters is good and noble, but the only person who really reads those letters is the editor of the letters page unless there happens to be an unusually large number on a specific piece (which, unfortunately given the energy levels of most of us, is not generally the case). Calling the newspaper/magazine and asking to speak with the writer means he/she has to actually interact with you.

Be polite. Praise when you can (i.e. honey catches more flies than vinegar). Have good data to share. The added benefit of calling is that often you get into his/her contacts book of people to call when there is a story on ME/CFS. (I should also add that this is why giving money to advocacy groups to hire a professional PR person who can wine & dine journalists is very important.)

Personally at this point I think the scandal angle (the CDC or NHS is spending money on psychiatric care while people die) has far more appeal than the "human interest" angle, or in the case of the recent dreadful PLoS One study, playing up the row angle (i.e. "WPI says 'Not so fast!'") will be more productive, but that's just me.

Right. Now that that's off my chest, I'm going to try a bath tonight...


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I agree that it's best to go straight to the source. 
I'm not much on talking on the phone to strangers, I prefer to e-mail.  If you poke around newspaper and magazine websites, there's usually a way to get an e-mail directly to a particular journalist.  Some even list that information with the article, or clicking on the author's name will get you to either an e-mail form or a biography page that has an e-mail link.
That way you can formulate your thoughts slowly (I write it over the course of a few days in my word processing program, then cut-and-paste to e-mail), don't have to be on your mental toes enough to respond to sudden changes in direction of the conversation, and can include exact references rather than "some doctor somewhere said something or other about that".  If you're more awake at 3 AM, you can e-mail then, regardless of whether the journalist is in his office. 
But please, don't come out with guns blazing!  Be polite.  "Dear Stupid Idiot" almost guarantees he'll read no further.  "I would like to clear up some misconceptions you apparently have about CFS" works much better.  Including links that he just has to click on makes it more likely that he'll read what you want than if you say "Dr. Cheney has a good article on cardiology" and he's got to google it up for himself.
Conversely, when a local journalist wrote a respectful piece about CFS, our support group sent her flowers.

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