Thursday, December 07, 2006

Building the bridge between media and communicators

Judette Coward-Puglisi (IABC T&T President)

Fourty-four corporate communicators met with some of the country's most senior journalists today (December 7). It was the IABC T&T's first meeting with its external public and consequently a really critical one. Here's my take on some of the issues discussed. When corporate communications is done properly, an item of information is disseminated to media gatekeepers, who then decide to report the information either directly or indirectly. Reportage is done, research is accumulated, interviews are performed. Eventually the information item becomes a media report, and it is at that moment that the public relations professional can no longer control it entirely.

Media outlets - particularly the most desirable, most credible ones - operate autonomously, reporting the information they deem necessary or interesting and excluding all else. Time constraints, space limitations, and the realities of economics play as prominent a role in the decision-making process as the newsworthiness of the information being considered.

I was particularly intrigued by the comments form the tourism team who asked why crime was finding its way so frequently on the front pages of the country's newspapers. The argument being that when it does, it has a direct, negative impact on the country's brand.


Judette Coward-Puglisi, IABC T&T President said...

Just this morning at our staff briefing, I told Mango Media Caribbean's communications intern, Jane Sadaphal, that we should blog about the issue of taking crime off the front pages of the newspapers.

The issue was raised at the IABC T&T’s first quarterly session, "Communicators meet the Business Press", and was in direct response to the Tourism Development Company's (TDC) corporate communications manager, Nicole Du Boulet, who said that the local newspaper's preoccupation with crime was having a negative impact on the Trinidad and Tobago brand and the country's tourism product.

I posed the question to Nadine Johnson, Marketing Specialist at TDC, whether visitors’ arrival to T&T is affected when crime is covered on the front pages of the local print media, and how does the TDC measure the value of Brand T&T in relation to the amount of coverage crime gets.

In the interim, Karel Mc. Intosh, a Caribbean PR researcher posted this response to my query about whether TDC's plea was in fact a request for the media to censor what was placed on their front pages of their newspapers.

"I understand the challenges facing practitioners in the tourism industry, especially since crime is always on or in the country's media houses' headlines. However, the journalists are reporting actual events. Yes, it might be more tourism friendly to not have those stories published. However, the reporters are doing their jobs. Some may argue that crime occurs everyday and has been going on for a quite a while. That's true, but one must also consider the fact that journalists are also historians in a sense, and right now they're documenting a dark period in the country's social history."

(Read Mc. Intosh’s other insightful comments on

Maria Rivas Mc. Millan, Executive Vice President of IABC T&T, is in agreement with curtailing the amount of coverage crime gets.

She referred to the dumbing down (my words and not hers) of our population. According to Mc. Millan, the regular diet that Trinbogonians are being fed about criminal activities means that it is all we ever talk about i.e. who killed who, who comitted suicide, who drank poison and the bandit that entered the house and shot the man etc. etc. "We are becoming a country of illiterates."

I am not sure whether we can point accusatory, scrooge like fingers at the media and accuse their coverage as a cause of illiteracy but I think the comments from this fantastically experienced corporate communicator points to the issue of balance i.e. why is crime constantly on our front pages.

Is the media truly being a mirror, reflecting what is going on in society or is the amount of crime coverage a reflection of the internal working of the local newsrooms. Let's face it. Crime is the easiest kind of story to cover and in the ever revolving doors that comprise the various newsrooms, there are too few experienced reporters and journalists who are willing, or even able to do the more in depth kind of new gathering or investigation that leads to other kinds of lead stories.

Journalist Sandra Chouthi raised an important point at IABC T&T’s panel discussion. According to the Guardian associate business editor, citizens need to hold legislators accountable. Are government policies on crime working? Obviously not. And citizens can assess only when they are informed.

Media Theory 101 states that citizens have outcome preferences. Outcome preferences are attitudes about the desirability of specific ends, such as safe communities, clean air or even protection from foreign interests deemed undesirable. And their preference can only be shaped through several sources, a primary one being the media. In any given year these outcomes preferences are critical, but in an election year, even more so.

Should crime be featured less on the front pages of the Newsday, Guardian and the Express? And how did the savvy, experienced editors in Jamaica and Barbados agree to decrease crime reporting on their newspapers’ lead pages?

As President of IABC T&T, I am determined to get some concrete answers.

Anonymous said...

I would like to say CONGRATULATIONS on a job well done....the breakfast meeting was definitely a success. Being one of the younger professionals in this field, I thoroughly enjoyed it since it gave me a lot of information that I can apply to my daily tasks. The panelists covered many of the topics that challenge PR practitioners on a daily basis. I look forward to many more of these events.

Malika Moore - Courts Ltd