Media Experts on How to Pitch Public Health

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Frame the message. Be clear, effective, short, and timely. Give them someone to care about - it’s the emotional threads that bind humanity.

Five journalists and communication professionals formed a panel at the NWCPHP Summer Institute for Public Health Practice on August 8th. They represented public television and radio (Joanne Silberner, Patricia Murphy, and Lee Hochberg), the local newspaper (Carol Ostrom), and an online health guide (Michael McCarthy). The audience got to peek behind the closed door of the newsroom. Guess what: It's rushed and understaffed. Reporters are stressed and cranky. Don't let that throw you off, they said, but if you want their attention, get right to the point. Pitch your story fast. Tell them why it's important right now. Give them access to a source. They also want a good quote. If they talk to a researcher, they want one who's animated and funny, especially on the radio.

If you have a big complex story, like the Affordable Care Act, break it down into tiny pieces. If it's evolving, show the process – the process is the story. It's a tradition in journalism to tell both sides of the story, which the journalists admitted is a problem when you're arguing that something is true, like climate change.

Public health and the media have different goals. The goal in public health is to get our message out, and to change behavior. The goal in media is to tell the news, and to be read. We also have the same goal: To help solve the problems, to make things better.

If people who are trying to get a message across understood the media better, the media panelists told us, they might have more success. 

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