Belief groups – Working with journalists

This resource was written for When Religion Makes the News, held in Cardiff on 8th November 2016 #ReportingBelief16

Written by Angela Graham, documentary-maker and media trainer

In terms of faith/religion/secular belief – communicating well with the secular media:

  • Understand your personal & organisational competence & resources and work out your agenda (what you want to achieve, the timetable & how you will measure success)
  • Recognise the reality of journalism: time (lack of), resources (limited), priorities
  • Organise your time and resources
  • Check your tone of voice
  • Key tools in reaching the media: ‘Technical’: the press release; interviews; social media. ‘Relational’: one-to-one; constructive attitude; persistence; patience; empathy i.e. see things from the journalist’s point of view; take responsibility; be reliable; take the initiative.

Your Message

  • What have I got to communicate? Keep the big picture in mind.
  • Why do I want to communicate it through the media rather than person-to-person or via other means?
  • Choose the right medium for your aims, for example if your event is of interest primarily within a limited geographical area, examine the media that deliver most coverage of that area. It might be local radio, a small circulation newspaper, a social media platform, a blog or a denominational newsletter.
  • Find out what media resources your own faith or belief group offers on a UK level and get to know how they could help you.
  • What results do I want from my media ‘appearance’? How will I handle those results?
  • What are the implications of using media that I don’t control? Have a strategy for handling risk; criticism – fair or unfair?

Internal and External Communications


If you have a media responsibility within a faith system don’t be a lone wolf. A good media rep, no matter how small their responsibilities, is someone who builds links ‘at home,’ within the faith or organisation, before launching out. He or she always reports back, gathers up impressions so as to improve next time, benefitting from experiences other than their own.

Do you truly believe that communication matters?

Lots of people actually do not. They are very active but they put much less energy into communicating those acts and their results than they put into running the event.

But the event is a means to an end – keep the end in view. Activity is exciting; reporting on it meticulously is usually not exciting. But not communicating internally about the event lessens the equality among the members of the acting group. Those kept out of the loop are relatively powerless and can’t contribute as they could.

If you hold an event, plan and advertise it, hold it and then report on it, both within the root organisation and to the people interested in the event, both attendees and those to whom it was advertised.

Let people contribute; keep the door open by means of good communication. And make yourself regularly assess your outreach to see if you have the resources to go beyond contacts with which you are comfortable towards those you find challenging,


Communication is more than a closed system. Many people might not have been able to attend your event, for instance, but that does not mean they didn’t want to know about it. Every good initiative should be celebrated. That’s how engagement grows.

Sustainable and effective communication happens when an organisation values both internal and external communication.

Examine your own communication practice.

Communicate: Widely, but selectively (adapt the message to the hearer so that they understand. Always seek sharing and mutuality rather than dominance.)




Journalism: Some questions

What is journalism for? What can it achieve?

Its purpose is to help us live well together by sharing information about what’s going on so that we can make informed decisions. Clearly, if journalism is corrupt it damages our ability to live well together.

In order not to be merely a channel for inaccurate information that would damage our living together, journalism must examine and hold to account. Journalism rightly scrutinises and is interested in demonstrable facts. Expect to be challenged.

It is through journalism that most of us find out about those who are not like us. So be prepared to be questioned. People want to know about you.

Journalism is interested in time – the now

The journalist is interested in time. In your media work, make what you have to say relevant to today. Use language and terms that people can understand without having to be part of your inner circle. If you must use a specialised term, find a way to explain it. Avoid jargon. Jargon alienates people and might make a journalist less likely to be interested in your story.


Journalists are usually very busy, handling many varied topics, meeting deadlines. Delay makes their work very difficult. Prioritise responding to any approach from a journalist. If you don’t respond, you lose that opportunity to share.

Consider your use of email/post/phone etc. If you habitually don’t reply to emails, or don’t reply to someone’s repeated attempts to contact you, you may not be the right person to run your group’s media communications.

YOU know what your answer is but they don’t. If you have a communications responsibility take care never to be a black hole into which information and outreach disappears.

If you can’t handle a query find someone who knows. Offer to get back to the journalist. Keep your word.


The journalist wants news and, sometimes, analysis. Know the priorities below and you are the journalist’s ally.


Essentials for news items

(see accompanying posts by Christine Warwick on Writing Effective Press Releases and What Makes News)

To be newsworthy your item should be:

Novel – New, and necessary

Topical – related to other things currently in the news

Relevant to audience/readers because …..

Significant – the item has the capacity to make a difference to the reader/viewer/listener

Visible (images) or images conveyed in words

Relational – people like to know about people or about things they can relate to

Provable – no vague assertions, you have evidence

Authoritative – know WHY you are communicating this information/telling this story

Researched – know about your item’s context e.g. who else is or isn’t doing something like this


Practical – what’s in it for me? The journalist is wondering & you should be too

This is a useful short site: What is News?


 3 Ps to avoid: Propaganda; Preaching; Proselytism

Propaganda – In the pejorative sense it means The selective dissemination of doctrine, rumour, or selected information to propagate or promote a particular doctrine (Shorter Oxford Dictionary). Note selected i.e. the full truth is not given but only those aspects which help the cause so there is an element of concealment and deception. There is a difference between propaganda and emphasis on the positive. Journalists and editors are finely tuned in to propaganda.

Preaching – simply means to expound in front of an audience but its negative connotation means to moralise; to speak as though you hold all the truth and the other person is ignorant. It sets up resistance and resentment.

Prosyletism – to convert a person, particularly from one religion to another. The secular media won’t allow themselves to be used for this purpose as it is not their function.

In summary, you need to be:

  • Contactable
  • Available – i.e. contactable and willing to help; check your attitude, avoid grudging responses
  • Responsible (always have someone who takes responsibility for the item)
  • Aware that by communicating you are taking a risk, so have a strategy for handling risk.


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