This week I had the privilege of media training a group of women in Canberra who work for Anglicare.
These hardworking, courageous women are on the front of line of Anglicare’s many valuable social justice programs, such as: finding emergency foster care for traumatised children; running mentorship programs for troubled youths; and supporting young carers – kids who look after their disabled parents and siblings.
When I say I was ‘privileged’ to enter their world for a day - I mean it. Back when I was a journalist, I told myself I was lucky to meet so many interesting people and learn about what they did. But in hindsight, as a time-poor, deadline-driven TV reporter, I was barely skimming the surface of understanding.
Now I have the luxury of spending a whole day with a small group, and digging deep to unearth the challenges they face.
For example, it was only after a lengthy interview and lots of conversations with one young, community worker from Wagga, that I discovered her successful youth mentorship was about to run out of funding in five months.
“Whoa – stop there,” I said. “You mean a program that costs a fraction of running a detention centre and helps almost 90 per cent of kids stay out of trouble is about to be cut?”
“Sure,” she shrugged. She had mentioned this in passing. This woman was used to the reality of programs running out of money.
With my journalist’s cap on I realised that this was the ‘real’ story the local media in Wagga (and possibly nationally) would be interested in.
In light of the recent ABC-TV program on how detention centres are damaging young offenders, here is a simple program that matches suitable volunteer adult mentors with young troubled boys, many of whom are Aboriginal.
For an hour a week, a wiser, older person listens with compassion and without judgement to a young person talk. How simple is that? And yet, it’s powerfully effective.
A staggering 90 per cent of kids who stay on the program, stay out of trouble. In contrast, 66 per cent of those who leave a juvenile detention centre, with no on-going support will commit a crime within the year.
Why aren’t we shouting this from the rooftops?
Thanks to media training, this Anglicare community worker is now armed with some powerful key messages and can pro-actively seek media attention in her town. If she delivers her message with passion and confidence, (which I know she will) she may even attract investment from local businesses to keep the mentor program running.
In this way she’ll be using the media to her advantage rather than running for cover when a reporter rings asking for a reaction to a negative story about juvenile crime.
There were other startling stories that arose from the day’s session: children as young as five caring for drug addicted parents; children waiting for a year in a motel for suitable foster parents; families too poor to buy food after paying for high Canberra rents and heating costs.
These are stories we need to hear.
At the end of the day’s workshop, the overwhelming response from the group was that the media isn’t a ‘scary beast to avoid’ – rather, if you understand what a journalist is looking for you can ‘feed them stories’ to your advantage.
And that’s why, my friends, I am privileged to be a media trainer.
Learn to tame the media beast and make it your friend.