If you are a university’s communication director, you may appreciate how hard it is to get “some” media to publish important stories about the excellent cultures of your people.
Most of the time, you have to be the one in a thousand to get published. You have to be an extra-terrestrial, the odd one out. Never mind if your case is an exception to the norm. We are not talking any disruptive innovation here. A gibberish could be edited and published as the next morning headlines, or covered in the editorials, or op-eds if it is newsworthy.
It is about how well your story could shake grounds, stir controversy and send the top university or government leaders scurrying for cover. Add some exaggerations and wild generalisations. Then, be rest assured that you could be the one in a million.
Don’t get me wrong. I know the vast majority of academicians are great, hardworking, innovative and honest professionals with high integrity. The affairs of the vast majority of the people maybe important, but they are typically not newsworthy. No offense intended. That is just how most media works. C’est la vie.
Here are what some journalists see as newsworthy. If you are an academician and must be in the news, try pitching publication scandal; report about stealing of intellectual properties, tell stories of abuse, the ranking game, the shocking exploitations of junior staff or even students; and potray a David vs Goliath case. Make them as hot and current as possible; tell of your bad experiences with your own university, but don’t forget to generalise. Best of all, you should not worry about providing stats or backing your claim on how prevalent the scandal is. If it is about your word against another, no evidence is ever needed by the media.
The scramble for newsworthiness can distort reality. Take for example the isolated terrorist incident of Lahad Datu, the tiny and very remote Sabah district that got months of extended news coverage that completely eclipsed Malaysia’s tourism campaign. Not surprisingly the entire Malaysia experienced a significant drop in the number of tourists for a few years after the event unfold in 2013. By the same reasoning, plane crashes always make the headlines as compared to car accidents that kill far more people. Because of this, many people fear flying. On the contrary, almost no one fear driving.
So when a journalist says “no” to your story about how integrity has been successfully made an important culture in your organisation, you should appreciate that what you regard as an important and prevalent culture is not newsworthy to the journalist. Never mind the reality.
Next time you read those sizzling untold stories about most academicians, you should neither panic nor flinch. Worst still don’t go sleepless trying to respond. Even if you did a great counter pitch, you may not get the space. Try laughing at yourself for a change. It could be your best medicine.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.