Please Advise! Attention Seeker Seeks Attention

If you are not Tara the Cat, some pointers on getting serious media.

By Steve Burgess 22 May 2014 |

Steve Burgess is a freelance writer and the author of Who Killed Mom?, published in 2011 by Greystone Books.

Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.

Dear Dr. Steve,

I often feel I am not getting the comprehensive story from Canadian and international media. It seems to me there are issues concerning education, the environment, and international crises that are not getting sufficient coverage. How can activists and interested persons help draw media attention to seriously under-reported stories?

A Concerned Citizen

Dear CC,

Are you by any chance Tara the Cat? If so you can say anything about anything -- I'm listening. You are super-hot right now, girlfriend. As the heroic puss who launched herself at a vicious child-attacking dog and took him out like Chris Kreider on Carey Price you have earned your spot on the podium. If Tara the Cat wants to talk about federal/provincial constitutional negotiations, or drying paint, cameras will be there and I for one will be listening. I love you, Tara the Hero Cat.

But odds are you are not Tara the Cat or you would know this already. Plus Tara is probably a feline one-percenter by now and thus no longer cares. The next toddler attacked by a dog is on its own -- Tara is busy partying with Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

So you're not the hero cat. Are you a dog? Even better. Unless you're a child-attacking dog (see above) you too have a ticket to the top of the newscast. Over the past week a tale of dog-napping that turned into a story of doggie death has been the lead story on Vancouver newscasts. A sad story certainly, but not the saddest. Is it too cynical to suggest that families of missing Aboriginal women would have gained more attention if they'd reported that someone had kidnapped their dogs?

I feel we are close to the point where networks will go to a separate evening newscast purely for animal stories, followed by the non-animal news. For awhile at least -- the Animal-Free News Hour would then quickly be phased out as a ratings loser. (I offer this winning strategy to the cash-strapped CBC at no charge.)

Conflicts and interests

But perhaps you are neither cat nor dog. There's still hope. Say you want more coverage of the conflict of interest allegation against Premier Christy Clark. What's the key to getting that on the air? Consider: newscasts will air a story about ducks crossing a Chicago highway or a reporter getting smacked with a soccer ball or Rob Ford doing almost anything. All it takes is video. Re: Premier Clark's alleged conflict of interest -- is it on YouTube? A video with conflict-of-interest ducks? An imploding building? Or a Sasquatch?

This week every Vancouver newscast devoted significant airtime to a video shot near Squamish allegedly showing a distant Sasquatch. Imagine if that Sasquatch had been carrying documents pertaining to the conflict of interest allegations. Based on that video, they'd be too far away to see. But imagine if the burden of proof for conflict of interest allegations was set at the same level required to get a Sasquatch video on the evening news. The premier would be in jail.

Another solid media strategy: keep an eye on gas prices. When you see a sharp spike in the price per litre, head to the pumps and wait. Cameras will show up.

Opinions on high gas prices are a cornerstone of TV news. If no one is interviewed, how will viewers know how to feel? That's your chance. Having expressed your dismay, quickly link gas prices to your issue -- "I'm as angry about high gas prices as I am about the lack of educational opportunities for underprivileged B.C. kids" -- and hope that your statement makes it into the sound bite.

Outside the box

Admittedly there's an unpredictable aspect to all this. Take Boko Haram. Since 2010 they've been murdering teachers, students, and infidels -- over 1,000 this year alone -- and getting only modest attention. After the recent abduction of over 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, suddenly Boko Haram is big news. The abduction is a genuine horror story, and worthy of coverage. But mass murder of students and educators is pretty bad too. It just wasn't sufficiently novel.

It's a remarkable fact that in 2014 when a human being straps explosives to himself in order to kill dozens of other human beings it's barely newsworthy, unless a sufficient number are killed (there were at least two this week, in Peshawar, Pakistan and Kano, Nigeria). No matter how appalling, how evil, any human act becomes mundane if repeated frequently enough. "Suicide bomber blows up innocent bystanders" is the new "Dog bites man."

"Suicide bomber blows up innocent dogs," on the other hand, would get some media traction.

Start a consipiracy

It's not all bad news for attention-seekers. New media streams have increased the opportunities for coverage. However, you will still need to spin your story a certain way: It's a conspiracy. Whatever the issue -- destruction of fish habitat, alarming teacher/student ratios, yarn prices -- dark forces are at work.

Governments/corporations/school crossing guards/local knitting clubs are all lying about it. But you're a truth-teller, ready to blow it all up. If it's just child mortality from preventable causes? Meh. Once it becomes "the child mortality story the mainstream media doesn't want you to know," boom -- viral.

If all else fails, try this: assemble a group of experts in your chosen issue -- access to education, overfishing, climate change, famine in South Sudan -- and load them into a Boeing 777 which then disappears without a trace. It's a sacrifice, but at some point CNN is bound to put up a sidebar about your issue. A few people might freeze-frame it. Possibly. Best of luck.  [Tyee]

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