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troutmaster

Media Bias???

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I am in a council just north of L.A. and am struggling with how I should take issue with what seems to be an obvious bias in the local newspaper that covers the county. While unflattering or controversial issues make major appearances on front pages of one of the sections or on the editorial page, local events seem to be almost completely ignored. This occurs even when the information is presented on their formatted forms. Am I expecting too much from them as representatives of all the county? Should not major events involving Boy Scouts in the council be newsworthy? Should an Eagle Scout presentation appear on a timely basis when the paper is presented with the information 3 weeks in advance?

 

The other large paper, the L.A.Times sent a reporter and photographer to our troop's 80th anniversary celebration in February. I was really fearful of the article that would appear, especially when he began his interview with me with a direct question on the Gay issue. I asked him to try to steer his focus towards the event at hand, and happily he did. He even came to me just before he left and told me how impressed he was with the long-term effects that scouting had obviously had on the past alumni with whom he spoke. The other paper chose not to send anyone, and I had to make two submissions, and three phone calls to even get its occurence noted in the weekly events page.

 

Input. Comments?

 

 

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It could be "bias." It could just as easily, if not more so, be incompetence on the part of the editors in gettings things staffed properly. Or it could be a lack of staff, caused by financial problems. It used to be that there would be 2 daily papers covering almost every place with people in it, and in major areas (like the LA area), even more than that. These days, if 2 papers are covering the same area, it often means that one of them is about to tank. Or merge with the other one.

 

Just for laughs though, have you or someone at the council level actually spoken to the top editor of the paper about what you see as the deficiencies in coverage and how things could be improved? It couldn't hurt to try. And I would suggest an actual in-person appointment, not a phone call where you are one of 100 phone calls in a day.

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I have sent a couple of emails to their web site regarding this, but other than our Eagle Dinner finally being noted with no date but 6 weeks afterwards, there has been no response. Am mulling over a direct letter to the senior editor. One of my troop parents who works for them told me Monday that he also perceives a bias, but is not certain it isn't coming from someone at the lower level.

 

The paper has gone through some major revamping and staff changes this past year. It also has taken over many of the smaller papers in the county, so you may very well be right in noting it may be more organizational lapse than intended.

Thanks.

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For various reasons I have been interviwed by a couple of newspapers regarding my job. Each time I read the interview and wasnt sure it was me who was talking. I barely recognized my words I spoke in response to the questions. It may be bias as well. Controversey sells papers, happy contented Boy Scouts dont.

 

I like the idea of contacting the editor before the next event, have a face to face, ask them what they would like to have when they arrive. But dont be surpised if it all goes for naught.

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It could be that the paper doesn't like positive news or that the poofter editor doesn't like the Scouts.

 

One of the most effective things that you can do is to ask the adults in your council to write to the editor and demand to know why scout events aren't covered.

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One thing we can do as scouters is to encourage our pack, troop, or crew to do service projects and events where the public weill see scouts in uniform working and having fun. Get a unit banner and put it up any time you are in public view. With over 100 million scouts (past & present) there is a lot of support for our program. We need to use this to grow and bring scouting to more boys (girls too - in venturing). Media coverage will come.

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I have to agree with K9...we do not do enough in the way of public relations. When I was Scoutmaster, I made a point of getting the boys to do things in the public's eye. I've even gotten state, county and city officials to attend ceremonies.

 

The local United Way just cut funding with the "reason" that we are not visible. Sure it may be an excuse, but the truth of the matter is "we aren't". My troop got in the local news at least five or six times in a year and a half.

 

Newspapers sell news. Make some and I'm sure they will respond.

 

Troutmaster, you live in an area that is nationally notorious for (forgive me) the wierd,

unexpected and shocking. Maybe it is a blessing that you don't get into the news? :)

 

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There is media bias against scouts, but the overall lack of coverage also indicates a lack of resources on the part of local media, as noted in earlier posts. I don't know what BSA policy or local council policy on such matters may be, but what would be wrong with writing your own press releases? This could be a great vehicle for getting scouts through Communications Merit Badge. Even the most cynical editors and reporters appreciate having their work done for them. My inclination would be to have the scouts create releases about their activities and circulate them to local media, along with photographs. I would not ask permission of the scouting hierarchy, I would just do it.

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eisely's advice is right on the money. I would add that you might want to find out who the reporter or sub editor is that handles news and announcements of local, community events. Send you press releases to that person, and if that doesn't get coverage, go to the editor. If they are both against Scouts, then that might be the end of it and there is nothing you can do. The newspaper people I know always seem very busy, so they welcome a story that is spoon-fed to them. Good luck.

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Our troop has done the above with great success, and total accuracy. Our experience has been that reporters that do come to our activities often get their facts screwed up. We do what eisely and frankj have suggested. It works!

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Thanks for the various suggestions and ideas. As far as writing own releases, we have done that numerous times. It still does not get in there. But as noted, perhaps the wrong editor is seeing it. I am in the thought process of how to word a polite, but specific letter to the editor in chief. If that gets no response, then I guess we are just going to have to feed everything to the other local papers on the perifery.

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Troutmaster,

 

Curious. I used to live in Thousand Oaks in Ventura County. What are "North of Los Angeles" are you talking about? Which newspapers are you talking about?

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A lifetime ago I worked as both a reporter for a local paper and later in public relations. Having been on that side of the notepad, I'd like to make two observations.

 

First, the reporter you're likely to have assigned to cover your event is likely a very young kid, fresh out of school with very little training and even less experience. This is especially true of the small, hometown papers that can't or won't pay for more experienced reporters.

 

My advice when dealing with such reporters is to be very clear with your part of the story. Always prepare a news release to give to the reporter so they have the facts in front of them. Have two or three main points you want to make and repeat them over and over. Give them phone numbers where they can reach you later for follow-up questions.

 

My second point is that if you are in a place like Los Angeles and want The Times to cover you Eagle Court of Honor, forget it. Newspaper editors are looking for news that impacts a lot of people, is unique or different, or has a particularly interesting or emotional twist. Our council has a couple hundred Eagle presentations every year. How can they justify sending a reporter to your CoH and not the other 199? Unless you have something really unusual or significant, it just doesn't meet their criteria for news.

 

Your better bet is to work with the local weekly newspapers and shoppers. Even the big papers usually have smaller inserts for the different communities they cover. They are more likely to be focused on your community and, because they may have only a couple reporters, are much more likely to run your news release as is. Also keep in mind that many papers have announcement pages for things like Eagle Scouts and honor roll students. Even if you can't get a reporter to show up for your event, getting the boys name and mug in the paper will still make his day.

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