de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2009). Media Briefing. LMD. May 2009. Page 63. Volume 15, Issue 10. ISSN 1391-135X.
Wearing the shoes of the foreign media to get the best out of them.
On 29th January 2009, I listened to Steve White the Editor of Action Asia being interviewed by Lewis Borge-Cardona, who was producing the in-flight program of Sri Lankan Airlines. Lewis was being hosted as a guest at the Lighthouse and Fortress hotels during the Galle Literary Festival. The timing of Lewis’s arrival in Sri Lanka during the Galle Literary Festival and the un-scheduled interview were both events which had been set up by me. I think those few days in January were a perfect example of how with a little effort and initiative the best can be made out of opportunities with foreign media.
Just a few days earlier, our HR department had asked me to set up a briefing for my colleagues on how to get the best out of foreign media. This was postponed as I left office at short notice to get the best out of foreign journalists who were in the country. I had scribbled down a few notes to structure my presentation. The first and most important point was ‘wear the shoes of the journalist’.
The timing of the arrival of Lewis with the Galle Literary Festival (GLF) is one such example. I had been in the field with Lewis on three previous occasions. We had covered the Talangama Wetland, Leopard Safaris in Yala, The Gathering of Elephants in Minneriya, the Vil Uyana Hotel and Primate Safaris in Sigiriya. During one of my ‘Drinks with Media’ sessions in London I suggested that he timed his next visit with the Galle Literary Festival. I felt that this was one of the most efficient ways for a journalist to use his time. I pointed that almost everyone resident in Sri Lanka whom he would like to interview or meet as a future candidate for interviews would be there. The literati and glitterati all head South for the Galle Literary Festival. A further bonus was that some of the best known international authors would also be present. If I was in Lewis’ shoes, I would want my next visit to coincide with the GLF.
Similarly with Steve White I was in dialogue when I learnt that he was due to visit Sri Lanka in May 2009 hosted by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau under their Visiting Journalists Program. Steve wanted to cover what was one of the biggest positive stories to emerge from Sri Lanka. The Best for Blue story that I had publicized internationally in May 2008, that Sri Lanka is probably your best chance in the world for seeing Blue Whales. May would be just fine for me as I would be relatively free. But if I were in Steve’s shoes that would not work as the seas were too rough to go out during the South-west monsoon. The chances of seeing whales would be zero and I suggested that he arrives no later than the third week of April. On my objective advice, he changed it to January.
Flexibility was not on my list of points for the preparation but I must remember to add it. I had not heard from Steve and I had thought the whale watch was off until I was en-route to Sinharaja for a one night two day session when he phone me. I found myself having to head from Sinharaja to Galle without enough clothes to see me through. Fortunately a few phone calls to the office and my colleagues bailed me out. My visit to Sinharaja, leads me to my second point of the presentation. ‘Feed the media with credible and well researched stories that interest them’. Lewis had joined me on at least two of my ‘Drinks with Media’ sessions in London. In these I had seeded not only timing his visit with the GLF, but also stories on Sinharaja and Whale Watching. I had explained that the Sinharaja Rainforest was one of the most aural landscapes he could find in Sri Lanka. I told him how I could narrate the story of the Sinharaja Bird Wave whilst half a dozen endemic birds vocalized in the background. The Sinharaja Bird Wave is the longest studied and the biggest of the mixed species feeding flocks in the world. It is also the best to see as the birds spend a fair amount of time with the observer. Lewis included this into the next program. But his program was confirmed at very short notice and I had less than 24 hours in which to re-schedule my work schedule to fit in an evening and morning session at Sinharaja. I must certainly remember to include flexibility in my brief.
The third point is to search for ways to make the story credible. This why I always take the media to visit scientific researchers if possible or else cite their work. If you really want to promote the destination, you must be prepared to sacrifice air time for yourself to let others get on air to make the story credible. The interview I had set up with Steve and Lewis was also on this theme. I knew that the next day I could dominate the program on whale watching when I took Lewis out to sea. But I had just shown Steve White five Blue Whales simultaneously. Shedding a few minutes of my air time to have the world listening to the Editor of Action Asia was in the best interest of strengthening the credibility of the story and creating livelihoods for the poor south. Likewise on the boat trip with Lewis, we took along Shymalee Tudawe, the Editor of Hi Magazine. This was expressly so that the newly dubbed Princess of Whales (because of her efforts to create a whale watching fad in society circles though her magazine) could whoop and scream with excitement into Lewis’ mike when she saw the whales. This would provide a more rich and exiting mix to the story. I would lose air-time with everyone else I was bringing in, but it made the story more credible.
I have covered some of the key points on wearing the journalists shoes, seeding credible stories and flexibility. Well, how does one get to meet the foreign media. I shall continue that in the next article.