Friday, October 22, 2010

The Power of Media

By Lyn Twyman

Media is one of the most powerful tools that exists.  When organizations and the government cannot help, media continues to be one of the few resources left for citizens and those victimized.  When there's little money for lawyers and representation, media will always be there to help people fight back and make their voices heard.  We cannot be afraid to use this powerful tool to raise awareness and educate. 

Media enlightens, helps to unravel mysteries and documents history as it unfolds.  Whether we're looking at movies, documentaries, PSA's or the internet, media will always be there to bear public record of our plight, fight and spread our message far and wide when we're unable to break barriers otherwise.  Activists often use media to get the attention of agencies and politicians who will not step in to address an issue until it reaches a tipping point.

This October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month is used as the pivotal time of year for many groups to increase awareness about the issue.  But increased awareness should not come just one time a year.  It has to be an ongoing, collective effort within the entire field.  So I want to challenge all of us to take a new look at the way we utilize media to spread the message of our causes.  If you haven't developed your own media approach, you may want to consider it.  Media can be vlogs, blogs, websites, movies, documentaries, interviews, radio and articles.  You can broadcast or distribute your message locally, regionally, nationally or globally. 

Some of you may think you don't or won't have an audience for your message.  According to the CIA World Factbook, as of July 2009 there was an average of 6.8 billion people living on earth so you are bound to have an audience for your message.  But you don't want to just grab people's attention, you want to get people to really think about your issue by presenting them with a genuine message and offer solutions.

Celebrity Status

Some of you who run organizations may be thinking 'I need a celebrity to back my cause,' but you really don't.  While most people will gravitate towards celebrities, one thing to keep in mind is the moment they get involved in a crime or scandal, support for your cause can dwindle because the public has identified your cause with the celebrity instead of identifying your message and solutions you propose. So this goes back to the point I made previously that you don't just want to grab society's attention, you want to get society to make decisions and act.    Having a celebrity involved in any form of media always helps to draw attention to a cause and it's even more helpful when that famous person continues using their influence in society on a consistent basis for your cause.  Take for example, there is a long list of celebrities that support anti-violence but only a handful consistently goes into the community and do work for domestic violence. 

In addition, celebrities with the wrong message and execution can be just as damaging to a cause.  Take for example the video "Love the Way You Lie" with Eminem and Rihanna and the recent domestic violence PSA with David Arquette and Courteney Cox.   According to comments that were posted throughout the internet, both forms of media sent mixed messages to viewers, leaving some uncomfortable instead of drawing them closer to learn more about the issue.  Eminem and Rihanna’s gig may have portrayed “dual” domestic violence but it was oversexed and over sensationalized.  David Arquette and Courteney Cox used unclean humor that reminded many of sexual victimization and borderline gay jokes.  There's a difference between taking the public on an emotional roller coaster for mere publicity and actually delivering a message to bring transformative and impactful change to society.  You want people to be compelled to openly share your message.

So don't be over shadowed by Hollywood and think you have to be someone glitzed and glamoured in order to be heard.  Your cause DOES NOT need a celebrity but your cause does need YOU.  Real social changers that use media to help further a cause typically are not celebrities.  They start out as everyday people with a mission and a vision.    It's by their good works they are known and not by the money, the hair, the movie lines or Photo shopped pics that gets the job done. 

Audience and Messaging

Know your audience and make sure your message is sincere, genuine and relevant.  This may sound like common sense but what sounds good to you may not sound good to most of the people in your audience.  Try to picture yourself hearing your own message for the first time and objectively consider how it would make you react.  The message should be heartfelt and go beyond talking points.  What information do you have for your audience? How can they relate to the issue?  What do you want them to do about the problem? 

Your messaging should also be clear and consistent.  Avoid reinventing your message too often and execute new media campaigns at appropriate times.  You should be reaching your audience with a defined issue.  Your audience in turn is waiting to see what relevant information you will give them about the issue.  Sometimes the audience doesn't even know they need to hear your message.  People will also sense confusion in your own work when your messaging is not consistent and will start to not take you seriously when your messaging changes too frequently so take time to really study your message.

Beware of Snakes in the Grass

Occasionally, you'll run into activists, organizations and entertainment producers that are nothing more than snakes in the grass.  As much as we'd like to believe everyone in our field of activism has the right motives there are those few who truly do not.   Their goals are disingenuous and motives lead to victimization or the re-victimization of others.  Media influence is powerful; that's why it's a multi-billion dollar industry.  So when you're looking to launch a media campaign, don't use broad statements, hype words or name drop.  Many people make the mistake of putting out false information which can be verified and their creditability becomes questioned because of something they put into their own media.  Remember, just because a person says they are doing something doesn't mean they are really doing it so do your homework and check their statements, even other advocates.  Make sure that what you say you too are also doing so you don't become a snake in the grass yourself and lose your creditability.

I want to challenge all of us in the next year to increase our own media outreach.  Use your Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, website, blogs and tag your posts.  Reach out to your local newspapers, magazines, radio and t.v.  Don't wait for a celebrity, organization or the government; do it yourself. 

So tap into your list of contacts and see who can help you to get the word out and spread it.  If we keep speaking up and loud enough with the right message, the voices of mere individuals talking at once becomes a massive crowd of activists making a sound that cannot be ignored, becoming unified.  Most of all, survivors and families will get the help they need and deserve because people will begin to listen and act.

Lyn Twyman is the Founder of Courage Network, a community for domestic violence survivors, family & friends, advocates, professionals and organizations. 

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