Training the media

Wednesday, 6 July 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

As business and commerce take rapid steps in the forward direction here in Sri Lanka, more and more opportunities are presenting themselves for people to increase their earnings and even make their fortunes.

More and more people from different sectors such as finance, administration, management, accounting, hospitality, human resources, etc., are receiving extensive training, with revamped courses and degrees to suit the present day being made available to them.

Be that as it may, one area that is still not up to speed (at least here in Sri Lanka) is the field of journalism. In Colombo alone, one may count on one’s fingers the number of people experienced in this area. Not a good situation to be in, for many reasons.

For one, journalists writing without properly understanding the subject on which they are reporting may be setting themselves up, allowing room for corporate PR people to fix the message. As a result, what would be available for public consumption will probably be one-sided and misinforming.

It can also work in the other direction, since an ill-informed journalist would misconstrue situations and thereby write stories that are completely distorted, which could be detrimental and sometimes even cause severe damage to the businesses concerned.

In Sri Lanka, journalists are expected by far and large to be ‘jacks of all trade’. But as the saying goes, a little learning is dangerous; and we have a large number of persons floating around in the media, continuing to create copy without substance.

Sadly, nothing seems to be done about this situation. It is evident that someone has to take a hand in training these journalists. The Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) has some courses to train corporate communications people on the do’s and don’ts of dealing with the media.

I have been to one of these courses conducted by the SLPI and the Chamber of Commerce and saw what a lot it could do to educate corpcom people and how various misconceptions they had about the media and the way they operate were dispelled when they met the media on a common ground.

As much as the Chamber of Commerce is involved in training corporate communications people, it is also vital that some programme is put in place to engage the media and educate them on the nuances of the many business sectors, for example pharmaceuticals, finance, banking, garments, insurance, plantations, power and energy, etc. But this cannot simply be done by the administration of the Chamber of Commerce, businesses in these various sectors have to stand up and be counted when it comes to fulfilling this need.

A proper training process for these journalists can educate them on the many aspects that need to be understood in engaging with these multiple business sectors and vice versa.

There is a mismatch here in terms of objectives, i.e. from the journalist’s point of view and the corporate’s. Journalists, by far and large, want to write a story after every encounter, whereas at certain times corporate people giving deep background to them may not want a story in the newspapers but are giving it as information to help them understand the subject and the industry better.

If therefore an unexpected story appears in such a situation, immediately mistrust arises between the corporate sector and the media. In most cases the corporate sector considers the media as a necessary evil, something they have to live with to get their message across, but the mistrust is always there.

This should not be the case and if journalists are more informed on the nitty-gritty of what the corporate sector is doing and vice versa, it need not be so. The question is, who will take the first step in bridging the gap?

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)

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