Strategies for Change

Independent Living Movement Ireland

Disability and the Media

Disability and the Media with Catherine Gallagher

Defining Journalism and News

“Journalism is the fuel, the raw material of public opinion, and a key tool in its management by elected politicians, lobbyists, pressure-group activists … for whom journalism provides the essential ‘oxygen of publicity’ which enables their causes to be noticed and (they hope) addressed” Brian McNair (2014)

“Journalism comprises the activities involved in an independent pursuit of accurate information about current or recent events and its original presentation for the public edification” Ivor Shapiro (2014)

In short, Journalism is a resource, and a supplier of information. Journalism, is THE institution, while journalists, are THE professionals, and are participants in public life.
Journalism is a form of education, of enlightenment, and entertainment – good, bad, or indifferent.

So What is Journalism

There is a tension between what journalism should be, or what it is dressed up to be and what it actually is. McNair (academic) says we should be mindful that journalism is a version of reality, constructed according to certain rules or processes. And the Images that are presented to us are not always true or accurate.

The 5 Principles of Journalism and Defining Functions:
  1. Current or recent events as a subject matter – news is something new, it must be about current or recent events
  2. Breadth of audience – we all have particular outlets or journalists or go-to ways of consuming news. Consider where you get your news from, do you get it from the radio, twitter, 6 o’clock or 9 o’clock news, Primetime?
    Bear in mind what is going to be relevant to the target audience, is it something that is of interest to them? For example, consider a student newspaper; what happens in NUIG will be relevant to students in NUIG but may not be relevant to a married person in their 40s raising two children.
  3. Attempted ascertainment of factual accuracy – a very decent attempt to be accurate. Sometimes mistakes are made, sometimes information given to a journalist can turn out to be not accurate. There are procedures in place to future-proof this from happening. For example if you get very new information you should try to at least get two sources, either two human sources or two documents/pieces of literature and a quote form a person would support this.
  4. Independence – independence from politicians – not being influenced by government or local politicians, not being swayed to publish something inaccurate or unfair just because you have a particular lobby group or person putting you under pressure to publish something.
    A long time ago newspapers would be said publicly to support a given political party. That shouldn’t be the case anymore. Independence from the business side of a news outlet, the financial demands of an outlet can influence the type of coverage they publish.
  5. Involves original work – published work must involve original work. For example, when a story breaks in one newspaper, another newspaper may pick it up without adding new information, this is churnalism. Churning out old information, trying to present it as new.

Question: Would journalists get in trouble for siding with/being swayed by a particular political party?
Answer: If someone is a columnist or opinion writer they wouldn’t be held to the same standards – it is an opinion piece – Columns – are opinion pieces.

Editors and management might have strong opinions on what should be published. The newspaper might have a particular agenda or ethos that they subscribe to. However, you would not and should not see political allegiance in a Public Broadcaster such as RTE, or the BBC.

Commercial news outlets – all Newspapers, Today FM, Virgin Media, Newstalk, etc, get away with saying more than the public broadcasters. They are Private Companies, some presenters for example may say things that a Public Broadcaster would never say. This is where the public may make a complaint to the Press Ombudsman.

Question: Can you make a complaint about how a newspaper moderates comments made under articles?
Answer: Some Newspapers used to have comments under their articles but don’t anymore, e.g. the Irish Independent used to have comments on their website, but don’t any longer. This is because the Editor in Chief needed to go through the comments with their lawyer.

For example the Journal Online (online newspaper) comments section can be awful, so the Editor in Chief suggested that the Editors do not look at the comments, because if they look at them they are responsible for them.

If articles are shared on Facebook or Twitter, the comments are not the property of the article they are then the responsibility of Twitter or Facebook.
There is always a way to complain about comments. Use the ‘report comment’ button. Complain about an article – make a complaint to the Editor.

If you feel very strongly about it, you could contact the Press Ombudsman, or a few people could get together and write an opinion piece around comments on articles and possibly get the piece published.

What is News?

“…the business or practice of regularly producing and disseminating information about contemporary affairs of public interest and importance” Michael Schudson (2011)

News Values

A story may be published about a politician, it may be a personal story, it might be said that it is not ‘in the public interest’, but it “interests the public”.

Something in “the public interest” is important information, integral to the decisions we make, how we vote, how we live our lives.

Something that “interests the public” e.g., personal stories about public figures, is not in the public interest but is interesting and possibly entertaining.

What Makes the Cut in News?
  • Worldwide events, that is happening every day
  • Pseudo-events – these are organised events so the media will pick up on them, e.g., Fianna Fail ard Fheis, NEPHET Press Conference, they are set up for media to pick up and comment on.

Not everything that happens in the world, in the country can be covered, there is only a certain amount of airtime or newspaper space.

The Powerful Elite – government, anyone that has a huge decision-making authority.

Magnitude – How big is the story, how many people does it affect? Where did it happen? Did people get hurt?

Surprise – No lead up the story, no leaks, for example the story of Tony Houlihan CMO getting a job in Trinity, surprise and shock surrounded that story.

Relevance – how relevant is the story to us, our community, our readers?

Good News – tend to be soft news, have a feel-good factor.

Bad News – sells.

Follow Up – stories with new pieces of information – a thread with topped-up info, Tony Houlihan, Trinity is a good example. A story that continues over a period of time with updated information.

Newspaper (or outlet) Agenda – ownership, editorial line, weighs in when it comes to decisions that are made.

News values are cultural, reflective, subjective, assumptions about what is important to the members of society at a given time.

NB. All Newspapers have different sections and each of these has its own Section Editor, for example, News Editor, Lifestyle Editor, Political Editor – these are not the editor of the whole newspaper. In a Broadcast Station a Section Editor looks after certain categories of content.

Commercial News Media

These are not bound by the Same Media Law that the likes of RTE (state broadcasters) would be bound to. They are under significantly more financial pressure than a State Broadcaster. These do not get funding from Government to keep them going:

  • They get a little from the TV licence
  • They generate revenue from readers subscriptions or consumers of some kind and also from advertising. Advertisers want to place their ads where the most amount of clicks/engagement is going to be. They are under so much more pressure than their Public Service Colleagues.

Commercial News Media have values which reflect the need to sell journalism in a marketplace whereas Public Service Media operate news values designed to produce an ‘ideal function’ of journalism.

Presenting News

Presenting News - ILMI

The inverted pyramid is one of the first things you hear about in any journalism course.
To put together a news article –

At the top you should have your Most Newsworthy Information, comprising the who, what, when, where, why, how?

Who said it? What did they say? When did they say it? Where did they say it? Why did they say it? How did they say it? How did it come to be that they said a particular statement?

Who was affected? What happened? When did it happen? Where did it happen? Why did it happen? How did it come to happen?

The first sentence or the first paragraph of any good news article is called ‘The Lead’. Typically a good lead, a good first paragraph should be no more than 25 to 30 words and should try to answer as many of the who, what, when, where, why, how questions as possible. At the very least it should answer the who, the what, the when, and the where and get to the why and the how further down.

Next comes Important Details, fleshing out, giving the next most important information.

Then finally towards the end, Other General Information, Background Information, you might refer back to a previous story if the piece is a follow up story, if something is to happen in the future you might say “x, y and z is to be finalised next week” – that could be your last sentence of a story.

WHY and HOW can be the most difficult to address. Why something happened? How did it happen?

For example – a basic statement: “The grass is wet” WHY is it wet? It’s wet because it rained, but HOW did the rain happen? You go back to your knowledge of geography, how clouds form, how precipitation occurs…it rains.

With regard to disability, the STATEMENT could be – “Disabled people tend not to be in very good/wealthy financial circumstances.

WHY does this happen? – you could say – Disabled people tend to come from low-income backgrounds. It is difficult to get work/part time work that suits us and speaks to our interests.

Now tell me HOW does that happen? – You must go back to the wider context, look at the whole scope of the issue, HOW do we allow disabled people to be in precarious financial situations? The HOW is means tested supports, how social protection assesses and penalises disabled people, how it conducts really harsh means tests. When it comes to jobs it is because of systemic, cultural attitudes, infrastructure, societal issues. Both of those things- the WHY and the HOW; whether it is social protection or issues with getting employment or housing or anything like that, the actual WHY and the HOW are beyond our control, which is so important that they are referred to. It is often the most difficult to address in journalism because it does require an extra bit of space on the page or an extra bit of airtime. A very good media article should address all of the why and the how.

Where journalists get their information: unless they speak to the right people, to experts on the variety of subjects they cover, then they can’t get to answer the HOW. If the journalist doesn’t know who to talk to but just talks to the same people, they are going to hear the same thing, they need to switch it up, to access various experts

Journalists tend to go to the experts/representatives of many other various minority groups, but they don’t tend to go to the DPO’s. This is gradually improving, and we should support the media outlets that do. A lot of journalists don’t realise what a DPO is or where to access them, it can be difficult for journalists to ascertain what is a genuine DPO. Having more disabled journalists or journalists who are known to be disabled could go a long way to addressing the why and how of disability issues because they would know where to go and who to speak to from their own personal experience.

Mediums and Formats

Mediums and Formats - ILMI

Mediums are: Print, Radio, and TV. They also include Online and Social Media but these are separate because “online” refers to, or Irish websites, for example.

Social media is a newspaper’s Twitter, Facebook, TIKTOK, it is the platform they use to distribute their content and information.

Formats are: News – straightforward news, items of the day.

Feature – longer than a news item, focused on a particular area, more information than news items of the day.

Opinion/Column – can get away with saying things that a news journalist wouldn’t.

Editorial – written by editor of the paper, often in the middle of the paper.

Letter to the Editor – a way of having your voice heard, must be picked to be published.

Reviews – television reviews, book reviews, film reviews.

The Media Landscape in Ireland

We ideally have a Liberal Media Model – incorporating the following:

  • High levels of professionalism – professional journalists, possibly with a university degree, some level of training
  • Low political parallelism – not to be in close quarters with government or a political party. Still happens in some countries
  • Pluralist voices – we should see a diverse range of perspectives in sourcing, in opinion writers. The Irish times would describe themselves as a paper of record with pluralist voices – people working for the Times come from many different belief systems
  • Competitive newspaper market – all newspapers are competitive financially in the market
  • Low polarization levels – we should not see extreme right or left opinions. Because RTE dominates so much of Irish media we have low polarization levels, it evens out any extremes.
Framing a Story

In simple terms Framing means the slant that is put on something. It relates to how elements of an issue are emphasised. The way it is then presented in a news item can influence how it is interpreted by the receiver. Emphasising parts of a story in a particular way on purpose – this is not necessarily a bad or good thing. A lot of human-interest framing comes from outlets that are under financial pressure.

Issue Framing

Placing stories in the context of a wider policy issue or solution. They do not tend to be sensational or untoward, for instance; the news about insurance companies – insurance premiums were huge, businesses were going out of business, people were not able to afford personal insurance, a thread of stories relating to personal injury claims. Personal injury claims drove prices up. Tying the story to a policy or legislative issue.

Game Framing

Also known as “horse-race”. Stories around winning and losing, language of war, opinion polls etc. They contain snippets/opinions gathered from the general public, we see this during election coverage or during ‘tit-for-tat’ on big issues by opposition parties, it is entertaining and a circus.

Strategy Framing

Stories that predict outcomes, analyse tactics, strategies & personalities, publish leaks. For example, letters or text messages leaked.

Human Interest Framing

Stories that typically use stories about private citizens in the context of a wider issue. They tend be emotional in tone and in feature-style format. Typically, a lot of disability related stories can be used to highlight a wider issue. Emotional language is used, people interviewed for these stories are called exemplars. They are exemplified.

Human-interest framing involves the use of individuals’ (exemplars) personal experience to highlight a wider issue in society. These stories often result in readers attributing the responsibility of the portrayed problem to the government (Boukes et al., 2014).

People participate in these types of stories because they can be effective, they have two main effects – if something is portrayed in an emotional way, audiences:

  1. attribute the blame to the government
  2. would not support any further action to make the situation worse.

For journalists it is a cheap and accessible resource. Typically presented in a feature format. Generally, they do not address the How and the Why. Some people feel it is the only way they can be heard. It happens very often, it is a cheap and accessible resource. Typically presented in a feature format and impacts on knowledge and information. They are often not very informative.

Why some disabled people participate? they may feel it is the only way they can be heard.

Think about: Could this type of framing affect the disability movement. How or why not?

Challenges in Journalism

Workload – one must write a text piece, produce an audio piece, produce a video piece for social media, and also distribute it on personal/work social media, there is more work these days and less people working.

Pressure with turnover time (deadline) and resources – this is one reason why journalists might contact the same people for resources. They may have long standing relationships, good landline/internet connection, be reliable, available to come into the studio. Happy to talk on microphone.

Money and commercial sensitivities – market pressures

Lack of disabled people working in the industry – there is not enough research on this, it would be a great idea to do a feature piece on this. There is huge knowledge, and data gaps in this area.

It is a good idea to research NUJ (National Union of Journalists) Search for disabled journalists to get more information on the numbers of disabled journalists. NUJ is a global trade union for journalists, which subscribes to the social model of disability, the social model is particularly strong in UK, we need to see this replicated in Ireland.

How Can you Control the Narrative?

Discuss approach and angle with journalist/producer – be cautious of human-interest framing, do not be afraid to discuss the approach and angle. If you say no to a human-interest story, it can be about taking back control, you are sending a message saying I am not ok with that, I am not going to participate. Let them know you are not comfortable with the approach, ask them to let you know if you might cover something else at a later date which you could be comfortable with.

Write for media – opinion pieces, reviews, letters to the editor, set up your own blog, write features. Come together as a group, share the research, big stories are often broken by more than one person working on it.

Identify key people to contact – Are you solo or part of a group? Who is good at interviews? Who is good at transcribing interviews, compiling data? Look at all the particular skills and strengths of the group and people’s availability etc. and divide the work.

Generate News By:

Host events – hold a webinar or conference, partner with someone else, build relationships that will generate news, give out press releases in advance of an event.

Publish research/new discoveries – new information, presenting something that hasn’t been said or done before is a good way to get interest from an editor.

Write columns/opinions – The Irish Examiner and Irish Times are particularly receptive to columns/opinions.

Pitch Features

Follow up on existing reports – if the how and the why hasn’t been given but you know how to get it, individually or as a group go and research the information and present it to the media.

Disabled Journalists to Follow:
  • Ellis Palmer – BBC
  • Brigid O’Dea – Columnist with Irish Times
  • Niamh Ni Hoireabhaird – Freelance Journalist
  • Frances Ryan – The Guardian
  • Louise Bruton – Freelance and Twitter
Reflection / Feedback from SFC Group
  • Journalists have their priorities wrong; how do we change that?
  • It is difficult not to be negative and angry when writing the same piece again and again, and nothing changes
  • Journalists use medical model language, especially in local papers. How often do journalists look at the language they are using and check what is the correct language to use
  • Portrayal of disability, we are to be pitied, we are always needing stuff, unfair representation of disability. If people are not involved with disability, they only see this evidence
  • Journalists can take your story up wrong, and they can use it in that manner, but the reality could be different. A story like that can impact on you and on your family, journalists lack training around disability, they need to be more sensitive, empathetic, and more compassionate in the language used
  • Frustration, nothing is implemented, followed up on. If those who do not live in the disabled world weren’t the only ones making the laws things might be different. We need to get someone into the Dail
  • It is gradually improving, support any outlets aligning with the social model of disability, the Irish Examiner has improved a lot in the last year. They are always looking for input from disabled people. Generate your own news, make your own podcast, pitch features individually or as a group. Don’t engage with the stories you feel strongly about if they don’t meet your standards.
  • Write reviews, do a blog post, write a letter to the editor. Identify the journalists who are on your side, who use social model of disability language
  • The NDA is in the process of updating guidelines in terms of language, collaborating and consulting with ILMI, previous guidelines weren’t up to spec
  • Impact of people sharing their personal stories, is it negative? – not enough research on this
  • A lot of issues come down to ignorance, training is needed around how to report on certain groups or communities in society. Talk to NUJ, give feedback to authorities or institutions that train journalists
  • For every problem there is a way to attempt to tackle it, it will take time, but it can be done. Come together as groups if it’s too much for an individual.
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