Talking to journalists for Road Safety

Goodmorning

Thank you for the invitation

First I would like to show you a 3 minute video of a documentary i made three years ago.

I was invited to this forum in order to talk to you about the way someone should approach a journalist and explain a problem to him. That is, how to approach me!

In general, it’s not difficult at all to approach a journalist. Journalists are very approachable. The problem is that they have loads of things in their minds, and also the fact that they have editors and chiefs, who filter continuously, for many reasons, the information coming to them.

So, although it is very easy to talk to journalists, at the same time it is very difficult το grab their attention.

I remember, some months ago, in Washington, at the NGO’s Conference for The Decade of Action, press coverage was practically absent. The only journalist there was… me and my camera. A CNN’ journalist had promised that she would be there but she wasn’t because of the earthquake in Japan.

So, I will begin by telling you a story.

For 15 years in Greece we had a very big problem of illegality. Companies of outdoor advertising put billboards wherever they wanted ignoring the laws. The result is what you can see in this picture. Chaos, as you know, is a greek word. Anarchy, too. Apart from the aesthetics of the public space, illegal billboards constituted a major issue for road safety.

Every year, we had 10 deaths due to illegal billboards. The spirit of the law finds them illegal for two reasons: First, they distract drivers attention and second, they are dangerous obstacles when a vehicle escapes for any reason the road.

In 2009 i was the editor in chief of a magazine. I was little aware of the outdoor advertising issue, i had just read 1 or 2 articles in the press. As i had previously been involved in the dialogue about advertising, writing a book critiquing its power and methods, i asked a colleague to investigate and write a story on illegal outdoor advertising.

The story got published and on the day after the publication i got a telephone call from the man in the picture. He told me that his son was killed on an illegal billboard when his car collided with the base of the billboard, and that our story contained only 10% of the facts around this illegality. I was shocked because the journalist whom i trusted to write the story, was working in a big newspaper, and was very serious. Actually, he hadn’t even spoke with the parents who were rallying against illegal billboards. Mr. Stavroulakis invited me to his house in order to show me the data of his struggle against the corrupted system of outdoor advertising. I accepted the invitation. And from that day on i started investigating the issue, with the help and the support of this man.

I find his instinct very profound and didactic.

For more than 15 years the issue could not be solved, because as you can see in the picture on the left, even politicians and Prime Ministers used to use the illegal billboards to advertise themselves before elections. Corruption of the Mayors, lack of political will of the higher level of politicians, and of course big money, prevented a possible solution.
In the picture on the right, we can see a billboard, which has killed a young man, and then was put again in the same position, to continue its murderous duty. What if parents and activists have acted against it? Illegla billboards have been characterized by many, as the mythic monster, Lernaian Hydra, you cut one of its heads and then suddenly 10 more appear.

So look! This is the cynicism of the companies. In this case it plays with a basic rule for the road safety, asking drivers to keep safe distances… What are you thinking about? When male drivers watch this picture while driving, what do they have in their minds? To keep a safe distance?

With the continuous help and support of Mr. Stavroulakis, i conducted interviews, research, i visited places of accidents, always with my camera and then i made a documentary. At the same time, as i had stopped working in the magazine, i wrote in my blog, posting news, photos, and everything about my progress on the illegal billboards research. The documentary was screened at the most popular festival in Greece, it was accepted with enthusiasm, and got the third place on the public’s preferences, just below very expensive and professional productions. I have to tell you that wherever i asked for financial help or participation i got refusals, as advertising companies and the Media have very strong relationships… And so, my documentary was realised with the help of friends and family, with lots of personal work, and with crowdsouring. I used my blog as a tool to collect some money for the editing process, and then when i uploaded the film on my blog i asked again in order to cover the post production expenses. I didn’ t become rich, but i made a fully independent work which i’ m very proud of.

After the screening of the documentary the developments were very fast. The Prime Minister himself, Mr. George Papandreou got personally involved and became the leading figure in ending of this illegality. The state started a very big project to remove illegal billboards. Today, in Greece we have a very small number of illegal billboards. Just think that before our actions, there were 250.000 illegal billboards around…

If you ask me why i got involved in this issue, i would tell you one name. Manolis Stavroulakis. It was not the fact that we have the same name, or the fact that he has lost a son and i have lost a father. No, its’ s not that. It’ his instinctive talent in campaigning, and problably my sensitivity to powerful, meaningful messages. So, the conclusion of my experience…

I have been thinking that Mr. Stavroulakis actions could be a kind of a model for every campaigner or activist. His only interest was to solve a problem and prevent future victims.

His mentality, his instinct, his determination gave me 7 lessons.

1. First of all, you should be focused on the problem and on its solution. Theories and long conversations are tiring. Journalists want the issues to get presented to them in a thorgough, clear, and focused way.

2. You should tell a story. Stavroulakis told me a convincing personal story with beginning, middle, and end.

3. You should be sincere, don’ t hide, don’ t be afraid of the exposure, and try to make the journalist part of the solution. I started as a journalist and at the end i became an activist. Finally i got member of a new organization called SOS Road Crimes.

4. It is very important to move the journalist and not to hide your emotions. He must be touched and moved. (Without of course, being emotionally manipulated).

5. Provide data. In order to really mobilise a journalist you should give him or her all the information you have, the hard data. Be specific.

6. Don’ underestimate the power of one specific journalist. You don’ t have to approach the star of the biggest network. A small journalist, can help you much more, if you have convinced and moved him with your personal story.

7. You should be passionate, determined, and unrelenting. The journalist will continue to be on your side and you will give him strength, faith, courage, and approval for his struggle. In this sense your aim is not to simply form a relation with a journalist but to create an ally in your struggle.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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