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Making the most of the media

There were plenty of laughs and a lot of learning at a media training day for Jesuit colleagues conducted by Irish Jesuit Communications in Milltown Park on Tuesday 2 May. Participants travelled from Galway (Moira McDowell, Galway Jesuit Centre for Spirituality and Culture), Limerick (Karin Fleming, Principal of Crescent College) and Kildare, Kevin Hargaden, Social Justice theologian with the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. Declan O’Keeffe, Communications Director from Clongowes College, Gavin Murphy of Irish Jesuit Communications, and both Cecilia West and Catriona Maher from the Messenger Office also took part in a day that consisted of a variety of inputs all aimed at helping participants make the most of new and traditional media and get their mission and message out to their target audience.

Pat Coyle gave the first session. The idea was to help participants identify the elements that make a story newsworthy. A journalist herself, she wanted them to understand how journalists think when they receive copy. What are they looking for if they’re to consider a story worthy of print or broadcast? Pat didn’t pull her punches. “Journalists may have a duty to inform, but they also have to entertain. So if you’re story is ‘worthy but dull’, you’re going nowhere – and there are plenty of competing WBD stories out there,” she said.

This was followed by a session on how to write an effective press release, who to send it to and when. “Don’t keep your best shot till last, as you might in a school essay,” Pat advised them. “If you don’t grab the journalist from the beginning (for example, with a good headline) they won’t even read what you write, and all your hard work will go to waste”.

Dermot Roantree, web editor with Irish Jesuit Communications joined the team after coffee. He and Pat went through the do’s and don’ts of writing for the web, illustrating the type of information and material they needed from the various Jesuit ministries. “Putting it bluntly, just because something that was supposed to happen actually happened doesn’t make it a good or interesting story”.

Dermot then gave his own input on ‘Getting the picture’ – taking appropriate photos to accompany stories. He indicated many of the standard rules of composition and some points of best practice for group shots and individual portraits. The participants looked through many photos and discussed why they did or did not work. Rather than try to cover issues concerning camera brands, bodies and lenses on the one hand and post-production software and methods on the other, Dermot chose to base the session on the use of smart phones. “It’s always handy, of course, to have good quality hardware, software and skill sets,” he remarked, “but you won’t always be able to depend on these. Smart phones with cameras, on the other hand, are ubiquitous. We need to learn that even if this is all we have to work with, with good technique and some technical know-how, it may well be enough.”

There was no rest for the participants even over lunch. They were asked then to come up with a real story that they would like to get coverage for in the local or national media. When Pat had approved the story using her editorial guidelines outlined in the earlier sessions, each one had to come to her for a personal radio interview. All the interviews were played back to the group and reviewed for their positive and negative aspects. “I was dreading the review part,” said Gavin Murphy, “but actually we had a good few laughs and we all learnt from each other. We all did some things well and other things that we might not do again, and there was great learning in that. Preparation is the key – that’s what struck me most.”

John McDermott, who specialises in digital marketing and development, contributed to the training day with a video which identifies and explains why social media strategies are essential to the promotion of Jesuit works. There followed a lively discussion about the use and abuse of Facebook, Twitter, and other microblogging and content-sharing websites.

As if they didn’t have enough on the day, the brave cohort who showed up for training have all agreed to return for television training later in the year. Irish Jesuit Communications are happy to run further training days, so if you are interested please contact Pat or Dermot at jcc@jesuit.ie.