From your experience, what are some of the most common demands expressed by journalists to help them cover water issues?
First, we all need to communicate better. Many members of the media comment that the expert community has not yet fully mastered how to express complex issues with the public. We must reduce the gap between science and public opinion and use terminology in a way that is understandable. At the same time, it is imperative that the UN maintains its reputation as a reliable source of credible information.
Most importantly, news-makers need good information provided in real time. This is especially vital when big stories break or major international meetings are held. A consistently updated webpage, particularly during major conferences, is needed to keep journalists informed and build their trust that they will find updated information from your organization. And finally, it is important to coordinate and communicate closely with the United Nations Information Centers (UNIC) on water news for these purposes.
I also want to stress that the language of the materials is a point brought up by journalists over and over again. While the UN system does in most cases translate major works, the newest information and technical reports are often in English and take time before they become available in more languages. It would help to make more information available in other languages at the time it is produced whenever possible.
How can UN bodies and other organizations in the water community improve their capacity to work with the media?
First and foremost, organizations that can provide immediate, up-to-date and interesting information will be able to develop the most fruitful relationships with media partners. Strategically, the first step for every organization is to establish clear communication goals with a defined target audience for each objective. It is also crucial to respect the differing needs between outlets in different types of media and from different nations and regions. In many developing contexts, for example, access to information, resources, and time – as not everyone is a full-time journalist – can be limited. This should be considered, and supplemented by surveys and analysis, when organizations create and evaluate their media strategy.
There are several important ways, both online, in social media and during international meetings, to make the wealth of knowledge we have in the UN system more accessible. But this requires special effort and ingenuity to transform what is produced by our scientists and water specialists into something the media can more easily use. Good communicators are needed to bridge the gap: People who understand the complexity and depth of the issues and have the skill to distill the most essential messages while avoiding oversimplifications. Organizations have much to gain by considering how to train new, nurture existing, and spot future talents to interface with the media.
Looking forward, I believe we can focus on creating two-way communication channels between experts, journalists, and the public. Today it is easy to conveniently and quickly share information, which has opened new roads for information to flow from experts and advocates to both policy makers and the public. There is tremendous scope to augment our use of social networks and create exciting platforms for public discussion and debate. This also can stimulate synergies with other forms of media: Active discussion forums within online communities can inspire print, radio, and television media outlets to report the story.