There is an assumption that the media, specifically local newspapers, are naturally anti-development, that a newspaper will always champion the voice of the local resident over that of a corporate entity, and that bad news is more likely to make the headlines than good news. There is some truth in this, but this does not justify developers failing to engage with journalists.
As with local residents, positive relationships with the media are based on provision of information and a positive, open and transparent approach.
A shocking proportion of developers opt not to communicate with the local media in the early stages of consultation, entering into dialogue only (and often reluctantly) when a negative issue has been brought to the attention of the media. Frequently a negative, unbalanced and perhaps inaccurate story will have run by this stage, causing substantial damage both to the consultation and the reputation of its partners more generally.
The recommended approach is to contact the local newspaper at the early stages of the consultation: use the consultation mandate to explain the process and remit of the consultation, ensure that the local media is fully furnished with the facts and the positive messages and has contact details for an appropriate individual in the case of future questions. The result of this approach is typically a positive story in the first instance, and a more balanced story should local residents approach the newspaper with concerns about the consultation or development proposals. The local newspaper can also be used to publicise consultation events both in print and online and perhaps even host the consultation survey.
Albeit a one-way tactic, local media relations represents an excellent opportunity to communicate with a wide audience. And thanks to the proliferation of local newspaper websites (now more numerous than those newspapers producing a print version) this is changing: opportunities exist to drive readers to the consultation website, or to encourage discussion via a local newspaper blog or social media page and in doing so a once static, asymmetrical means of communication becomes an interactive tool.
Penny’s book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide is published by Routledge in June 2017. Please email Penny to receive notification of its publication.