NRL News

One Year Ago: The challenges of working with Today’s Media

by | Sep 21, 2020

By Laura Echevarria

Editor’s note. Looking back, as we do each day, at what appeared in National Right to Life News one year previously, no story could be more timeless than this post from Laura.

It’s wonderful to be back at NRLC.

Laura Echevarria

After 15 years away from dealing with the press on a daily basis, as the Director of Media Relations and a spokesperson for NRLC from 1997-2004, I returned to my role here at National Right to Life as the Director of Communications and Press Secretary, last July.

After my years away raising three children, I am looking forward to again having the opportunity to impact how our society—and the major media—view the right to life.

In some ways, things haven’t changed much in the last 15 years but in other ways they have.

First, in this day of immediate gratification and instant answers, press deadlines truly have become “immediate.” Not that we didn’t get those types of time-sensitive requests in 2004. But back then there was a real news cycle. Today, news is published in more of a how-fast-can-it-be-posted manner which means that I am checking e-mail constantly in case a reporter is trying to get an interview with a NRL spokesperson.

This leads me to my second point.

Fast, race-to-be-first reporting in this day and age often means poorly researched or, worse, not-even-remotely-fact-checked stories and articles. Again, not unique to 2019, but what was once the exception seems now to be the norm.

People trust who they know or agree with and, sadly, this means many reporters trust Planned Parenthood more readily than a local or even national pro-life organization, such as National Right to Life. This can mean that a reporter won’t look beyond Planned Parenthood’s talking points and check their sources.

For example, a simple check with the Centers for Disease Control could confirm the numbers NRLC uses when we talk about babies born alive after an attempted abortion. Instead, reporters will uncritically accept the talking points sent out by NARAL, Planned Parenthood, or EMILY’s List, the leading pro-abortion political action committee.

In addition, in an age of diminished resources, reporters are furiously multitasking. Gone are the publications and news outlets that could afford to have reporters covering specific beats. Now, reporters have to be a Jack-or-Jill of all trades, topics, and subjects. Some do it well. Congratulations to them. But others, caught in a time crunch or a desire to be the first to report a story, tend to only touch on the surface of an issue.

It is a simple fact of life at NRLC that rarely do we meet a reporter who questions the abortion lobby’s talking points. But some do.

Recently, a reporter e-mailed the communications department asking for an interview and commented, “I am working on a story about the Title X issue and it appears to be more nuanced than what I have seen so far…” Requests like these are exciting because they mean that these reporters are questioning what they’ve been given by NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and (most often) the Guttmacher Institute, formerly Planned Parenthood’s “special affiliate.”

Third, traditional media outlets still exist but now there are new kinds of media. Bloggers and podcasters also think of themselves as reporters. We try to accommodate every request we can but we also have to be judicious. Questions we have to ask are: Are they an influencer (in a good way)? Are they friendly?

I have to balance a NRL spokesperson’s time and availability against the audience size or whether the podcaster is hostile and will distort our response. Time on the air (or on the phone) arguing over the abortion issue with a pro-abortion podcaster who has a narrow audience is not the wisest use of a top spokesperson’s time. But whether friendly, hostile, or somewhere in between, my job is to treat them with respect, whether that respect is returned or not.

Times have changed. The media, never particularly receptive to begin with, is less friendly to us and more openly hostile to our issue. The solution is to do what we have always done: be respectful, be consistent, be factual, and be accurate.

Key to any organization’s media strategy is to have a good working relationship with reporters who cover their issues. Some of the reporters who covered the life issue 15 years ago are gone, but not all are.

My job in the next few months will be re-establishing my working relationships with those reporters and creating new ones with reporters new to me or new to our issue. I am proud to follow in the steps of the previous communications director (who is now NRLC’s Chief Marketing Officer) who had a good working relationship with many of these reporters.

By expanding our relationships with reporters, we can reach more Americans with the truth. I look forward to the day when all innocent human life is protected from fertilization through natural death.

Categories: NRLC