MEDIA ROUNDUP: Divorce stories remain a tough sell

Although nearly half of marriages performed each year will end in divorce, David Ward finds that many media outlets are reluctant to tackle divorce and separation

Although nearly half of marriages performed each year will end in divorce, David Ward finds that many media outlets are reluctant to tackle divorce and separation

Of the approximately 2.3 million marriages each year, about 1 million eventually will end in divorce, according to the US Census. Yet, while weddings and marriages are a booming industry and media staple, divorce remains an extremely tough sell to reporters, editors, and producers. There are occasionally stories on concepts like the "starter marriage," as well as interest in unusual legal issues, such as grandparent visitation rights. But as far as an ongoing social phenomenon, the country's divorce rate is in many ways off the media radar screen. "You would think that with about 50% of all couples getting divorces, there would be reporters who would want to write stories related to it," says James McCusker, account supervisor with GS Schwartz, which represents the Blank Rome law firm and its high profile matrimony/divorce attorney, Sheila Riesel. "But it doesn't seem to be the case." Facing resistance Haasan Morse, a New York-based publicist who represents Leslie Fram, author of the book How to Marry a Divorced Man, has had such an experience. "I received a lot of resistance from women's magazines and TV, as well," Morse says. "I thought it was the perfect fit, but a lot of these magazines are selling the fantasy, and they are reluctant to do stories that are too reality-based." Morse was able to get Fram on the now defunct show The Other Half, as well as a segment on CBS' The Early Show. Jennifer Altman, senior account supervisor with Plantation, FL-based Boardroom Communications, says her firm faced similar frustrations when pitching several law firm clients with divorce practices. "The women's magazines touch on issues involving emotional healing, but only refer to a general tragedy or a major milestone," she says. "They rarely bring up divorce specifically." Altman notes that there have been several attempts to start up outlets specifically aimed at people going through a separation or divorce. And there is also the syndicated Flying Solo column, penned by Jan Warner and Jan Collins, which deals with both legal and emotional issues surrounding divorce. But for the most part, the way to get consistent coverage of the issue is if there's a legal case involving well-known names. "It is almost as if the topic is too taboo to openly discuss, but as long as there are faces to the situation, it's fair game," Altman says. Cherie Kerr of Kerr Companies Public Relations represents two high-profile celebrity divorce firms in California, Nachshin & Weston and Phillips, Lerner & Lauzon. She says that she had some trouble generating interest in an advice book two of the lawyers penned on pre-nuptial agreements, but she adds that the media comes out of the woodwork if there's even a hint of celebrity involvement. "We have Entertainment Tonight calling every week, seeing if we can leak anything to them, which we don't do," Kerr says. "My clients won't comment on their own cases, but we've had them on everything from CNN to People magazine, as well as the legal publications." Targeting new sections Jonathan Dedmon, principal with the Dilenschneider Group, which represents the 1,600-member American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, notes he's had some success pitching personal finance reporters and the business press on the monetary implications of divorce. "It used to be papers like The Wall Street Journal would give us some coverage, but they tended to cover only the big cases," he says. "But now we're getting a lot more coverage in the Journal's expanded Personal Finance section, and there's three or four reporters calling us on a regular basis." Dedmon says the academy tries to counter what has traditionally been a negative stereotype of divorce attorneys. "We don't really gather a lot of statistics, but we do try to survey the members and find out what they're seeing so we can pitch overall trends stories," he says. With divorce no longer carrying the social stigma it once did, Morse suggests the sheer numbers alone should eventually compel some additional coverage, especially in the lifestyle pages. "There are 50 million women between 18 and 54, and the majority of them will either date or marry a divorced man at some point in their lifetime," he says. "So this is one of those stories where the media has to catch up with the reality." Pitching... divorce
  • Given lifestyle editors' resistance to covering divorce, look for angles that can attract the interest of other sections, such as personal finance
  • Leverage high-profile celebrity couples to pitch break-up-related trend stories. Even the on-and-off romance of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez offered some opportunities to talk about the pros and cons of pre-nuptial agreements
  • Remind editors and TV producers that the numbers don't lie. At some point, a huge percentage of their audience is at least going to consider splitting from their mates and could use practical advice

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