MEDIA ROUNDUP: Focus on security opens doors for several sectors

With the press devoting more coverage to homeland security, pitching opportunities across technology, transportation, manufacturing, and several other sectors have started to open up.

With the press devoting more coverage to homeland security, pitching opportunities across technology, transportation, manufacturing, and several other sectors have started to open up.

Almost from the moment of 2001's terrorist attacks, the media has been at the forefront of a full-blown effort to inform the public about domestic-security issues. News outlets both large and large and small have raced to do follow-up stories that not only keep the average American aware of the latest homeland-security issues, but also to put those developments in perspective. Realizing that it will likely continue to be a major issue for years to come, many editors have bucked the trend toward reduced newsroom staffs, and put a reporter on domestic-security coverage full-time. "Just about every major news outlet now has someone assigned to the homeland-security beat, and in most cases, it's exclusively to that beat," notes Richard Mintz, chair of the US public affairs practice at Burson-Marsteller. Many of these homeland-security reporters are based in Washington, DC, and thus their focus tends to be on government actions as well as the public-policy debates surrounding everything from implementing new security measures in airports to providing biohazard equipment for emergency workers. But homeland security has grown so large, it's now routinely covered by a variety of reporters. "Initially, homeland security was seen as a vertical market, but increasingly it's now being seen as a horizontal market," observes Steve O'Keeffe, principle with McLean, VA-based O'Keeffe & Company. "It touches transportation reporters, manufacturing reporters, business reporters, and national-security writers." "Journalists from lots of different beats are now contributing to homeland-security coverage," agrees David Lerner of Riptide Communications. Lerner, who represents The Center for Constitutional Rights, says that's especially true if you include the civil-liberties debate as part of homeland-security coverage. But he points out that state-and city-government reporters are also getting involved through coverage on how to fund and implement many of the security measures currently proposed by federal state and local officials. Pitching the homeland-security angle For PR people, homeland security has emerged as kind of a buzzword, guaranteed to pique the interest of many journalists. "You can go to technology reporters and say, 'Hey, here's an interesting way to get into the newspapers with a take on homeland security,'" says Mintz, adding that a homeland-security angle can turn what normally would be a business-page story into a front-page or A-section piece. But pitching homeland-security stories does require a fairly subtle touch, lest your client appear to be an opportunist capitalizing on a national crisis. Siebel Systems and its CEO Tom Siebel faced a backlash in The Wall Street Journal and other outlets for allegedly suggesting that the use of the right customer-relationship management software by government agencies prior to September 11 may have led to a different outcome. "You don't want to come across as an ambulance chaser," notes Meir Kahtan, who represents Identix, a company that produces biometric electronic fingerprinting solutions. "So you have to clearly define the area of you client's expertise and your reason for calling them. It also may mean that instead of issuing a press release, you may want to offer your clients for background briefings instead." O'Keeffe recommends that clients leverage their government partners whenever possible, getting federal officials to talk about the effectiveness of a homeland-security solution rather than have the company tout that technology itself. "You also need to talk the language of the market," O'Keeffe adds, noting that the government has established priority areas for homeland security-supporting first responders, defending against biological attacks, overall security awareness, and sharing information and technology. "If you can frame what your client is trying to do within one of these categories the government has identified, then obviously that's going to increase your tracking." While it's a fairly new beat, most reporters don't need that much education on the issues. This is especially true of the reporters assigned exclusively to the homeland-security beat, most of whom are veteran Washington journalists. "Initially, we saw a lot of reporters coming over from the transportation beat, but now they're coming from other beats as well," says Rob Mooney, senior partner with Fleishman-Hillard, one of the PR firms that has established a homeland-security practice. "So a lot of the reporters coming in already have fairly sophisticated knowledge about many of these topics." From the government to the people A lot of stories coming out of the Department of Homeland Security may simply be direct appeals from the government to the people. But even with those stories, the media plays the important role of putting announcements - such as the recent move to orange alert status (and back to yellow again), or the call for people to gather duct tape, water, and plastic sheeting - into the right perspective. "There is an opportunity for education," notes O'Keeffe. "There were stories on TV recently about school evacuation programs, for example." But PR people can also help this process along by making sure that the news they are passing onto journalists is presented in a way that the average reader can understand. "If you're looking for mainstream coverage as opposed to trade coverage or the business press, you need to keep in mind what's a mainstream story," O'Keeffe says. "So if you're selling a very technical bioterrorism-management solution to USA Today or the TV reporters, which we've had success doing, you've got to boil this story up to a point where it's relevant for them." Among the leading reporters covering homeland security are Ted Bridis of the Associated Press, James Risen and Lynette Clemetson of The New York Times, David Martin of CBS News, and Spencer Hsu and Helen Dewar of The Washington Post. Jaime Rupert, VP with Coltrin & Associates, notes that while homeland security is an ongoing national story, it obviously resonates differently in different parts of the country. "Each region has is own homeland-security issues that get covered by the media," she says. "For example, the issue around the San Francisco Bay Area may be how you protect the Golden Gate Bridge, whereas in San Diego it may be how you protect the border," she explains. But Rupert disputes the notion that the news agenda is being completely controlled by Washington. "A lot of topics may begin with the Department of Homeland Security saying borders are an issue or cargo is an issue," she says. "But then you have local media outlets stepping in and asking how it's being addressed in their area." As to whether homeland security will continue as a hot journalism topic indefinitely, O'Keeffe says, "Homeland security will not freestand forever, and eventually it will become part of business as usual. But I don't think this is a temporary industry, because business will never be the same and society will never be the same after what happened." ----- Where to go Newspapers The New York Times; The Washington Post; The Wall Street Journal; The Washington Times; LA Times; Chicago Tribune; USA Today Magazines Time; Newsweek; US News & World Report; Business Week; The New Yorker; New Republic; The Nation; The American Enterprise; National Review; Atlantic Monthly Trade Outlets Government Computer News; Federal Computer Week; Government Technology; Government Executive; Airport Revenue News; Defense Week; Aviation Week TV & Radio CNN; MSNBC; CNBC; CNNfn; Fox News Channel; network evening news shows; Nightline; NPR; AP Radio; NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

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