Ian Monk: Media rise to Haiti challenge

Three decades ago when I was a young reporter in a Fleet Street newsroom, news broke - as it did in those days - by means of a ringing bell on a Reuters teleprinter indicating that the following wire report was of high significance.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

In fact, it was the first news rushes of an appalling natural disaster in Asia with thousands anticipated dead. Big story, I murmured, brandishing my passport in the hope of being on the next plane out. 'Two paragraphs in tomorrow's paper,' barked the news editor. 'No Brits out there - it's just nature's pruning fork.'

The remark was redolent of a different age and of timeless newsroom cynicism. It does not require a contemporary apology, since that would be meaningless to its context.

But it came back as I watched the amazingly skilled and compassionate PR and news operations mobilise global support for the people of Haiti. The messages of disaster were conveyed endlessly through the 24-hour news networks, non-existent in 1980. The images and reports were melded seamlessly with appeals for help.

In the UK, newspapers across the spectrum joined the effort. Astute PROs from the worlds of business, sport, politics and celebrity jumped aboard this most laudable of bandwagons.

Haiti suddenly became the epicentre not only of the catastrophic quake but of the world's media agendas.

Only a handful of voices murmured cynical criticism that the media's celebrity quake appeals represented a drawing down by newspapers on stars' money and goodwill to propagate the greater glory of their brands and to drive audience.

Modern media have many faults, as all PROs know.

Their self-importance, intrusiveness and ability to whip up a crisis out of anything from a snowfall to a flu outbreak have all earned justifiable criticism. Often this has properly extended to the PROs who seek to create agendas or to warp them. But the response to Haiti demonstrated how modern media can harness the power of information, community and compassion. They deserves three rousing cheers in the UK - and globally.

- Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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