GPS tracker


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Your Own Story: UNEP's Media Tour of the Balkans


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John W. Bennett


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play with death in toxic wasteland –
headline of 27 April 2001 article by
Paul Brown, Guardian (UK)


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dumpsite
– headline of 30 April 2001 article by Ottar Jakobsen, Dagbladet
(NO)


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environment leaves big open wounds
– headline of 3 May 2001 article by
Carola Kaps, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE)


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catastrophe in the Balkans
– headline of 6 May 2001 article by Jesper
Stein-Larsen, Morganavisen Jyllands-Posten (DK)


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despairs about 'perfect murder'
– headline of 18 May 2001 article by Peter
Michielsen, NRC Handelsblad (NL)


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">You
want to tell a story. Not to the few, but to the many. In fact, you want to
reach as broad an audience as possible. And, most especially, you want to
influence decision-makers. What is the best strategy? Every organization that's
ever had an issue or a report to publicize has confronted this question.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">In
cultures with free press traditions, media coverage is never guaranteed.
Traditional choices – press releases, press conferences and events – are tried
and true if you're delivering hard news. Otherwise, they can be hit or miss.


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highly effective but less traveled road to promoting coverage is the media tour.
This past


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the Balkans Unit of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) conducted
its first media tour.


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the bottom line


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that journalists cannot be compelled to write stories, UNEP set the
following


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expectations for its media tour:



  • educate the journalists about the environmental issues of concern in the
    Balkan region;
  • introduce the journalists to credible sources of information for stories;
    and 
  • ensure that the journalists had a professionally satisfying
    experience.

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these goals alone been met, UNEP believed the tour would have justified itself.
As of early June 2001, however, 28 stories from the tour had been published or
aired and several more were anticipated.


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tour – who, what, when and where


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22 - 30 April 2001, UNEP led a group of eleven journalists on a tour of
environmentally degraded areas in the Balkans where UNEP had focused its work
during the past two years. In eight days of travel, the journalists – eight
writers, two radio reporters, one photographer – visited eight environmental hot
spots in Albania, FYR Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia. Throughout the journey, the
journalists were accompanied by UNEP staff and met with local environmental
experts, key government officials, and company management.


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journalists came from news organizations located throughout Western and Northern
Europe:


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Organization


BBC World Service
Dagbladet
Financial Times
Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung
Guardian
Le Monde Diplomatique
Morganavisen
Jyllands-Posten
NRC Handelsblad
Radio Suisse Romande
Radio
Sweden


Principal media market


U.K./globe

Norway
Europe
Germany
U.K.
France
Denmark
Netherlands
Switzerland
Sweden


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">The
journalists' backgrounds and orientations were quite diverse. Some covered
science and the environment, some general news, some financial and economic
news. A few had not traveled in the Balkans, but most had. A number, in fact,
had extensive knowledge of the region. One was a Central and Eastern European
editor with over 25 years experience in the Balkans. Another had been based in
the Balkans for many years. Still another was a historian who had recently
written a book on the Kosovo conflict.


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background


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Since
its creation in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict, the Balkans Unit (formerly
the UNEP/UNCHS (Habitat) Balkans Task Force) has focused on post-conflict
environmental impacts. In 1999, the Balkans Task Force issued a groundbreaking
study, entitled: The Kosovo Conflict : Consequences for the Environment &
Human Settlements
. The assessment identified four environmental 'hot spots'
in Serbia that had been caused by NATO bombing.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">In
2000, the Balkans Unit assessed the environments in Albania and FYR of
Macedonia. The assessments focused on environmental impacts from the Kosovo
refugee influxes; the countries' institutional capacities for environmental
protection; and industrial 'hot spots'. As was true in Serbia, UNEP identified
environmental 'hot spots' – five in Albania and five in FYR of Macedonia. Each
of these sites posed severe and imminent threats to public health and the
environment. UNEP's findings were published in two reports, Post-Conflict
Environmental Assessment – Albania
and Post-Conflict Environmental
Assessment – FYR of Macedonia
.


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March 2001, the Balkans Unit released a fourth assessment report, analyzing the
effects of depleted uranium from NATO bombs on Kosovo's environment. The report,
entitled Depleted Uranium in Kosovo, found no significant health threats
at 11 sites investigated, but cautioned that measures should be taken to limit
access to the sites.


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Balkans Unit's post-conflict environmental assessments have been widely
distributed. The assessments have been followed by feasibility studies in
Serbia, Albania and FYR of Macedonia. The feasibility studies are intended to
trigger remediation projects. In Serbia, work has already begun on humanitarian
environmental assistance projects that will remediate pollution in Novi Sad and
Pancevo.


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whole of the Balkans Unit's work, however, is far greater than the sum of its
reports and studies. Behind every printed page and project proposal are places
where real people live. Too often, these places are severely contaminated,
endangering human lives and the environment. In short, there is much work to be
done. And there are many stories to be told.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Building
a constituency through public awareness


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">UNEP's
work depends largely on contributions from international donors. Decision-makers
within donor organizations make funding choices based on institutional mandates
and knowledge of worthy environmental projects. Information, however, serves a
different function and has a different impact depending on its context.


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assessment report describing a contaminated factory site inhabited by migrant
families provides decision-makers with essential information. A newspaper
article about the same subject, and containing the same facts, can help to build
a constituency for action, if not a mandate. Put differently, public awareness
of environmental problems helps decision-makers to rationalize allocating
resources to solving those problems.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Media
relations, then, provide crucial pathways to affecting public decision-making.
This view is reinforced by the remarks of one of the journalists on the UNEP
tour: 'I am sure that [my stories] will have an impact, both on the level of an
agency or company and on the level of a local or national decision maker.'


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media tour concept


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">It's
a cliché that our cultures have become dominated by communication. But it's
true. This morning's misplaced remark is this morning's headline. And as
hand-held digital transmissions, webcasts, and other 'of-the-moment'
technologies evolve into tomorrow's world-in-your-palm solutions the speed and
quantity of communication will only accelerate. While the new digital Babel
makes information easier to promulgate, it also makes stories harder to
differentiate and place in the media. Environmental organizations seeking to
inform and influence decisionmakers are facing stiffer competition. In order to
be heard through the din, more inventive approaches are needed.


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are some reasons why media tours can be effective:


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Stories:
The marriage of interests is obvious. UNEP, for example, wanted to make donors
and the public aware of several different Balkan environmental stories. The
journalists, who live and die for stories, were offered a hefty volume and rich
menu of news possibilities. As one journalist stated, 'The subject was
interesting and – for me – quite different from the usual themes I write about.
The background of each of the sites visited was different, so that the stories
were all about environmental issues, but did not resemble each other.' A strong
supply of stories also enabled the journalists to sell the idea to their
editors. As another reporter put it, 'In the end, [my editors] were
enthusiastic, mainly because it produced good copy.' A similar sentiment was
echoed by a third reporter, who said: '[My editors] liked the results, which
gave insights into problems of the region that are rarely or not at all
covered.'


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Access:
It's often very hard and time-consuming for journalists to research even the
stories they're most determined to write. Phone calls are not always returned,
and doors are not always opened. A properly organized media tour offers
journalists an information excursion in which all of the worst headaches have
been negotiated by the host organization. In some cases, in fact, the host
organization is offering access to sites and sources that journalists would
never gain otherwise. This is particularly true in countries that are just
establishing free press traditions.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Style:
Despite all the state-of-the-art news-gathering techniques being deployed today,
reporters, by and large, still want to see, hear and feel human dynamics in
action. Media tours let reporters have it both ways. While hundreds of miles
from the technological comforts of home, they can still be only a phone
connection and modem away from filing their stories.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">You
buy, they'll fly
: Unlike simply faxing a press release, media tours are
relatively labor and cost intensive. On the other hand, with the money spent on
a media tour you couldn't buy advertising that would be half as valuable as
clips generated by respected journalists. And the added inducement of financial
assistance for airfare or hotels can make all the difference to news
organizations. As one reporter wryly put it, 'My editors were initially
reluctant because they always want you chained to your desk, but as soon as they
realized it would not cost much they warmed to the idea.'


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Time:
Instead of having fifteen minutes on the phone to complete a reporter's
understanding of an issue, you have hours, if not days. Lunches, bus rides,
night caps at the hotel – what several days on the road might lack in physical
luxury, it compensates for with opportunities for establishing an in-depth
appreciation of complex environmental matters. And not just from your
organization and its sources. During the UNEP tour, reporters with economic,
environmental and general news backgrounds each threw different light on the
issues for one another. The many hours together are also a crucible out of
which, often enough, lasting professional relationships emerge.


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short cut for the next road trip


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">The
day-to-day reality of a media tour depends on tight organization. Nothing can
undermine morale and lower expectations more than projecting disorganization at
the outset. Each day must be carefully scripted, with meetings, briefings, site
visits, receptions, transport, hotels, meals and visas all fixed, to the extent
possible, before the first meeting with the journalists. The organization of the
Balkans tour, while effective, put a heavy burden on the journalists.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Every
day, UNEP took the journalists on one or more site visits during which local
environmental experts explained the site's problems from a scientific, technical
and political point of view. Before or after the site visits, interviews were
conducted with plant managers, political leaders, environmental and public
health officials, and NGOs. After eight days of this sort of action-packed
schedule, the journalists were satisfied but exhausted.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Recognizing
that it's impossible to please all of the people all of the time, it's important
to strike the right balance between providing information and providing time to
write or reflect. It's also important to accommodate the different needs of the
journalists, to the extent possible. Most on the UNEP tour didn't write up their
stories until after the trip. A full schedule, however, placed extra pressure on
the few who filed from the road.


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the results


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">UNEP's
initial expectations for the media tour were met. The journalists on the tour
were informed, introduced to valuable sources, and, ultimately, satisfied with
their experience. They became aware of the severe environmental and economic
development challenges facing a part of the Balkans. And they learned about
UNEP's various efforts in the region.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">In
the end, the UNEP Balkans media tour will have yielded approximately three dozen
articles and radio stories. Every hot spot visited during the trip was the
subject of at least one article. The geographic distribution of the stories was
generally even, except in the case of Albania. Approximately half the stories
focused on conditions in Albania, where the journalists met impoverished
migrants who were living on severely contaminated former factory sites. At the
other end of the spectrum, the fewest number of stories dealt with depleted
uranium in Kosovo, where public health concerns were not as strong.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">The
multiplier effect of the stories from the media tour is hard to measure but
substantial. Most of the pieces were circulated not only within the news
organizations' principal markets, but, via web sites, to readers and listeners
around the world. Indeed, journalists on the tour have confirmed that their
stories have received strong and interested responses. One reporter's article on
NATO-caused pollution in Serbia was featured by World Health News, a publication
of the Harvard University School of Public Health.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Perhaps
the most tangible measure of impact is donor response. Within weeks of the media
tour, donors from a few of the nations whose journalists participated in the
media tour expressed interest in committing resources to address the
environmental problems in the Balkans.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Conclusion


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">Media
coverage influences public and decision-maker opinion. The trick is to get the
coverage. Media tours offer an inventive and effective approach to bringing
journalists 'onboard'. With an eye toward story development and careful
planning, a media tour can produce a mutually rewarding experience for news
organizations and their hosts.


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style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt; mso-pagination: none; mso-layout-grid-align: none">John
W. Bennett, the coordinator of the UNEP Balkans media tour, is the Principal of
Bennett & Associates, a New York-based environmental management and
communications firm (bennettandassoc@aol.com). The former Director of Public and
Intergovernmental Affairs for New York City's Department of Environmental
Protection, he has worked extensively in Europe for UNEP and other environmental
organizations.


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