Improving Media Relations through Education

Article excerpt

EDUCATING STATEWIDE news media personnel about contemporary banking and legislative issues is a multiyear project of the North Carolina Bankers Association. The project may serve as a model for use by other state banking associations.

The timing is appropriate. With national banking regulatory agencies preparing to publicly disclose disciplinary actions it takes with specific banking organizations beginning January 1986, the public will be exposed to reportorial coverage of banking that it has not been accustomed to. Building a stronger relationship with reporters and editors now help them more fully understand the salient issues in covering their stories.

In my last column on April 17, I discussed the extensive research conducted by the association that was the basis for this project. It consisted of separate focus groups with bankers and news reporters. The groups defined areas to be covered in a survey of North Carolina bankers and news personnel.

Those groups gave direction to the research. They were particularly valuable because of their insight into the way bankers and media personnel view each other. Consider these opinions of bankers about the banker-media relationship:

* "Banks collectively have some responsibility to help train business and financial writers."

* "Smaller banks do not have many problems dealing with the news media. Local press is smaller banking markets have closer personal contacts and better relationships with bank management. In the mid- and larger-sized markets -- especially where the press has out-of-town ownership -- this is not generally true."

* "As a group, professional business writers are relatively new. Often, they are quickly promoted out of writing into management, and new reporters have to be educated all over again about banking and financial issues."

* "Too much is made of bank failures. There is confusion between national bad news and what is actually going on in North Carolina. The national negative stories are being overemphasized."

* "Bankers in general expect the press to do its homework before asking for interviews."

From the media focus group came the following comments:

* "There is a language problem; we don't usually understand banking's technical terms. Many bankers do not realize that our reporters are generalists; they cover much more than banking."

* "Bankers will level about most things, but it is hard getting stories involving bad loans or management problems. Bankers lump the media together; they don't realize the distinction between print and broadcast media, nor their different needs."

* "Smaller banks are tough to work with; they have little understanding of broadcast media deadlines and operations."

* "Bankers are interested in numbers -- rates, growth, earnings -- the business side of banking. Our readers and listeners are interested in the human side -- ideas, innovations, what people as bankers are doing."

Comments like these became the basis for the survey that followed. Significantly, members of the media were enthusiastic about a suggestion in the research that the North Carolina Bankers Association sponsor a conference dealing with major issues in banking.

University Approached as Co-Sponsor

The North Carolina Bankers Association approached the Journalism School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill about co-sponsoring the conference. The university, one of the top 10 journalism schools in the country, agreed. …