Competition or the cause?

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A story about a well-known Australian with media connections voicing a Community Service Announcement (CSA) caught the eye of the Cube team last week.

The Daily Telegraph reported on leading Sydney radio station 2GB’s decision not to run a CSA for little-known charity Retina Australia because it used the voice of the charity’s NSW patron, Don Burke. The reason? As it turns out, Burke has a weekend gardening show on rival station 2UE.

2UE's Don Burke

2GB went one step further and declared it would not air any rivals’ voices on its airwaves.

Unsurprisingly, this decision provoked an emotional response from Burke, who claimed the decision was ‘deeply hurtful’, especially as his name is not announced and it’s just his voice. The article also jolted the newspaper’s online readers into action, attracting in excess of 40 comments, most of which supported Burke and dismissed 2GB’s position.

This decision by 2GB raises an important, often unasked question – should competitive issues be set aside in the Australian media when the aim of the communication initiative is to raise vital funds for a charitable organisation? Or is it fair to put the needs of business before greater benefit?

Celebrities are engaged by companies and charities to help highlight a specific health cause more often than not – and their involvement is particularly crucial for organisations like Retina Australia who are inevitably deemed less ‘sexy’ (and therefore un-newsworthy) by the media.

The decision on who to use is often based on a combination of the celebrity’s personal connection to the cause and ability to attract the desired media attention – referred to in journalist circles as their ‘media currency’. If the chosen celebrity also has a regular column in a magazine, or fronts a television program, this is usually viewed as a positive by-product of the agreement.

Ironically, Retina Australia has received far more publicity from the decision taken not to air their CSA than would have been achieved through simply airing the CSA itself. But the situation does highlight celebrity affiliations to media won’t always lead to widespread coverage and that, in some instances, it can hinder – rather than help – the ability of communications professionals to spread a valid, important message far and wide.

This highlights how important it is to consider media outlet competition as well as cause connections and media currency when drawing up the shortlist of celebrities for a campaign.

Tell us what you think below!

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Always on the line…is social media bad for your health?

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This week has seen a resurgence in discussion about the effect mobile phones are having on our health, with a large international study receiving widespread media coverage. Suggestions about the health impact of our mobile phone habits are a popular topic, so it may be worthwhile considering the impact the so-called ‘digital age’ and the resulting constant connectivity has on our health.

Our very smart phones allow us to stay connected, longer. But next time you are getting through the flurry of work emails on your Blackberry/iPhone while in traffic or on the bus, or even at home in front of the telly, consider this: a recent study has linked working overtime to an increased risk of heart disease.

This is worrying, considering a survey found nearly one third of Americans feel they need to stay connected to work 24/7, even during weekends and holidays. With Australians working the longest hours of any other country, we must be batting a similar average.

And with almost a third of us now using our mobiles to tweet and update our Facebook accounts, is it any wonder there are suggestions some are becoming addicted? In light of this, Facebook apps like this are eerily ironic.

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The rise of the responsible blogger

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It’s hard to believe blogging began just over ten years ago, primarily as online diaries for a handful of people. In its purest form the blog is a relatively easy way for you and I (the ‘citizen journalist’) to communicate to interested people about any topic we like in a format where having an opinion matters more than being objective. 

Recently, the blog format has migrated into the mass media space, with the format increasingly utilised by traditional media outlets to present news and current affairs online. The first known use of a blog on a news site was in August 1998, when Jonathan Dube of The Charlotte Observer in the United States published one chronicling Hurricane Bonnie. But it was the Iraq war that saw blogging rise in popularity amongst journalists, with many providing a ‘real life, real time’ image of the conflict via their online diaries.

The divide between traditional journalism and blogging is often seen as a chasm rather than a crack, particularly in terms of accuracy and quality. But discussions at last week’s Frocomm Digital Conference challenged the view that all blogs are created equal. 

While bloggers themselves were once seen as ‘media mavericks’, one of Australia’s key bloggers discussed the fact that many bloggers choose to adhere to the commandments of their journalistic counterparts. Duncan Riley, respected blogger and editor of The Inquisitr reiterated the ‘content is king’ mantra, stressing the importance of accuracy and objectiveness. Mr Riley claims his blog jumps through more ‘editorial hoops’ than some of the stories found on sites like news.com.au, which he argues could be seen as content filters rather than content creators.

Rise of the responsible blogger

However, he also admits that “quality blogs don’t get the traction, influential stuff does.” Monty Hamilton, Head of Online at Ubank agreed, labelling the merging of quality and influence “engagement value – what can we offer the blogger that will engage their audience and ultimately attract new followers?”

We are undoubtedly witnessing a closing of the great divide between the blog and traditional media coverage. In the United States alone, an overwhelming 89% of journalists admit to researching and/or sourcing a story from a blog. (Conversely, Duncan Riley would rather his blog was “picked up on Twitter than by the mainstream media” as the power of attracting more followers is greater).

Whatever your personal view, blogs will continue to grow in number and influence, offering healthcare communicators a unique avenue to reach a specific target audience who are interested and highly motivated by what they read – providing that ‘engagement value’ in a way no traditional mass media outlet can.

In the age of the ‘healthsumer’ and at a time when the traditional flow of information has been turned on its head, the question will not be whether to engage with the blogosphere or not, but rather who to appropriately interact with and how to do it.

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The rise and rise of swine flu

The rise and rise of swine flu

The rise and rise of swine flu

Despite continued Global media coverage, swine flu seems to be in decline within Australia, or at least within manageable limits.

The media first coined the phrase ‘swine flu’ back in April this year after a new strain of influenza containing genetic fragments of swine, bird and human viruses was detected. The WHO declared a Global pandemic in June after the number of infections reached 28,774 in 74 countries, including 144 deaths.

Whilst the potential impact of new, fast moving viral strains can rarely be quantified, it has to be said that everyone likes a good health ‘scare’. A random Google search for ‘swine flu’ today came up with over 34 million hits, the vast majority being media coverage. Yet much of the online buzz was propelled by social networking sites with swine flu rating as a trending topic on Twitter for several weeks.

At the time of this blog post, the death toll in Australia is said to have reached 128, with 460 in hospital and 94 of them in intensive care. However within Australia at least, the virus is now perceived to be manageable. Health officials announced last week that vaccinations may start within the month, making Australia the first country to begin mass vaccination against the H1N1 virus.

The swine flu ‘buzz’ continues due to the ongoing impact overseas. Just today, in a bid to halt the spread of the virus, the mayor of a small French town banned spitting and wrote to football chiefs to demand that footballers who spit be sent off, putting the issue back on the front page.

As the northern hemisphere goes into the winter flu season the swine flu ‘noise’ is set to continue, circulating via the global media. Potential new strains, mass vaccination and a resurgence of other influenza viruses like bird flu may add further fuel to the fire.

One thing is for sure – this health story is not going away anytime soon.

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