Talking to mainstream media about diabetes seems to be one of the biggest mysteries of life, does it not? When a big news story hits, we're often faced with one perpetuated myth after another. For example, recent headlines screamed that the CDC is now speculating that 1 in 3 people in the US will have diabetes by 2050, but most stories didn't specify that they meant type 2 diabetes exclusively. Big difference, right? Everyone from Oprah to Good Morning America to your local news anchor has probably gotten coverage of diabetes wrong at some point or another.
Now there may be a champion on our side! The Entertainment Industries Council (EIC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to fixing just those problems. Founded in 1983, the EIC works to provide information, awareness and understanding of major health and social issues among the entertainment industries and to audiences at large. Recently, they have teamed up with Novo Nordisk to host Picture This: Diabetes, a forum to bring together local media, health care groups, and advocacy groups to "identify the best ways to strengthen the awareness of diabetes services."
They hosted the first meeting in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, and the second event is being held today at Philadelphia's ABC 6 (WPVI) station. EIC and Novo Nordisk picked Seattle and Philly because of existing relationships, and also because of the high percentage of people with diabetes (namely type 2) in those regions. According to stats, 7% of Seattle's population has type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, while Philly has a whopping 13% with type 2 or pre-diabetes.
In Seattle's panel on Oct. 22, EIC and Novo Nordisk worked with local TV station KING-5 to host a panel which included representatives from local hospitals and clinics, diabetes groups like the American Diabetes Association, and other health non-profits. To bring in a little wow-factor to the panel, EIC brought in James Avery — better known as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (anyone here ever watched that show?) — as their celeb spokesperson for the initiative. James has had type 2 diabetes for many years, but is just now mixing with the media to talk about it.
"I hope it will help break down some barriers," James says, sharing with the crowd that he was hesitant to talk about his diabetes in the press because in Hollywood, you don't want people to think you're 'sick.' "It's not even just Hollywood, it's America. Depending on your job. Any hint of illness or disability and they might not hire you."
I hoped that this panel would help educate the media on how better to portray diabetes so that these stereotypes and judgments would fade, but that wasn't exactly the case. Instead, it turned into more of a mutual PR workshop. The media's role at the event appeared to be to help the stakeholders learn how to better present themselves "so that we [the media] can deliver your [diabetes stakeholder's] messages effectively." In other words, it was a lesson in how to best "pitch" diabetes so that the media would cover it. Seems rather one-sided, don't you think? Making the organizations do all the heavy lifting. The EIC plans to compile and and distribute a report to the local media after the second forum.
All that said, in light of us still being in the midst of National Diabetes Month, these tips should be helpful for spreading awareness to your own local media:
* Focus on the patients and their stories. "Humans are hardwired to understand stories about each other. One of the things we can really find in common ... is that we have to be aware of people who are good examples of what we're trying to illustrate," says Ursula Reutin, Managing Editor, News Talk 97.3
* Highlight what the audience can do to help with concrete action items. "What moves people to give donations? We've exhausted the sense of responding to a sad story. People are fatigued — compassion-fatigued. How do I as an individual know what can I do to make a difference? If there's a positive action, I'm much more likely to respond than if I'm hearing about a dreadful situation. Hope and answers and empowerment should be part of any messaging you have," Ursula also suggests.
* Make it easier for reporters by doing some of the legwork for them, like providing potential interviewees, video or photos, and action items for the audience - not just "stats." Pat Duggan, Producer for KING-5 Health Link, explains, "There's a lot of things going in this community and we don't always hear about them. For example, I have to produce seven news packages a week, so the easier you can make it for me, the more likely your story will get on the air."
* Get to know someone - a reporter or editor - at your local media before you need them. Wayne Lynch, News Director for Northwest Cable News, says, "There has to be human contact. One-on-one communication is so important. Come over [to the studio] and meet the anchors. Know someone's name and face. It does a world of good."
* Get online and create your own news, using blogs, videos on YouTube, or Twitter to connect to your audience. "If you want to know, what are my opportunities to tell my own story? Create your own content and present it in your own way. Produce a video, send the link to people, or set up a Twitter account. Think about being in the driver seat." Ursula says. (No news to us in the D-OC, ay?)
The Entertainment Industries Council has another call to action for PWDs, too. Next time you see diabetes portrayed in the media, let the EIC know so they can get involved. "Screenwriters are going to write the story and tell it the best they know how, even if they don't have the perfect info available. Part of our job is to work with that creative community," says Brian Dyack, President and CEO of EIC, who urges us to provide feedback, both on what the industry is doing wrong and what they are doing right. "We need to know what accuracy looks like," he says. The main contact for PWDs with input is Marie Dyack, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put that contact in your smartphone for easy access, I say!