12 Lessons From My Media Publicity About Trauma & Abuse
2014 — A Living Sacrifice — when I was two years old, my mother severely injured me during a psychotic episode, leaving me with a tracheostomy tube in my throat for 11 years. In 2014, after working with Amanda Gearing for 9 months on the story, a 25 minute radio documentary called A Living Sacrifice went to air. A followup story was published by the UK Daily Mail Online without my knowledge and with a wide range of inaccuracies. The story went viral and was syndicated across many countries and in at least 8 languages.
2015 — Online Grooming — From 2002–2005, when I was 15 years old, I had an online relationship with a man who I believed to be two years my senior. During that time we chatted regularly by phone, email and instant messenger. Many explicit things happened, often following threats if I didn’t do what he asked. We remained good friends for a further 9 years. In 2014, I discovered that he was in fact 62 years old and had been using photos of his own son to fool me. In 2015, with the help of Chris Allen and Amanda Gearing, my story aired on A Current Affair.
1. Choose the Right Journalist
I studied journalism at University and had enough experience to know that not all journalists are of the same caliber or share the same ethical standards. There’s nothing wrong with talking to a journalist who wants a headline, but it’s important to make sure it’s someone who cares as much or more for both justice and public education rather than just sensationalism.
2. Make Sure You Have As Much Proof as Possible
For legal reasons, and also to have as much information and content for the story as possible, a good media story needs plenty of corroborating evidence. Whether it’s medical records, police reports, conversations, text messages or photos, it’ll all be useful.
3. Have Rules and Limits
I personally have a list of rules when I deal with the media. Sure, you may get stars in your eyes when you receive an interview request from a big name, but it’s important to know what the risks are. I have a list of personal rules when dealing with journalists, some of which include:
- No pictures of my children.
- No pictures of my mother.
- I am allowed to view the story before it goes live (or to air).
Journalists may push you for certain things (it’s their job to get as much information as possible) but there’s no reason you can’t push back. Be prepared to ask questions, make your own requests or refuse to do certain things if you aren’t comfortable. If they truly want the story, the journalist will listen to your requests and reach a compromise that works for both of you.
4. Expect Things to Happen Faster or Slower Than You Expect
Although news stories may go to air hours after an event, more in depth stories may take weeks or months of research, editing and preparation. Sometimes you may know weeks before they air, while other times you may only get 24 hours warning. Often stories are moved around based on other news or to give them the best exposure.
Once the story is public, you may find the immediate response far different than you expected. Sometimes attention is immediate, while other times, it may take several days for any public interest or syndication of the story to garner attention.
5. Expect Mixed Feelings
You may feel guilty — either for publicly talking about something negative, feeling excited about finally seeing justice through the story or simply for doing the story at all. You may also feel a myriad of other emotions, or the whole spectrum, especially after the story is published or goes to air. No matter what you feel, it’s just a part of the process.
You may feel disappointed, overwhelmed, angry or even start to recall things that you had forgotten about the event. Sometimes you may expect too much from a story simply because you want its impact to equal the amount of pain and stress that went into making it.
Just remember that any decisions you make in the rush of emotions may be influenced by the roller coaster you’re on. Sleep on big decisions or talk to someone who you know can provide impartial advice.
6. Expect to Feel Lonely
I didn’t want to come forward and do my second story alone. I wanted someone else to validate that what I’d experienced was real, that what had happened to me was not my fault and to provide moral support. Sometimes, though, we have to step forward and do what needs to be done and receive validation later. There isn’t a support group labelled “Survivors who’ve also survived the media”, to help us through it.
People will try to help or ask if you need support. There’s no simple answer, but if you’re offered support take it — especially if it involves going out somewhere and thinking about something else for a few hours.
7. Buckle Down Your Social Media
People are interested in sad stories for a range of reasons; sometimes because they can relate or want to offer support and other times simply as a voyeur. Whatever the reason, you’ll likely have a stack of people searching for your name online and even reaching out to you by email, your Facebook messages or any other social media platforms you use. Sadly, some less than ethical journalists will also stalk your profiles to find images or content for new articles about you. Check out my post about this practice.
Google yourself. Check your privacy settings. Make sure that as little private information about you is displayed online as possible.
8. Expect Too Much Time to Think and Question
Things will go incredibly fast and incredibly slow at times as you try and deal with the wild ride. Depending on your story, you may be approached by people from your past, journalists from other outlets or other survivors. In between, you may spend too much time analysing the outcome of the story and if you made the right decision. You may nitpick details of how the story was told or received. That’s normal. If possible though, use the quiet times to switch off all your electronic devices and pamper yourself. A book, a movie (preferably lighthearted), wine or chocolate.
9. Expect People to Say the Wrong Thing
You’ll get tons of support and a fair share of negativity — if not directed at you, directed at people you love. Even the people who are supportive don’t know how to react or what you need. If you know, tell them. If you don’t, thank them.
10. Don’t Read the Comments If You’re Feeling Sensitive
While social media is one of the leading places where news stories are shared, it’s also a place where people can say what they think with very little moderation. For that reason, it’s best to avoid reading the comments on stories about you unless you have a tough skin.
If you do have a tough skin, you may find that the comments give you some unique perspective or even raise questions that you hadn’t thought to ask. Being the obsessive person I am, I prefer to track down every single comment about me and correct any inaccuracies or assumptions. For me, it’s about reminding keyboard warriors that there are real people behind stories.
11. Sometimes, You’re Just a Headline
To some journalists and to a lot of everyday people, you’re just a headline. Many people will rush to state their opinion with little background information and sometimes, without even reading or watching the full story.
Unfortunately, no matter how good the original journalist is, you have very little control over the story once it leaves and gets syndicated across other news networks.
12. Don’t Think That Publicity Means Money
To date, I’ve never received a cent for any of the stories I’ve done. I’ve always been wary about sharing my story being motivated (or bribed) with money, but you’d be surprised how many people’s first question is, “How much did you get paid?”
Want more advice on dealing with the media? Check out this great article: If the Media Calls: A Guide for Crime Victims & Survivors
Originally published at susannahbirch.com on June 8, 2015.