Day 2 of the Women's HIV/AIDS Advocacy and Leadership Summit: How to Work With Media Outlets and HIV Criminalization 101
October 26, 2011
A loud "Hmmm mmmm" echoed in the audience.
It makes it seem as if HIV means that a woman doesn't have the right to be sexual. One of the panelists shared a quote from a woman at a past event: The woman had wondered when she would ever be able to feel like the sexual person she is.
Another really important takeaway for me was how HIV criminalization laws were being used to strip women of custody of their children. One woman stood up and said that her ex knew she was positive. As their relationship progressed, they made the decision together to have a child together, which meant having unprotected sex. But when that relationship ended years later, her ex went to court claiming that she had never disclosed her HIV status and she ended up losing custody of her child or facing jail time. She said she was trying to still build a relationship with her daughter, but it was extremely difficult. Her lawyer is still trying to repeal the custody arrangement some 15 years later.
Brook talked about how these types of non-disclosure laws typically impact communities in which members are already disproportionately incarcerated and policed -- these are usually people of color and poor people. She asked, "Do we really want to be locking up more people of color?" This gave the crowd something to definitely think about.
Next up were Olivia and me.
Our presentation was a media training that aimed to provide the women with some insight on: what to do if local or national media calls them for an interview; how to prepare for those interviews; the importance of writing letters to editors and op-eds about poor media coverage or current affairs; and how to pitch their own personal stories and/or organization's events to the media. We also went into great detail about how to craft a media strategy, the importance of fostering relationships with journalists; crafting talking points and staying on message; and why blogging is a good way to articulate the issues that the women take to heart.
While I have spent the past six years building a career on talking about how the media doesn't do a good enough job reporting on the domestic HIV epidemic, it's important to stress the need for HIV organizations to be more media savvy and learn to pitch their own stories. I know it's difficult, because organizations are understaffed with underpaid employees who are doing the job of three people. I completely understand that asking these women to take on even another role is a lot.
But it's crucial in order to increase and improve the media's coverage on our issue.
The reality is that newsrooms are understaffed too. And journalists, who once specialized in one area, such as crime, are finding themselves writing about food and culture and other topics that they might not feel very well versed in. Now add HIV to the mix -- a topic that is complex and nuanced. HIV might prove overwhelming, or an afterthought, for someone who doesn't even realize how much of a problem it is.
We have to work with the media to do a better job (whether that means being nice or being persistent).
Pitching raises a journalist's awareness and does the work for them, which they like. But most important, we stressed to the summit attendees not to be intimidated by journalists.
"You are special, you are worthy and your stories are important. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
We hope that the women enjoyed our presentation as much as we enjoyed presenting it to them.
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com. Follow Kellee on Twitter: @kelleent.
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