[Coral-List] education of the masses

Steve Tooze stevetooze1000 at googlemail.com
Wed Jul 30 05:56:17 EDT 2008

Hi Coral listers
I've got a slightly different take on Pascal's line of argument.

I've been a mass market journalist for 20 years. I'm not sure that I agree
that the audience you are thinking about can only cope with simple facts.

It's that they need their facts packaged up in a certain way - as a
compelling narrative related to them by another human being.

Percentages, statistics, graphs, charts, weighty scientific reports.  I'm
afraid they are all water off a duck's back to the vast majority of the
people who read (pretty much only) mass circulation newspapers and magazines
or watch trash TV.

All that science stuff is scary and seemingly contradictory. It makes them
feel powerless in the face of powerful global forces beyond their control.

And even Al Gore's excellent polemic really only reached the reading middle

To truly get the peril facing coral reefs across to the masses, you need
old-fashioned stories with a heroes fighting (and ideally prevailing)
against evil and impossible odds or a victims facing tragedy or terrible

I can hear the groans. And I am exaggerating for dramatic effect. But I'm
sure you get the serious point I'm trying to make here.

You all need to start looking for positive human stories that show that a
brave, resourceful individual absolutely can make a difference to the fate
of our coral reefs by their lifestyle and consumption choices.

So (and again I'm being simplistic for the sake of brevity) where are the
stories about young, personable marine scientists facing down opposition to
save a particular coral reef or coastal area?

The local fisherman supporting a no-take zone - against his own immediate
interests - for the sake of his children and grandchildren?

The farmer who has changed his practices due to your piece of
ground-breaking research in the effects of fertilisers?

The media-savvy scientist who is willing to become a recognised household
name, the charismatic posterboy/girl of the Fight Against Coral Reef
Destruction, thus giving us simple tabloid hacks and readers a single person
to go to and identify with? (Call it the Jacques Cousteau Effect!)

All these people are your point men and women. You need to start digging
them out and putting them up very regularly for interview by local, regional
and even national TV and press.

Mass market media (and their audience) will stop to listen to their human
interest stories and then stay around long enough to take on board some of
the hard facts and figures.

Oh, and about those billboards. How about using them to tell a simple
narrative too?

Say you have three billboards placed half a mile apart on the same road.
Poster One is dark and sombre showing someone doing a Bad Thing that will
endanger coral reefs. A big dramatic logo reads I'm Killing a Coral Reef

Poster Two shows a smiling child doing a Good Thing under the logo I'm
Saving a  Coral Reef Today.

Poster Three shows a beautiful, healthy coral reef with the logo YOU Can
Save Our  Coral Reefs too. At the bottom of the poster it reads 'Find out
more at www.coralreefs.com...' thus leading them to a website with, say, ten
simple lifestyle changes they can make to help coral reefs.

I agree - cheesy, populist etc. But it's an approach that has worked for the
likes of Greenpeace and Oxfam.

In the UK the government and various lobby groups have successfully used
these tactics to bring simple measures to combat climate change - turning
off lights, using low-energy lightbulbs, recycling - into the mainstream.

I honestly think that adopting variations on these tactics is vital if you
are serious about getting your message across to those millions of consumers
who will ultimately play a major part in deciding whether coral reefs
survive the century.

Steve Tooze
Media consultant & journalist

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