As a network of people with lived experience of mental ill-health, distress and trauma, we often get requests from journalists and other media professionals looking to speak to people in our membership (network) with specific and often very painful and traumatic experiences. This is different to media and press professionals approaching NSUN as an organisation to have staff provide comments on news pieces. This page sets out our approach to dealing with requests to share callouts for people in our network to speak to journalists.
We may sometimes connect journalists or media representatives with individuals or a group in our network, or share a callout with the network (primarily through our weekly e-bulletin to members) which asks people to contact a journalist if they are willing to speak to them about a specific topic. However, for us to do so, we will first want to understand more from the journalist about how the piece resulting from the engagement will be meaningful, and how the engagement itself will be handled with respect and sensitivity.
This is because we know that journalism and media coverage around mental health can be sensationalist or “clickbait”, and we know that journalism can be extractive and tokenistic, using people’s deeply personal experiences as “stories” to “add colour” to media pieces without serving those whose voices and experiences it wishes to use to further its reach and impact.
In order to feel relatively confident that the ask for engagement that we share is ethical, we will want to understand from the journalist:
- What the purpose of the piece is – is it genuinely meaningful?
- Will contributors have the option of anonymity?
- How contributors will be able to contribute: will they have the option of speaking to the journalist via a medium of their choice, can they bring a supportive person to any interview, and can they be provided with the questions they will be asked in advance? This is all important in the acknowledgment that people are being asked to talk about deeply personal and painful experiences, and to support them through this
- What level of agency can people have over how their quotes/contributions are used, how they are represented, and what context they will be positioned alongside or against? For example, can they have a final say on what is included in the piece from what they have said, and at least see an outline of the rest of piece that their contributions are contained within?
- If applicable, will contributors be kept in the loop with anything further that comes out of a particular piece, particularly investigative pieces?
If you are approaching us regarding a callout, we will ask you to address these questions. We will want to share this information in the callout itself so that people can make informed decisions about whether they would like to engage.
If we are not confident that the engagement will be handled in a way that is ethical, which will also include us considering the language and tone used in the approach to us, we will not share the callout with our members.
Finally, we understand that it is not the norm for contributors to be provided with any form of remuneration for time spent doing media engagements, but we would encourage the media to think about how contributors may be able to get something in return from the engagement beyond just “having their voices heard”.