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Communicating in a New Media Landscape: 5 Ways to Help Journalists Help Us

How can we work with journalists more effectively? Here are 5 tips for development communicators.

“I actively avoid things that trigger my anxiety and things that can have a negative impact on my day. I will try to avoid reading news about things like deaths and disasters.” Male, 27, UK 

Put yourself in the shoes of this 27-year-old, who shared his perspective with the Reuters Institute in 2022. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine, rising energy prices, and a host of other global crises, this respondent has turned away from the news, finding it overwhelming and disempowering.  

The 2022 Reuters Institute Digital News Report found that many people are increasingly rationing or limiting their news exposure.

He is hardly alone. The 2022 Reuters Digital News Report found a trend of increasing disengagement with news, due to feelings of anxiousness about crises that seem intractable.  

And while news is now more readily available than ever, the media landscape has become increasingly fragmented.  

This means that while there are countless ways to consume news, it is much more difficult for messages to break through. 

Compounding matters, increasing audience polarisation is making it harder for global publics to agree on even basic facts. The spread of mis- and disinformation doesn’t help. 

These trends of disengagement, fragmentation and polarisation raise serious questions among development communicators about how to engage with the media 

In deciding how to allocate limited budgets, some have begun to ask whether engaging with traditional media is even worth the effort. Instead of investing in long-term partnerships with media outlets or individual journalists, they turn to their organisation’s social channels to reach the public directly. 

But while social channels are key to our work as development communicators, should we cut journalists out of the equation? Not so fast. Journalists can be our best messengers and amplifiers, and one quick hit on our social channels today can come at the cost of more impactful stories tomorrow. 

There are real opportunities for development communicators who understand journalists’ needs and how to meet them.  

This is particularly true as journalists themselves are struggling to navigate this turbulent news ecosystem, with volatile audiences meaning volatility in subscription and advertising revenue.  

Beyond financial sustainability, media freedom is in decline. The situation is particularly dire in some countries, where journalists, publishers, and outlets have come under direct threat.   

In keeping with SDG 16, which calls for building “inclusive institutions at all levels,” development communicators should aim to support journalists in sustainable and ethical ways. 

So how do we help journalists help us?  

Here are 5 ways forward. 


  • Put a human face on stories. Journalists are people, too, and will be moved by a powerful human story. Facts and data can be overwhelming or difficult to understand. Be sure to share profiles of real people affected by challenges and policies, as well as success stories.  
  • Offer opportunities for news media and their audiences to make a difference. Can you provide an example of one person or situation for which amplification via the press can make a real difference? This will be a much more enticing lead for journalists to pursue, particularly for complex and seemingly intractable issues. 
  • Provide content that can be easily adapted to different platforms. Outlets need to be able to share their content across all channels, and their priority channels may not be the same as yours. Be ready with a range of formats and content types. 
  • Drop the jargon. Make sure your copy and key messages are easy to understand. Journalists don’t want – or have time – to wade through industry-speak. 


  • Develop an honest relationship with journalists. Good journalists do not simply reprint press releases. If you encourage them to engage in a real dialogue with you – including being skeptical of your narrative – not only will you get a better story, but journalists will be more likely to work with you. 
  • Identify individual journalists and build interest. Not all journalists will be the right market for your organisation’s work. Take the time to figure out the right people to connect with at news outlets and keep your contacts up to date, as they can change quickly. 
  • Provide the whole package. Organise regular content briefings that highlight your organisation’s wider goals and the range of your work, rather than individual press releases. This context will make it easier for journalists to understand the significance of individual events, including breaking news down the line.  


  • Give trusted journalists and media partners a competitive advantage. Provide background information and key messages on complex issues and help make connections for them.  
  • Facilitate high-quality opportunities, such as interviews with senior leadership. Journalists need access to newsmakers and interesting people to tell good stories.  
  • Organise visits and open doors to communities. Provide journalists the space and time to meet with real people and hear their stories.  First-hand accounts will be much more powerful than any official communications. 


  • Don’t compromise your partners’ independence. Establish transparent guidelines concerning funding partners. There should be a firewall in your organisation between people working with journalists and colleagues who work on promotion and fund-raising. 
  • Establish Do No Harm Principles. Set transparent guidelines to make sure that communicators do not accidentally hinder media development in the countries in which they operate, or where they work with journalists. 
  • Support media development. Set clear rules for the support of media development and call for organisations to dedicate a portion of ODA to media promotion. 


  • Be generous with journalists. Introduce them to development colleagues in other organisations, and connect them with initiatives that need support and amplification. 
  • Help them plan ahead. Select several upcoming key moments to share with journalists at once, rather than drip-feeding. This includes key moments in the wider development calendar, beyond your organisation’s work. Journalists will be more likely to cover a non-breaking story if they have good lead time and can align your information with broader sectoral priorities, as well as with their own. 
  • Relatedly, coordinate industry-wide meetings on important SDG campaigns. This will help journalists better understand the scope of development work and make it easier for them to cover development stories. 

Ensuring a productive relationship between development communicators and the media is key for us at DevCom. In the past year, we have convened leading researchers on media trends; policy experts on mis- and disinformation, media literacy and freedom of the press; journalists working in the field of development; campaign experts; and communications managers from various ministries and agencies working on sustainable development and international co-operation.

The SDG Communicator will continue to explore this issue from a range of perspectives. Look out for our next post on this topic, which will feature a Q&A with OECD Communications Manager Joelle Bassoul. And be sure to explore our Toolkit, which offers a wide range of practical recommendations and advice for development communicators.  

Featured image by Shadowchaser for Fine Acts

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