Crack cocaine is a subject surrounded by myths and often subject to scare-mongering stories in the media that perpetuate local fears and misconceptions. Whilst you should encounter few problems in placing adverts for local services, care should be taken when approaching the media to run a story about crack cocaine services or when responding to media enquiries. The key is to cultivate strong, credible relationships with your local media so that you can develop trust and greater understanding of the facts. In this section, we take you through a step step by approach to developing a positive relationship with the press and hints on how to handle approaches from them to help ensure that you have input into how crack cocaine is reported.

Your local newspapers, magazines and television and radio stations are one of the main ways by which people learn what is going on in their community. All of these different branches of the media are bombarded on a daily basis with press releases from a multitude of organisations, from commercial and political to religious and community-based or in the fields of entertainment and leisure. In order to increase the effectiveness of your efforts with the media, you need to target the right journalists with the appropriate information. The first step to developing your relationship is to do some research. Read the papers and watch the local TV on a regular basis. Get a feel for the types of stories they tend to cover, the spin they tend to put on them and how in-depth they may go. Don’t forget local radio as well, plus magazine supplements of local papers and magazine programmes on local television. As you do this, make a note of the names of journalists who are covering health / community / drugs issues. These are the people with whom you need to develop a relationship. Once you have a list of people to approach, give them a call. Be sensitive to their deadlines - normally a quick call to the paper’s switchboard will enable you to find out when a paper goes to press, so avoid calling your contact the day before press day. When you have the name and the day sorted then give your contact a call and introduce yourself. Don’t be afraid to flatter them by commenting on the quality of some of their reports that you have seen! A simple introduction can be to give an overview of the areas of work you are involved in, especially if it relates in some way to a recent report, survey or story. Tell them that you may have some information or campaigns coming up that may interest them and ask if they would

like you to send press releases in the future. In an ideal world, you should also have some sort of action coming up in the not too distant future (such as an awareness initiative or development in services) for which a relevant press release could be sent. If there is a specific local concern you want to address or an initiative you would like to promote, you may also like to suggest a face to face meeting so that you can discuss things in person. If you are able to arrange a meeting, make sure you take plenty of information along with you for the journalist to take away. Following on from your initial contact with them, make sure you keep in touch regularly and appropriately – don’t ring them every week with nothing much to say. Journalists are always on the look out for good contacts. For them a good contact is someone who can be contacted at short notice and who provides interesting, concise and reliable information. Take steps to make sure that this is how they see you and you will increase your chances of contributing to and informing media coverage of drugs in your area.

It’s 4.45pm on a Friday. As the clock edges to the weekend and you begin to wind down, the telephone rings furiously on your desk. It’s the newsdesk at the local Echo. A very insistent journalist tells you that the police have raided a crack house on one of the town’s estates and he wants a quote immediately as he is about to go to press.‘Is the town being overrun by crack addicts?’ Is it only a matter of time before the town’s historic streets will be echoing to the sound of drug related gunfire?

This may sound like an extreme situation, but it is not as far-fetched as it sounds. How should you react to these sort of enquiries? The first rule is not to panic! Journalists do work to urgent schedules and they will try to get you to comment off the hoof - but don’t. You have to get your facts and thoughts together before responding. Even if that means saying you will call back in five minutes, at least that will give you time to assemble your thoughts and to think about the implications of what you are going to say. It also allows you a chance to run any response past other colleagues. Just make sure you do call back and never say “no comment”. To the readers this can be interpreted as “I have something to hide” and often serves to make the statement (that you haven’t commented on) more credible. The best response is usually to type up a brief statement of a paragraph or so. Make sure it is carefully worded and not open to misinterpretation. This way you know that you cannot be misquoted. If possible, include references to research, reports or official documents for further information. The statement should then be e-mailed or faxed as urgently as possible. Make sure you call to see that the statement has arrived and check whether the journalist needs any clarification. Again, be careful with any supplementary questions that she or he may then ask.

Be wary of going “off the record”. Unless you have a watertight relationship of trust with a journalist, there is really no such thing as “off the record”, and you could end up seeing a careless comment in print. With any response you give make sure you stress the positive things your organisation is doing and try to defuse any myths about crack cocaine that the paper may be trying to play on in their piece. Get the facts over about crack cocaine, without coming across as confrontational. Of course there may be more positive and less stressful situations where you are approached by a journalist. It could be for a feature on the work you do, or for an interview with a drugs worker. Again, always think through what you are going to say. Even consider a mock interview with a colleague if you have time. Try to come up with three key messages you wish to get across in the piece and then repeat them using different examples and different phrases. If you encounter a difficult question then do not be panicked into answering. If necessary offer to call them back with the answer.

Particularly in smaller towns, the idea that there are crack cocaine users in their midst may fill local people with fear for their neighbourhood. This means that any proactive media work needs to be handled carefully. The messages need to be communicated clearly and sensitively to avoid people reading between the lines and getting the idea that the town has a huge crack cocaine problem. Press releases should focus on drugs work in general, with help for crack cocaine users as one part of that work. With this in mind, how do you get positive coverage? As highlighted, having a good relationship with local journalists is very important. The next step is to write and send the press release. A few key points on a good press release are: • Make sure it is interesting! Journalists are interested in news. The old maxim goes – “dog bites man” is not news; “man bites dog” is. Think of unusual or newsworthy angles. See how what you are doing fits in with what is happening on the national scene and provide a local angle • Make sure the release arrives at the right time. Find out when the deadlines are • Make sure it has arrived. Give your contact a follow up call. But don’t be pushy. It is up to them whether or not they cover the story • Make sure the release is concise and accurate and gives the journalist the basic facts they need and a contact person should they need more information. A press release should be no more than one to two pages of A4 in length. It should have an attention-grabbing headline and the first paragraph should sum up the story. If possible, it should also include a quote from a spokesperson within the organisation, detailing their job title • Don’t be discouraged if they don’t cover the story. Newspapers only have so much space and priorities change by the second. If you don’t receive coverage don’t take it personally

Date xxxxx

Drugs – the facts in (Yourtown)
The issue of drugs can be controversial and is often a taboo subject surrounded by fears and concerns. Concern about a perceived escalation in drug use or drug-related crime can be based on a lack of information within a community. Drug users themselves may also be unaware of the risks involved and not know where to go for help and advice. To help local agencies share resources and information, a Partnership Steering Group has been set up in (Yourtown) to deliver a programme of educational events and provide literature to help bust the myths and stimulate discussion about drugs. The Steering Group consists of (Yourtown) Drug Action Team and representatives of (Yourtown) Police, drug agencies, health workers and (insert sports team) and is working closely with community groups and headteachers within the area. “People often assume that drugs only affect groups such as the disadvantaged and homeless, whereas the truth is that people who use them can come from any sector of society” said (insert name and title).“This assumption can often lead to stereotyped fears within the community about drug users – particularly fear of those who use Class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine.” The (Yourtown) Partnership Steering Group has developed a programme of events to encourage local interest in general health issues including information on the effects and risks involved in taking drugs.‘It’s Your Life’ events include a Health Fair featuring a wide range of specialists on health and lifestyle issues. Drug workers will be on hand for people to discuss any questions or concerns that they may have about drugs. Activities with local team (insert name) will also offer opportunities for young people to take part in sports events alongside professional players who will endorse the health message. Throughout the programme, information on local services - including counselling and acupuncture for those experiencing problems with drugs - will be publicised along with an information line for people to call for help and advice. “We want to make sure that local drug services reflect the needs of the people in (Yourtown) and this includes making sure that the public have the right information about drugs and an opportunity to discuss their concerns about drugs within their community.” said (insert name). The ‘It’s Your Life’ initiatives are part of (Yourtown’s) support for FRANK – the three-year campaign from the Home Office and Department of Health and supported by the Department for Education and Skills which aims to help young people understand the risks and dangers of drugs and drug use and point them in the direction of advice and help. The campaign targets 11-21 year olds and parents of 11-18 year olds, incorporates a helpline and website and focuses on Class A drugs. For further information, contact: (Your details) NOTES TO EDITORS: • ‘It’s Your Life’ events are taking place at (insert details) • The Government’s plan on how to address the issue of crack cocaine in the UK ‘Tackling Crack Cocaine – A National Plan’ is available from the Home Office Order Line: 0870 241 4680 • Interviews with drug workers from (Yourtown) Drug Steering Group are available on request • FRANK is available on 0800 77 66 00 to provide help for anyone with any questions about drugs and can be called for advice, help or just a chat. Information is also available from the website

0800 77 66 00