Frontline deputy editor Ian McMillan reviews 'Handling the Media'.
Handling the Media: Communication and presentation skills for healthcare professionals, John Illman - ISBN: 978099351780
Journalist and trainer John Illman covers a lot of ground in the 12 chapters of this 184-page book. As someone with 30 years' experience as writer specialising in the healthcare field, he is able to weave in plenty of real-life anecdotes to bolster his advice on getting your message across in the media.
My experience of working in the communications field is limited mainly to the writing side, and I enjoyed finding out more about how the broadcast media works. If, for example, you would like to become the go-to person for a particular condition or aspect of physiotherapy practice, you will find plenty of food for thought in this publication. Illman has been a health correspondent for both the Daily Mail and the Guardian and, while the two papers may have strongly contrasting readerships and political outlooks, the nuts and bolts of what makes interesting and lively 'copy' differs little. For example, Illman recommends never using a long word if a short one will do, using active rather than passive verbs, and removing any word from your submission that can be cut.
His style is upbeat and encouraging but resolutely realistic throughout. For example, you might get no feedback at all from an editor if your article is rejected, but adding an eye-catching photo or graphic to your written piece might just sway an editor's verdict. Of course, in the 'old days', you had to navigate your way through various gatekeepers or editors before your work could be shared with the outside world. Today, it's relatively easy to sidestep such filters by starting your own blog, and Illman devotes a chapter to using social media, such as blogs and tweets, as a way to voice your concerns and opinions.
In my experience, many would-be writers who earn their living in the healthcare field are put off because they find the idea of writing too daunting. My advice would be to start in modest ways by, for example, writing something short for your trust newsletter, or by sending Frontline a punchy letter on something you feel passionate about. In fact, I am always on the lookout for letters (sent by email these days rather than post) for the Comment pages.
If you want advice on how to find inspiration and avoid writing cul-de-sacs, this book will undoubtedly help.
Ian McMillan, deputy editor, Frontline
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