While Paganism is typically a quiet, closed community that doesn’t attract much media attention, occasionally something will happen that brings out the media in droves.
Let’s be honest with ourselves here. Paganism does not get the best media coverage. It’s easy to point a finger at journalists and say “Do your job better!” but there are things that Pagans can do to help this process along.
Having gotten a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Western Washington University, I might be able to shed some light on how Pagans can start to see more accurate coverage that goes deeper than “What is Wicca? What is Paganism?”
There are two major types of coverage that you’ll be dealing with – breaking news and human interest.
For breaking news coverage, often there isn’t time for a journalist to have done their research before doing interviews. Be prepared for “obvious” questions (e.g. Do you worship Satan?). For these situations, it’s best to answer briefly and redirect the conversation to the news at hand. (e.g. No, we do not. We’re here at the courthouse today because…)
For human interest pieces, the journalist should have done their research before coming out for interviews. If they ask obvious questions like that, respectfully question them on how much research they’ve done on the topic before coming out to talk to you. Don’t tolerate the interview about your upcoming event or Sabbat focusing on how Pagans don’t worship Satan or eat babies. The contents of the interview will reflect the end piece. If they spend five minutes on the event and 30 on Wiccans not believing in Satan, expect a piece that doesn’t focus on your event at all.
On the flip side, expect questions about spelling or even offer it up before they ask (e.g. We’re celebrating the God Lugh – that’s L-U-G-H.) Offer additional contacts and be available for followup questions and fact-checking. Also, make your title clear. Are you a Reverend, Lord/Lady, a High Priest(ess), etc?
After the interview, be prepared for follow-up questions via email or phone, or be prepared for the copy-desk to call you to confirm facts/quotes/spellings.
Once it’s published, be sure to read it carefully and send it to other Pagans. If there is a mistake contact the outlet’s corrections department as soon as possible about it. Ask that they update the online version and run a print correction if it ran in the physical paper. This is standard procedure when a mistake happens – and mistakes do happen. Let them know you’re reading – and reading closely.
On a larger level, contact the Associated Press about their style guide. Ask them to clarify that Paganism should be capitalized if Christianity is and that Goddess should be if God is. Make it clear that you want equal representation. Until these are implemented into the AP Style Guide, it’s up to the reporters and editors and not much can be done regarding the discrepancies.
As always, be respectful, but it’s time to start demanding more coverage than the basics.