APA Convention

Lessons learned from the State Leadership Conference: Engaging the media

Tips for promoting school psychology in the media included being the “loudest voice."

By Amanda B. Clinton

Each year, the American Psychological Association's Practice Organization (APAPO) sponsors the State Leadership Conference (SLC) in Washington, D.C. The SLC is a leadership and advocacy training that invites leaders from the State, Provincial, and Territorial Associations, division representatives, diversity delegates, early career psychologist delegates, APA governance representatives and American Psychological Association Graduate Student representatives are to attend.

SLC attendees receive tutelage regarding effective means of interacting with politicians so that they may subsequently meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and help further the practice of psychology. In 2013, the APAPO identified three critical advocacy issues that were discussed with senators and representatives:

  • Halt plummeting psychologist Medicare payment
  • Fix the payment formula
  • Replace the Sustainable Growth Rate
  • Stop Medicare's 2 percent sequester cut
  • Add psychologists to the Medicare “physician” definition
  • Make psychologists eligible for electronic health records incentives

In addition to advocacy on Capitol Hill, several advocacy workshops were offered during the SLC meeting. These addressed broader themes and contexts where psychologists can impact systemic change. The workshop titled “Getting Psychology's Perspective in News Coverage” provided information and insights that offer potential for promoting the field of school psychology.

The workshop, co-sponsored by APAPO and the Council Executive of State Provincial Territorial, was hosted by Luana Bossolo, APAPO Assistant Executive Director of Public Relations. Two journalists — Kelly Bothum, health reporter for The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., and Amanada Iacone, web editor and journalist for WTOP Radio in Washington, D.C. — presented together with Dr. June Ching, the public education coordinator for the Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice (CAPP).

Ms. Bothum and Ms. Iacone shared that a psychologist's perspective is an important and valuable one that they welcome when reporting. This “mental health” voice is one that both journalists perceived as relevant to numerous journalist pieces — ranging from physical health and medical treatment to child development and parenting issues to social problems. In this vein, school psychologists certainly have much to contribute in relation to the topics that journalists frequently cover regarding health, learning and development, behavior and education, to name a few. Our voices should be heard.

This begs the question: How can we actively promote school psychology and school psychologists in the media?

Tips for promoting school psychology in the media include:

  • Be the “loudest voice” — often the person or organization that is first to speak up and speak the loudest is the one that gets print/electronic/tv/radio coverage. Be sure to actively advocate on behalf of the field and initiate contact should a school psychologist's voice be relevant.
  • How does one actively advocate? Read/watch/listen to your local media, for starters. Know the names of the reporters who cover health, education and other relevant issues and contact them when you have a story or if you can offer an expert opinion on an event in your area. According to Ms. Bothum, “local stories are the bread and butter” of most news organizations. They are interested in what you have to share.
  • Feel free to pitch ideas to your local newspaper. Both Ms. Bothum and Ms. Iacone indicated that journalists are always looking for story ideas. Sometimes they may not be able to integrate an idea into an upcoming publication or broadcast or an idea may not be appropriate. This, they said, should not deter you. Have another idea that is important for your community about school psychology? Contact your local media again.
  • Keep in mind the issues do not need to be complicated ones. As an example: One of the journalists on the panel mentioned she was uncertain about the specific differences between psychiatry and psychology and therapy, for example, and a story addressing the contributions of respective professionals in the field could be helpful to many readers who were uncertain how to navigate options for support.
  • Both journalists mentioned the importance of being persistent. One should not give up if a journalist is not readily available since they are often in the field. Suggestions: Try and try again, and try in new places — look for them on Twitter, Facebook, email, office phone, etc.
  • Journalists are always looking for individuals with expertise to comment on stories and events. Develop a list of local school psychologists and share this with your health and education editors. When a related story comes up, they will contact you. As they journalists mentioned, their tight timelines and pressures to publish mean they often “cling to the low-hanging fruit.” So, make yourself accessible like low-hanging fruit, as it were.
  • Establishing relationships is key. Get in contact with your local journalists on your own accord or through your local association so they know you and other school psychologists. Always refer a journalist to a colleague if you yourself cannot comment on an issue in order to continue to facilitate development of a professional network willing to talk to the media.

In conclusion, school psychologists possess expertise in many areas that are relevant to topics frequently covered by the media. We must make an effort to establish relationships with the media, suggest ideas for coverage related to school psychology and be available to promote the field to the greatest degree possible.