Clare Sambrook on campaigning journalism lessons
Award-winning campaigning journalist Clare Sambrook talks about the End Child Detention Campaign she worked on, and some of the lessons learned along the way
She received the award for campaigning journalism in recognition of her work on the End Child Detention Now campaign which she worked on with friends.
Later in the same month Sambrook also won the Bevin's Prize for investigative journalism for her reports on the issue.
As part of her work on End Child Detention Now, for which she co-ordinated the press campaign, Sambrook helped source public letters, comment pieces and articles which went on to appear in news outlets including the Guardian, Independent and Private Eye.
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk for a podcast on the subject of campaigning journalism earlier this month, Sambrook discussed the campaign's media approach and some of the key lessons and challenges she encountered along the way, which may prove helpful to others considering similar work.
Defining a campaigning journalist
So what makes a journalist a campaigning journalist? Sambrook said "there isn't a strict definition".
"A lot of journalists do work that is used by campaigners and that is useful ammunition to campaigners, some journalists are more explicit about saying what they want their journalism to achieve, and I'm at the more explicit end."
But she later added that there is also a "broader definition" of campaigning journalism, which takes into account those working on investigative projects, who continue to raise the issue after their original article has been published.
She identified journalists such as Nick Davies and Paul Lewis at the Guardian, and stories such as Davies's coverage of phone-hacking.
"Obviously there's a whole investigative piece of work on that, but the repetition and the going on and the staying with it, that's the campaigning side."
She also highlighted the work of another Guardian journalist, special correspondent Felicity Lawrence and her coverage of the food industry.
"She's finding something out, there's a massive investigative investment there, but the fact that she's keeping on going on, to me that's campaigning."
Creating "background noise" in early stages of campaign
Part of the End Child Detention Now press campaign which Sambrook found to be particularly effective, was to produce "background noise" on the subject early on, to help ensure a level of awareness on the issue when approaching the press with specific stories later on.
One way this was achieved was by getting children's book authors to sign a public letter on the issue, which was then published in the Observer, according to Sambrook. There were other letters too, signed by other interested parties which were published elsewhere in the national press, she added.
The campaign also managed to get a quote from Paddington Bear, via creator Michael Bond. This led to coverage in the Independent, according to Sambrook.
She said that after this "lots of people were aware of the Paddington Bear thing".
"I think when we approached reporters with other stories relating to this, they were kind of aware of the background noise that we'd been making, so they were more receptive than if we'd just gone in cold. Lots of people were aware of Paddington Bear."
Media campaigning "on many fronts"
When it came to Sambrook's media campaign, a key factor seemed to be "working on many, many fronts".
As well as the public letters in the national press, the campaign then took to getting its own comment articles into the mainstream media.
Sambrook said she was also on hand to provide other journalists "key information" to help them in their reporting.
"So the effort was just to get a load of stuff into the media and then increasingly I started writing under my own name, in various publications and very heavily in OurKingdom, which is the UK bit of openDemocracy."
The campaign also set up "quite an active, labour intensive, email mailing list", to help spread the word even further.
"So we found out who was interested in this stuff, in the media, parliamentarians, campaign groups, so we were sending really good quality material to lots of people and a lot of people were really responsive in circulating it around their networks and publishing it."
Avoiding too much of a plan
For End Child Detention Now, although there was an end target in sight, there was never a specific plan as to how the campaign would run.
"Our plan was just to work as hard as we could, on as many fronts as we could, really, really urgently," Sambrook said.
"... A lot of what happened, happened because we were just going at such a tearing rate, and doing all this stuff, knowing something good might come but not knowing what."
She said rather than worrying about building an "outcomes-based model" she found that the best approach for the campaign, was "just to do everything we could do as well as we could and then exploit what comes".
This included taking the campaign onto any available platform.
"We just used every tool that we possibly could", Sambrook said, adding that her campaign colleagues "put a lot of work into Facebook, Twitter and getting things out that way".
"They said that was a good way, that using Facebook really imaginatively was how they managed to get a lot of very young people engaged in the campaign.
"But because we were working in so many different media, we weren't restricting ourselves to one particular demographic, either say socially, ethnically or age-wise. We were using lots of different formats and hopefully opening up to embrace the widest demographic that we could."
Challenges: Having the financial backing
Back when we met Sambrook in 2010 she spoke to us about how the campaign had been successful, but that for her it had been "financially catastrophic".
And discussing the challenges now, on reflection, she again highlighted the financial difficulties to be considered.
"Had I known that I would be working 18 months for no money, obviously I couldn't possibly have contemplated doing this."
For those working for a newspaper, she said the challenge instead is to "get the executives backing".
"You couldn't possibly be allowed to do this kind of work without the executives backing. So you'd have to first do a really effective job on your management to say this is something that our publication should be associated with.
"And then, if you could pull that off, then you're in a terrific position because you're campaigning in a funded way and you've got the backing of a media organisation. We didn't have that luxury."
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