Sarah Pullen, Managing Director of the of Bristol News and Media and the Bristol Post, now Trinity Mirror plc Bristol, met with Bristol Zero Tolerance to talk about how the media can support changing attitudes to gender-based violence and how media in Bristol can raise awareness about this issue locally.
With a reach of approximately 100,000 people per day in print, over 3 million page impressions a month online, and the free Bristol Observer arriving on the doormat of approximately 75,000 homes and with free pick-up across city, it can certainly be said that the Bristol Post has a huge influence on the people of Bristol. Trinity Mirror plc Bristol also run the Bristol and Bath Metro and have an online presence with a facebook community with over 100,000 likes and 80,000 followers on Twitter, this creates a wide reach into the local population, as Sarah notes “from the cradle to the grave”. With this kind of audience it is vitally important that the media is sending out the right messages and stories about gender-based violence, although unfortunately this is not always the case.
Although gender-based violence is often in the news and can been seen as a ‘hot topic’ for reporters the complex nature of the issues can mean that even journalists with the best of intentions can misrepresent some of the issues and perpetuate harmful myths and stereotypes.
This is why Bristol News and Media were one of the original organisations who signed up to Bristol Zero Tolerance in March 2015, to ensure that the right messages are going out to the city and that local people understand the issues.
As Sarah says “my motivation [in signing the pledge] was so that we can make people more aware about it, it’s as simple as that. And to make sure that we show our support and to highlight the real causes behind [gender-based violence]… If we feel that we can be part of something that can make a difference to people’s lives, and that’s what we are about – people’s lives – then that’s what motivates us really. The other involvement is tackling a subject that is very difficult to communicate to get people on board, and I think if we can help towards that with the Zero Tolerance initiative then that is a good thing.”
For Sarah engaging people in Bristol is not difficult “the great thing about Bristol is that everyone engages, so if we do anything everyone responds, the level of engagement in Bristol is very strong… you can’t write anything and think that no one will respond to it… Our audience is a strong and engaged audience. It has massively changed since it was one print product 20 years ago and that was it, the great thing about it now is that if we need to do something immediate we can whereas we couldn’t 10/20 years ago. I think this is the best time to be in media now because people answer back, challenge you, give you information and Bristol is very active.”
This means that in Bristol the media have a captive audience who are also interested in getting involved in the issues which could make a real difference locally. This is key in terms of promoting Bristol Zero Tolerance and changing attitudes and behaviours to gender-based violence and it is important to have the media supporting this.
As Sarah says “it’s difficult to stop [all forms of gender-based violence] but I think that if more people come forward and raise awareness and don’t hide it, then that will be a significant thing because the problem is that not a lot of people say or are aware of the issues. A lot of it is hidden and I think the more people that have the confidence to say that this is not right then I think that that means it is working. More people coming forward, being brave and having the courage to say things and getting the support to get through it, and the more people that can do that and raise awareness then the more other people will think about it and hopefully things will change.”
For Sarah Bristol is quite unique as a city in terms of responding to particular issues and hopefully if the Zero Tolerance initiative is taken up by more people in the city it will also become one of the causes that local people champion. “Bristol is a city that overall is different to all the other cities in the UK, in my view… People stand up for their rights here, if people aren’t happy they will protest and I think that is a good thing actually. And people have a voice… whether you have adopted Bristol or you are Bristolian from birth, [people] can speak their minds and I think that is a great thing. So the reason that here at the Bristol Post and I personally am part of [Bristol Zero Tolerance], is that I know that will happen with this issue, everyone gets together and believes in it. Because that is what Bristol people do – they make things happen… So with the Zero Tolerance pledge and initiative, the reason why we are a part of it, is because I believe that we can make it happen, because Bristol is a city that makes things happen…. and mainly succeeds… It’s just getting more people involved and making them aware and talking about it. And it’s not like anything else we have done before and it is a challenging subject, it’s a behavioural and cultural change, but I think that the city can get behind that.”
About 100 people work for Trinity Mirror plc in Bristol with another 300 people across the region. This includes specialist journalists who report on different issues because they have a better understanding of these. For example, stories about gender-based violence usually fall under the specialisms of crime, health or community, depending on the type of story, and so the relevant journalists will pick these up.
As Sarah notes “in the past we have done some significant stories which prompted [our involvement in Bristol Zero Tolerance] really that were Bristol related… The one thing that I am confident of with the Bristol Post is that we humanize it with people’s real stories. So I can’t say that every day we are covering these issues but we do as and when it is relevant and [want] to humanize that story so that it is a personal story… We don’t have to keep writing about it on a regular basis but we have to do it in a very sensitive way.”
The way that stories about gender-based violence are reported is key and can have a significant impact on wider understandings and beliefs about the issues. The language used, how victims, survivors and perpetrators are presented and how the story is described all play a role in how gender-based violence is understood. Good reporting can increase understanding about gender-based violence and challenge misperceptions and myths as well as influence whether survivors feel able to come forward and get support. As Sarah says “I am really keen to work with this and I think that it is really important that local media have a responsibility to work with this because it is also a reality. And I think over the past few years people keep it under the radar and it is never really talked about and is seen as taboo, and I think that this is the time to make sure that everyone knows what [gender-based violence] is, what it means, and how it impacts on them or people they know.”
The in depth understanding of their audience that Trinity Mirror plc Bristol have will help them to target the messages appropriately to ensure that they are heard across the city. As Sarah notes “because gender-based violence can affect anyone and more than we probably know, that’s the thing that people can connect to… We do connect to different people from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different genders, but they all look at different channels so it is making sure that if we are going to a more male-orientated channel how do we speak to them about the issues because it is not going to be the same as if we did it in print for example.”
Trinity Mirror plc Bristol will also be working with Bristol Zero Tolerance to raise awareness with staff internally so that they can take the messages back to their families and communities to change attitudes. Also if they recognise something for themselves or someone they know, they can signpost them to appropriate services for support. For Sarah, “there is the internal infrastructure [in terms of supporting staff]. Externally I think there are ways that we can humanise and showcase more and communicate in a different way to the people of Bristol. We might even decide one channel to do it in as we can communicate differently through different channels, so in print we might treat it in one way, on facebook we might approach it another way and have a different voice, and we need to think more about that. How can we connect with people in Bristol with the message done differently? I personally think that we can make a huge difference just even getting people remotely engaged in that and on a journey with it and interested, so that’s the big thing.”