Words matter. In my current job as head of communications at the Money Advice Service it is hard to expect people to accept they have ‘problem debt’ or expect the media to get excited about writing in other than catastrophic terms. The same was true in spades at WRAP where ‘rubbish’, ‘waste’ and ‘contamination’ were hardly likely to get the media buzzing.
The only time that changed was when the media could report it in terms of chaos and conflict or their crusade against ‘inefficient’ local authorities: rubbish not being collected or sorted, slop buckets in kitchens or former communities secretary Eric Pickles’ crusade for the return of weekly collections.
Three things changed all that in terms of media interest. First, the research-based stats showing the huge scale of the problem – no journalist could ignore the appeal of the millions of tonnes of food waste we were needlessly binning.
Second was the emergence of social media and local movements. Interest about the problem and what could be done was taken up by local champions through social media channels like twitter: bloggers, pundits, third sector organisations. The traditional media more and more takes its lead from these channels.
Third, social media bloggers began to get excited by what could be done simply to make huge change, and that in itself shaped a shift in traditional media coverage.
All of which is not to say that horror stories will be ignored. But the job always is to show innovation, new insight and the art of the possible.
Nick Gammage was communications and campaigns director at WRAP for seven years until 2014. He is currently head of communications at the Money Advice Service