January 6, 1999
WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 1999 - A prominent conservative think tank consistently ranked among the "most quoted" research organizations in America has established a new Center for Media and Public Policy to help bridge the "communications gap" between conservatives and the mainstream media.
The announcement by Heritage Foundation President Edwin Feulner said the new program would "challenge conservatives to put the same effort into communications that they put into other endeavors," and "challenge the media to do more than pay lip service to the concepts of fairness and diversity of thought." Part of The Heritage Foundation's 25th anniversary expansion, the new program will be directed by long-time Heritage Foundation Vice President Herb Berkowitz.
The Heritage Foundation is one of America's largest and most influential non-profit research organizations, with a staff of 180 and an annual budget exceeding $29 million. The organization houses a state-of-the-art Center for Data Analysis, publishes the bi-monthly journal Policy Review, and conducts research in more than two-dozen domestic and international policy areas.
Journalists/Conservatives Don't Understand Each Other
"There is a wide gap in understanding and expectations between most conservatives and most mainstream journalists," Berkowitz said. "Conservatives, by and large, don't trust the media and really don't understand the news business or how it operates. Journalists, by and large, don't understand where conservatives are coming from philosophically, are uncomfortable around so-called 'movement' conservatives, and have no clue why many conservatives complain about the media." The programs of the Center for Media and Public Policy, he said, are intended to help each side better understand the other.
While the mission of Heritage's Public Relations Department is explicitly to promote The Heritage Foundation's people, policy ideas and vision for America, Feulner said, the mission of the Media Center will be to: 1) improve the communications knowledge and abilities of the Heritage Foundation staff and other conservatives involved in public policy and 2) increase the media's understanding of conservatives, conservatism, and the conservative approach to problem-solving.
"Conservatives need to know how to present their strongest possible case in a manner and format that is acceptable and useful to the media," Berkowitz said. "This does not mean conservatives need to alter in any way their core beliefs. It might mean altering the language they use to express these beliefs, however, and they certainly need to pay more attention to such 'minor' things as news deadlines, establishing a good working relationship with journalists - including liberal journalists - and using the latest technology to disseminate data and information in a timely manner." Berkowitz said too many journalists consider conservatives "cranky, if not crackpot." Conservatives are partly to blame for this, he said, because many of them have "a bad attitude" toward the media. While this attitude "may be understandable in some cases," he said, "it is also counterproductive." The new Heritage Media Center, he said, would attempt to bridge the gap between conservatives and journalists and "try to get them to talk with one another with an open mind and mutual respect."
Berkowitz identified the inability to work effectively with the media - "and in many cases the unwillingness to even try" - as "the single-most glaring failure" of the conservative movement today. "We hope to convince our fellow conservatives that if The Heritage Foundation can work effectively with the media, as it has for more than 20 years, they can too. And we will show them how."
A former magazine journalist and award-winning public relations executive, Berkowitz is widely known and respected in media circles. He has overseen The Heritage Foundation's media program since 1977, when he joined the young organization as Director of Public Relations. He has been Vice President for Public Relations since the early 1980s. When the Media Center begins its operations in January, his title will change to Vice President for Communications, reflecting the new program's broader mission. In 1990, Public Relations Quarterly named him one of America's "PR Superstars."
In addition to the several awards it has won from the public relations industry, The Heritage Foundation's communications program also has earned grudging praise from the left-leaning media "watchdog" group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), and from a broad cross-section of journalists. Michael Harrison, for example, the editor and publisher of the talk-radio trade journal, Talkers Magazine, has described the Heritage media program as "without equal." And Dale Davenport, editorial page editor of the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News, in a June '98 column urged other public policy organizations to follow the Heritage Foundation's example. "The material the [Heritage Public Relations] office produces never screams at the reader, but makes a reasonable case for its position."
Media Center Program
Berkowitz said the Media and Public Policy Center initially will concentrate on three specific areas where additional activities and resources can, over time, have a significant impact: market research; professional development and training; and media education. The Center will be advised by a national Media Advisory Board, currently being formed.
In addition to conducting public opinion polling and other types of market research, Media Center programs will include the following:
Professional Development & Training
The Professional Development and Training programs are intended to help conservatives develop the knowledge and technical skills they need to become more effective communicators. Courses will focus on understanding the media, how to work with the media, oral and written communications skills, and new technologies.
James S. Hill, a 30-year veteran of the newspaper industry, will join the Media Center in January to run these programs. During his career, Hill has worked at the Kansas City Star (1970-78), Los Angeles Times (1979-90), and the Phoenix Gazette and Arizona Republic (1990-97). Hill was assistant West Coast news editor for the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service from 1979-81 and assistant op-ed page editor of the Los Angeles Times from 1986-90. In Phoenix, he served as editorial page editor of the Phoenix Gazette and later as editor of the "Opinion" pages at the Arizona Republic after the Gazette was closed in 1997.
The Media Education programs - designed for reporters, columnists, editorial writers, news director and broadcast producers - are intended to increase their understanding of key policy issues, increase their knowledge and understanding of conservative individuals and ideas, and to help them use "advanced data-analysis techniques" in their research, reporting and writing. In addition to more traditional conferences and seminars, the Media Center also will organize fact-finding trips so journalists can see how problems are being solved nationwide at the local community level. In cooperation with The Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis, a special program is planned on computer-assisted research and reporting.
Media Visitor's Center
There also will be a Media Visitor's Center to provide journalists visiting Washington with a "home away from home" where they can conduct interviews, do research, write, edit and electronically file their stories. The Visitor's Center will be similar to The Heritage Foundation's in-house radio studios, which are used throughout the year by radio talk-show hosts from around the country to broadcast live from the nation's capital.
"Let's admit it: Many conservatives don't measure up when it comes to seriously working with the media," Berkowitz said. "And their communications programs reflect this: strident language; poor writing; little or no understanding of their audiences; too much preaching to the converted.
"Blaming the media for our own shortcomings is a no-win game. We need to do better. We hope our efforts will provide the spark that makes it happen."