by Bob Carolla, NAMI director of media relations
I sometimes get asked what I do for a living: what does "media relations" mean? Basically, it means trying to help reporters-print, television, radio or the Internet-and pitching NAMI news or messages.
It can be as simple as answering a question in less than 60 seconds over the phone. Or it may involve suggesting a topic and then working for several months with a reporter: helping to dig out information, arrange interviews and suggest angles. At the same time, as a matter of professional ethics, there's still an arms-length relationship. No promises are made that a story will be one that emphasizes NAMI's point of view or even that NAMI will be mentioned. Satisfaction comes mostly through helping to inform and shape a story and through it contribute to public education about mental illness and the issues that affect us.
There's also the satisfaction of seeing reporters or writers with whom NAMI has worked and respects grow in their careers-and win honors in their own right. That's the case this year with the recent announcement of Pulitzer Prizes, among the highest awards for excellence in journalism and arts.
One of this year's honorees is Clifford Levy of the New York Times for International Reporting on Russia's justice system. What's the connection to NAMI and mental illness? In 2003, Levy also won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in a series on the abuse of people living with mental illness in "adult homes." In fact, NAMI helped spark the investigation.
NAMI had previously honored Levy in 2001 with an award for his accurate, balanced and compassionate reporting. That same year, NAMI honored Alex Raksin of the Los Angeles Times with an award for editorial writing. In 2002, Raksin, like Levy a year later, won the Pulitzer Prize.
Although Levy won the prize in International Reporting this year, one of the finalists in the category was Deborah Sontag of the New York Times whose reporting on the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was praised for "steadfastly telling poignant, wide-ranging stories with a lyrical touch and an impressive eye for detail." Since the publication of NAMI's special report on state mental health budget cuts in March, we have been working with her on a story about one state in particular state. There are no promises, but keep an eye out for it in weeks ahead.
Finally, the winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize in Fiction is Jennifer Egan for the novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, "an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed."
HBO also has announced that it has purchased the rights to turn the book into a TV series.
What's Egan's NAMI connection?
In 2008, she published a non-fiction cover story in The New York Times Magazine, "The Bipolar Puzzle," which NAMI honored at its 2009 national convention. She received a standing ovation.
Professional ethics allow for professional respect. NAMI can maintain its arms-length relationship with reporters while still acknowledging their skill and hard work in trying to get their stories right.
NAMI congratulates these and the other 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning journalists.