RORY Syme is the PR and communications officer for the Woodland Trust Scotland, part of the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity.
The Woodland Trust cares for around 80 woods in Scotland and has three main aims: to enable the creation of more native woods and places rich in trees; to protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future; and to inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees.
What are your media habits?
I’m shamelessly addicted to the BBC website. I have the radio on constantly when I’m driving and I usually switch between BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio 4. We get The Herald and The Scotsman delivered to our office in Perth and I usually pick up a Courier at lunchtime. But I try and read a different paper as often as I can. It’s hard to beat The Guardian’s online environment coverage, so I’ll check out the headlines most days.
We have woods all over Scotland and I’m out on site as often as I can be. I’ll try and pick up a local paper whenever I’m travelling to a wood to see what’s out there. There’s a real strength and credibility to local news – I place a high value on strong coverage of the Trust in these papers because you can be sure that it will be read.
Any particularly favourite journalists, and why?
I think Scotland has a really talented stable of journalists, both nationally and locally. I used to work for the John Muir Trust and spent a lot of time dealing with reporters in the Highlands, so I have a lot of respect for the journalists who work a relatively remote beat. Stuart Taylor at the Lochaber News puts together a really entertaining and relevant paper.
David Ross, The Herald’s Highland reporter has been one of my best contacts since I started out in this sector. I recently discovered his Highland Line blog on The Herald’s website and it’s a great read. Probably because a lot of the big stories happen on his patch, he seems to be the paper’s de-facto environment correspondent.
David Miller at BBC Scotland is a great environment correspondent. He has a real passion for his subject. Most importantly, he wants to be outside of the studio and show his audience places that they haven’t seen before. Huw Williams is a great asset for Radio Scotland, for much the same reason.
To what extent has the media become an increasing or decreasing part of your professional life?
I’ve worked as a press officer since finishing my NCTJ’s. I have more than one ‘hat’ in my current role, including feeding into channels like our website and our membership magazine, but working with the media and securing good coverage is still very much the bit of the job that makes me tick.
To what extent is New Media (websites, social networking, etc) part of your media world?
I’m just old enough to remember life before the internet, but it’s always been part of my professional life. Twitter is probably one of my biggest monitoring tools. It’s so easy to fire up Hootsuite in the morning and immediately find out the big talking points. Magazine shows like Out of Doors use it nearly every week to call for stories, and I’ve pitched stories through it.
I miss the online hill-walking community that I could tap into when I worked with the JMT. One of my ongoing missions is to find bloggers and websites that will cover woods and trees with the same enthusiasm as there is for the pointy bits of Scotland. Woodland walks are as popular as hill walking, but for some reason woods lack the same aura, possibly because they are so much more accessible.
How would you rate the media understanding, and coverage, of your sector?
There’s definitely a big appetite for the things that conservation charities do and I’m glad to be working in an era when the environment has such a high profile – even if it is still one of the first subjects to be pushed to the bottom of the agenda. Clearly sometimes that’s our fault as communicators because not enough time is spent on breaking through the jargon and finding angles that will whet people’s appetites.
In terms of the Woodland Trust, I think it helps that people are often at the heart of our work. One of our strongest campaigns is our free community tree packs. We distribute about 400 packs of trees for schools and community groups to plant each year, and each one has a story to tell.
The coverage of this campaign is almost entirely driven by the groups who get the packs and in Scotland we’re getting close to 100 newspaper articles a year.
If you were an editor (newspaper, television, etc. state which) for a day, what would you do?
I’d unchain my reporters from their desks and tell them to get out and see their patches. It would be interesting to put a block on press releases for the day and see if it is possible to find out what the really important issues are through direct contact with people. For a whole variety of reasons, too much of the media we consume is ‘churnalism’.