» 12 basic guidelines: Find the conflict in events - make the news

primroses

This is often misunderstood. Conflict is inherent to campaigns. Without a conflict of interest, a campaign would not be needed.

That is not to promote conflict, confrontation or aggression. Greenpeace for example is committed to using non-violence in order to confront things that it believes are morally and technically wrong.

Campaigns make news when they create change, make a difference, or threaten to do so. A conflict just of ideas is of interest only to academic or political theoreticians. What counts for the rest of us is who comes out on top, what gets changed, how does it affect me, my family, my life and how it can be lived. In other words 'outcomes'. Whatever style or method is adopted, campaigning is in essence about a struggle for power, and generally the redistribution of power through exerting influence. An example is the rise of consumer influence over food production. Some power has shifted from food producers to food consumers. It was not farmers, not even organic farmers who caused the growth in organic farming: it was consumers.

News connects with politics through events. Events are also the things that change our views. Sometimes campaigns achieve a 'dialectical moment', that decisive instance where society, or someone in it, struggles with a choice between two opposing options, and chooses the new one. When one talks of 'forcing an issue to ahead' or people say 'I remember the first time I realised that ...', this is what they are talking about. A campaign is about forcing a change to the status quo. Conflict is therefore built into it, indeed almost defines campaigning.

This is one reason why news focuses on conflict. Most significant changes are fiercely opposed. 'No opposition' usually means, not much news.

Conflict often signals news, and outcomes that someone cares about. In 1980 I was involved in launching the London Wildlife Trust, and we decided to plant some symbolic wild primroses (a small yellow flower) on Primrose Hill in central London.

Primrose Hill was in the control of the Royal Parks and had long-since lost its wild flowers due to intensive 'parkification' and chemical tidiness. We found a local primary school to help plant the flowers and even an old lady who remembered picking truly wild primroses there as a child. The press however were not very interested. Until that is, the Royal Parks unexpectedly refused us permission. Here we had a story the press could handle - bureaucracy versus the little people trying to do the right thing. The official at the end of the phone even thought it was a tree and asked "how tall is it ?" It got on the front page of the national Observer newspaper.

The primrose taught me two things. First there was a conflict, along with the helpful ingredients of easy-access for photographers and 'human interest'. Second it was not entirely new. It was a formula that the newspaper had run many times before. News is mostly like that - a new twist on an old story. This has its downsides but it is how the press likes it best.

If you have a campaign it will be in conflict with someone, somewhere. That is probably your most newsworthy opportunity.