Being in the newspaper business all my life, I know the true value of good public relations. And publicizing Armenia correctly continues to be an ongoing struggle.
It’s too bad that every journalist in America wasn’t Armenian or sympathetic to our cause. But I’m afraid that is not the case. We must create our own PR vehicle.
Public relations is really an art — giving the public what it likes to hear and creating awareness. A good public event often deserves publicity, but is more often created by it.
Not long ago, I was being interviewed by a reporter of a small town journal. Now that’s a switch. It’s usually me asking the questions and others giving the answers.
Being in charge of publicizing our church picnic, I took it upon myself to draw up a press release and send it off electronically. Nothing to it. A day or two later, I followed up with a note to each paper with the idea of going a step beyond and having a feature story done. What’s there to lose, right?
Church picnics don’t ordinarily call for extenuating stories but a graph or two at the bottom of the lifestyles page and perhaps a blurb in the coming events column.
But this was no ordinary picnic. Our Armenian church was joining forces with the Catholic Church next door and hosting a combined picnic. Masses were being involved. Two churches of different spiritual backgrounds were uniting in the best Christian spirit.
Moreover, we were dedicating a new patio area in memory of deceased pastor Rev. Vartan Kassabian. The agenda was full of cultural activity. Two Armenian children troupes were coming to dance. There was a band. And enough food to feed two parishes and then some.
A reporter called some days later, looking to embellish the story and turning it into a front-page piece. I had succeeded in drawing some interest. Now here comes the debate. What I considered important to the piece, she puffed off.
“Tell us something about your Armenian church,” she asked.
“How much time do you have?” I replied. Her question was rhetorical, or so it seemed.
I went on about how we were the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD and how our church was still a catalyst in the Armenian community after more than 1,700 years.
“I did not know that,” she answered.
I assumed she knew something about the Genocide. Wrong again. Despite all the articles that have been written and published in the media, it really amazes me that there are people out there in the dark.
It’s the old question, “Armenian? What’s that?”
Then, the reporter expressed her ignorance even more.
“You want people to attend your picnic?” she added. “History doesn’t attract people to a social event. A genocide isn’t going to conjure up interest. It may stifle it. What sells is food. They want to know what’s on the menu.”
Say what! The fact we have the oldest Christian nation in the world and lose 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 can’t hold up to a piece of baklava.
I wasn’t about to tell the woman her business but if I knew nothing about a genocide and someone called me about a picnic, I might consider the sympathetic factor. The human interest quality. I might also point to the resilience of a nation in getting a genocide recognized by the rest of the world.
Okay, so food is a common denominator among cultures. Maybe I have blinders on but how can we allow kebabs to overshadow the death and revival of our sacred land.
The reporter needed a lesson in reporting.
Then came the obvious thought. If she was callous and unaware of our history, how many more were there like her encrusted into the journalism fields of America? Perhaps the fault lies with us. Maybe we’re not pushing the right buttons enough.
As conscientious Armenians, we must act as our very own publicists and make the newspapers aware of our heritage. As the 95th anniversary of our genocide approaches next year, the time to act is now. Just writing an article won’t cut it.
A better approach might be to set up a meeting with the editors and ask for equal play. I find it incongruous that one church would get an entire page of colored photographs for their picnic and another church like ours receives zilch.
When all is said and done, the worst thing you can say about our cause is NOTHING.