Update on Media First Response Activities at the 2016 APA Convention

Mary Gregerson, PhD, Julie Meranze Levitt, PhD, Rodney Lowman, PhD, Ellen Lent, PhD, Shahbaz Siddiqui, PhD, & Lisa Weakley, Mayor, Leavenworth, KS

In 2016 the Media First Responder (MFRer) Corps initiative moved forward (President’s Column: Primum Non Nocere: First Do No Harm, Make a Difference: Media First Response Is Crisis Media Consultation for Community Leaders and Journalists, Special Interest Group Reports). This Update reports on two MFR programs at the 2016 APA Annual Convention in Denver, CO, and then concludes with future plans. Come join us make a difference!

The Symposium After Trauma, a New Age of Consultation Between Media Psychologists, Journalists, and Community Officials featured a talk on Psychology Science Fosters Socially Responsible News Coverage: The MFR Corps and the Television Media Responsibility Index by colleagues Mary Gregerson, Julie Meranze-Levitt, and Shahbaz Siddiqui. The Conversation Hour: MFRer Corps: Consulting to “The World” During Hometown Disasters/Crises featured Ellen Lent, Mary Gregerson, Rodney Lowman, and Leavenworth, KS Mayor Lisa Weakley. Media First Responder Corps ties together these two APA programs. Dr. Mary Gregerson formed the Original Media First Responder Corps group in 2015 when a dozen APA psychologists from around the world trained each other in general consultation skills as well as a specific skill set for effective, stress buffering, and socially just mass media communication.  This skill set, called Media First Response (MFR), rests upon preparedness fostering personal resiliency during exigency.  Scientific psychological evidence informs MFR contouring of effective public health messages to foster community resilience.


Media First Response

In the Symposium, two different enterprises steered by MFRers champion science fostering socially responsible news coverage: The Media First Responder Corps (America) and The Television Media Responsibility Index (Pakistan).  Not only the aftermath but also the preparation of communities beforehand concern these two initiatives. Media First Response prepares officials for the press of the media microphone. The Pakistani Media Responsibility Index sensitizes those on each side of the microphone. The contrast and comparison of American and Pakistani media psychology provides context to counterpoint localism vs. globalism. Socially responsible guidelines found in peace journalism are based in human dimension that transcends cultural parochialism.

The emerging field of human dimension also taps into universalities relevant for the development of media psychology informed media guidelines to make news more digestible. When journalists and community officials work together to inform rather than sensationalize, to protect communities rather than incite them to violence, and to educate rather than emotionalize, then a partnership reaching the positive side of human dimension occurs. Psychologists can forge the bridges between these two groups, aligning community officials and journalists to truly help their communities.

Television Media Responsibility Index

After Dr. Gregerson discussed the Media First Responder Corps, Original MFRer Mr. Shahbaz Siddiqui reported a strong global trend toward media social responsibility now appearing in Pakistan (Media and Social Responsibility). Professional journalism standards combined with transparency defines media social responsibility specifically applied in this instance to broadcast news. Transparency means complete and truthful information that encourages debate on local and national issues. To accomplish this lofty aim, the Media Studies Department at the Institute of Business Management, Karachi, Pakistan in association with United States Agency for International Development developed the Media Responsibility and Independence Index (MRII). MRII measures “media responsibility” and “media independence from the audience perspective.”

Social Responsibility in Peace Journalism

Original MFRer Dr. Levitt’s presentation delineated tenets of peace journalism and of peace psychology. How can journalists perform “in the moment, “by working in partnership with peace psychologists and others to write about news responsibly? Goals would include describing events that accurately and responsibly reflect various positions of the parties in conflict without distortion. Journalists also can become a part of the process that helps governments and players prevent sensationalizing of news and in collaboration with governmental leaders and others in the forefront find ways to help readers/audience understand issues and take responsible actions. At this time, partnering between psychologists and journalists is essential if peaceful resolution is to replace communities in constant states of warring.

Conversation Hour

This session challenged consulting psychologists to consider new applications beyond employment organizations (for individuals, groups, and organizations; see An Introduction to Consulting Psychology: Working With Individuals, Groups, and Organizations). Specifically, the Media First Responder Corps (MFRers) are hometown ambassadors for psychology.  An Original MFRer Ellen Lent chaired this program and also described consultation with the Public Relations officers of the Montgomery County Police Department, officials in her college hometown. regarding their challenges to swiftly compose Facebook and Twitter responses while avoiding inflaming or disturbing the public, the media, neighboring police colleagues, and other stakeholders; she brainstormed with them on how to provide MFR-informed support in a fast-moving, 24/7 environment. Ellen also met with an international Washington Post reporter who is a professor of journalism to discuss how print and broadcast journalists can best be approached for education and consultation in the MFR tradition. Division 13 Past President and another Original MFRer Rodney Lowman discussed consultation psychology and ethics basics for MFR. MFR founder Mary Gregerson presented its genesis, goals, research base, and her current activities in a Mid-Western exurb. One of Mary’s consultees, Leavenworth, KS Mayor and Original MFRer Lisa Weakley discussed her experiences being trained to be Media First Responder.

MFRers make a difference during crucial times, although Mayor Weakley noted that not everyone has the benefit of continued oversight similar to that Mary has provided. So Mayor Weakley suggested development of a self-help type of standard training packet with more narrative on using these techniques.

APA Division 46 co-sponsored both 2016 programs sponsored by Division 13: Consulting Psychology.

Future Direction

A 2017 MFR Town Hall program is now developing in conjunction with Division 17 President Martin Heesacker and Division 52 President Jean Lau Chin. We plan another “train the trainers” event preceding APA 2018 in San Francisco, CA since in 2016 already 20 APA members have indicated interest. Please contact Dr. Mary Gregerson (mary.gregerson@aol.com) if you want to lead in this worthy community outreach effort. A full-fledged MFR training with a representative from each state is planned for the 2019 APA Convention in Chicago, IL.

Future directions discussed include a research agenda to strengthen the MFR scientific evidence base.


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