Reprinted from an email with permission, though Hayes requests that if there are further comments for her, people contact her directly.
So I guess she's not looking to become a Chalicesseur.
If spokespeople had editing rights on all published news articles, reading the morning paper would be a very different experience.
In the 20+ interviews I did after the Knoxville shootings, I spoke mostly with reporters who knew very little about Unitarian Universalism, and nearly all of them wanted a yes-or-no answer to the question, “Is Unitarian Universalism a Christian church?” My usual response is something like the explanation included in the Post article: "We include the teachings of Jesus and we appreciate the wisdom of the Bible, but we don't limit our sources of inspiration to the Christian faith." When there’s a reasonably in-depth discussion, as there was in this interview (it lasted nearly an hour), I can add more information about our theological history and current diversity. But I can’t control what gets printed. And, to be fair, a reporter can’t control how her copy gets edited after she submits it. So PR people learn to be very forgiving. In this case I explained that, while we have individuals and congregations who identify primarily as Christian, the Association as a whole is no longer under the Christian umbrella, although sociologists often include us among “post-Christian” religious groups. The term is technically accurate and relatively useful in that it communicates our Christian heritage, but it’s not as meaningful, in my opinion, as the more nuanced explanations we prefer (sadly, news writing is rarely friendly to nuance).
So, even though the reporter didn’t get that one point precisely right, I’m grateful to her for including the lengthier and more revealing explanation. She also did several things that add tremendous value to an “earned media” placement. She interviewed a UU theologian, covered a local event, included recent GA resolutions on social justice issues, quoted Bill Sinkford, and refused to play Sophomore Journalism by seeking a contrary opinion from “the other side” (usually a representative from a group hostile to UUism or its values). Most importantly, she was genuinely engaged in the topic, and my office is developing a good relationship with her.
This may not seem like much to someone outside the profession, but it represents far more work and effort than go into the vast majority of news articles. Most of the 400+ stories published about the UUA’s response to Knoxville simply snipped a few lines from our press releases -- which is why we write press releases in the first place, so that’s fine. But we’re thrilled when a reporter goes so much further.
I always tell UUs that the best public relations work comes from individual Unitarian Universalists. In the end, it’s not about finding the right category to define us, or what words I do or don’t use in an interview. It’s about how UUs all over the world are living and representing our faith. Many UUs have responded to the Knoxville tragedy with letters to editor, op-eds, and invitations to reporters to visit their congregations. I hope you’ll consider doing something similar by reaching out with your own message to your local community. The more voices we lift up, the more complete our message will be.
If you have other questions, please feel free to call me to discuss them.
Public Relations Director
Unitarian Universalist Association
25 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108