NASW building media education campaign

Oct 24, 2012

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

NASW and its chapters are building an education campaign this fall that promotes clarification of social work title protection in news stories and headlines so that social workers are not misrepresented in the media.

When headlines incorrectly state that a social worker is to blame for misbehavior, the social work profession suffers from the mistake, said Kathy Boyd, executive director of the NASW North Carolina Chapter. It can also have a negative impact for clients, she said.

“We have heard cases where people avoid seeing a social worker because of the misinformed publicity,” Boyd said. “There is evidence of real harm that gets done to a profession when media misreport on an issue.”

Hoyt Suppes, executive director of the NASW Washington State Chapter, said the campaign is a great idea.

“I like the fact that NASW chapters are pursuing title protection and getting the message out there,” he said. “The more we can do to protect our title’s use, the better. It shows we are comprised of professionals.”

Washington state has had social work title protection on the books since January, and Suppes has been busy informing editors of this important change in state law. It stipulates that only those with a social work degree from an accredited school of social work can call themselves a social worker.

“Social workers join the ranks of other professions such as physicians and psychologists whose professional job title is protected in Washington State,” Suppes wrote in a letter to an Associated Press bureau chief.

The effort to educate the media about title protection is not without challenges, noted Jordan Wildermuth, executive director of the NASW Kentucky Chapter.

Too often, he said, local media will mistakenly report that a social worker was somehow involved in a child welfare fatality. Wildermuth said a reporter told him that discerning the difference between a social worker and non-social worker is too complicated for readers to understand.

On a positive note, another major newspaper in the state was willing to hear Wildermuth explain his case.

“I think having a coordinated communications plan is great,” Wildermuth said of educating the media on a systemic level. “It has got to be a clear-cut message that the media can buy into.”

Some states have quasi title-protection laws, but helping local journalists understand the difference between trained professionals and other workers is still important, Boyd said. In North Carolina, no one in the private sector can use the title social worker without a social work degree. However, those with “related degrees and experience” can use the title in the public sector, she explained.

She said that some editors and reporters are sympathetic to her pleas to clarify the title more accurately in their articles and broadcasts, while others can be indifferent. Taking a proactive and collaborative approach to educating members of the media is a step in the right direction, Boyd said.  “It’s a smart thing to do.”

At the national level, inroads have been made with consumer interest publications and websites that feature social workers as experts on everything from relationships and hoarding to caregiving and youth development. Social workers also advise television programs on social work characters and plotlines through NASW’s outreach work.

However, without a targeted campaign to educate editors, reporters and producers who cover hard news about local social services, complex public policies and crime, those positive social work stories are easily forgotten.

“Erroneous headlines and coverage about ‘social worker’ wrongdoing is devastating for our members and harmful to their communities,” said Gail Woods Waller, NASW director of communications.  “We aim to change that.”

NASW Education Campaign

This month, NASW will begin reaching out to targeted journalists across the country, introducing them to local social work experts and clarifying social work roles in a variety of settings.  Here are five ways to get involved:

  1. Submit a request to the Associated Press to add a description of a social worker to the AP Style Guide.
  2. Post examples of media misrepresentations of the social work profession on SocialWorkersSpeak.org.
  3. Send an email to media@naswdc.org if you would like to be interviewed locally on a hot topic.
  4. Leave comments on news websites and in social media.  Suggest stories or correct misinformation.
  5. Always say you are a professional social worker when interviewed by the media.

From the October 2012 NASW News.

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