Ben Martin, the journalist behind The West Australian’s hugely successful Pledge for Nate anti-drink driving campaign, has been awarded a scholarship to study successful models for public interest journalism overseas and analyse how mastheads and media outlets can drive change.
Mr Martin, an assistant editor at The West, will study organisations in Europe and the US under a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to find out how to most effectively convey a message and ensure the audience takes action.
He said the Pledge for Nate campaign was based on gut instinct and journalistic knowledge. “But at the end I looked at it and thought it was so successful that it’s the sort of thing we could apply to lots of other causes,” Mr Martin said.
The campaign was credited by politicians and interest groups with achieving the lowest holiday drink driving death toll in Western Australia since 1962. It was sparked by the death of a young boy, Nate Dunbar, in an alcohol-related car accident.
“Mastheads are still well-respected and people grow up reading them and continue to go to them for their most trusted source of news,” Mr Martin said.
“Anything that the newspaper puts its weight behind carries that implicit weight of goodwill between the reader and the newspaper.
“We didn’t just write a magazine piece about Pledge for Nate, we enlisted our legal affairs reporters, our medical reporters, our crime reporters and our social affairs reporters to look into the many ways that drink driving has an effect.”
Newspapers are populated with highly knowledgeable, well-connected people who have contacts in a wide range of fields which make them good at telling inside stories, Mr Martin said, like stories of those touched by drink driving.
“I want to look at how others are doing it. I don’t think there’s any one organisation or group that has all the answers, so I want to spread far and wide and have a look at everything from live data analysis that some cutting-edge media technology companies use, right through to how to mount a grassroots campaign within a small community, and find out what the common elements of success are.
“And then I should be able to put together an easily-used tool kit that would allow us to continue pushing these campaigns where they have a public benefit.”
The Churchill fellowship was established in 1965 and has since sponsored more than 4000 Australians to undertake research overseas.
“I want to be able to create something that can be applied to any cause, anything that fits within the gamut of public interest journalism,” Mr Martin said.