If you had a particular ax to grind and wanted to see your point of view in a newspaper, what would you do?
You could hire a public relations firm, but that would create an expensive middleman.
PR Guy: Mr. Simon, would you like to go to lunch and talk about how General Motors builds really safe pickups that would never, ever turn people into cinders?
PR Guy: Great! Where would you like to go?
There is a cheaper way, however, of getting publicity: You can sponsor a contest.
Here is a small sample of the contests listed in the Journalism & Awards Fellowship Directory of Editor & Publisher magazine:
Bristol-Myers Squibb offers a $2,000 award "for outstanding writing in the general media on cholesterol or high blood pressure."
The American College of Allergy and Immunology sponsors a $1,000 award for "outstanding reporting on allergy and asthma."
The International Association of Fire Fighters sponsors a $500 award for "reporting and photography that best portrays the professional and hazardous work of the Fire Fighters in the U.S. and Canada."
The National Marine Manufacturers Association gives a stipend of $1,000 to the journalist who "has made an outstanding contribution to the sport of boating or allied water sports."
The National Association of Realtors sponsors an award. As does the National Nutritional Foods Association. As does the American Greyhound Track Operators Association.
I am not suggesting that journalists are influenced by such cash prizes.
But have you ever worried about your blood pressure or sneezing while being rescued by a brave fireman who reaches you by boat while you were looking for a house near a friendly greyhound track while eating an apple?
Think about it.
Let's say, for instance, you believe in Unidentified Flying Objects. How would you go about getting more UFO stories in the press?
Well, if you were the Fund for UFO Research of Mount Rainier, Maryland, you would create an award that pays a "$500 cash prize" for a story that makes "the most significant contribution to the public understanding of the UFO phenomenon."
The Fund for UFO Research even saves reporters the trouble of thinking up their own award-winning ideas. It provides a list:
"Possible topics may be, but are not limited to: the U.S. government's involvement in the UFO subject; the phenomenon of UFO 'abduction' cases; or investigations into eyewitness reports of UFO sightings. Awards are made without regard to any particular theory about the source of the UFO phenomenon."
Prior to receiving notice of this award, I had been pretty skeptical about UFOs.
Now, however, I would like to present this true story. My prize can be sent to me care of this newspaper:
It was a dark and stormy night. Me and Joe Bob were out looking for some roadkill for dinner when we saw a bright light hovering above us in the sky.
"It's a UFO!" I screamed.
"Naw, it's just a bright light," Joe Bob said.
"Shut up," I said, "This contest pays $500."
"Yeah, it does sorta look like a UFO!" Joe Bob said.
Lower and lower the UFO came.
"It's opening up!" I screamed.
A ramp descended from the smooth, metallic sides of the saucer.
After what seemed like an hour but was probably only about 60 minutes, a tiny, round-headed man appeared. But it wasn't a man! Where he should have had ears, he had tiny radar dishes!
"I am HROSSP-EROT," he said. "And I have come to cloud your minds with my alien powers. Make me your president in 1996! It's simple. Got it? Let's get it done!"
"My mind is being clouded by his alien powers!" I screamed. "I feel like sending him money!"
"Not me," Joe Bob said. And then he walked up to HROSSP-EROT, tied him to a spit and cooked him for dinner.
Moral No. 1: To some Americans, a politician is just a politician no matter what planet he comes from.
Moral No. 2: While journalists cannot be bought, they can be rented.