For those who don't know, my job involves working with the media to promote my organization's issues, which include microcredit, foreign aid reform, domestic poverty and healthcare, global education, and a special campaign devoted to raising awareness and resources for fighting tuberculosis. Still with me? Fabulous. Anyway, you can imagine that a lot of the time this involves a lot of calls to journalists who would love to cover our stories, but golly gee, just can't get their editors on board. Especially in a down market. It's kind of like getting turned down for the prom over and over.
Which isn't to say we can't turn it out when we have to. Every now and again we get the odd New York Times piece or editorial, or they run an op-ed we wrote. But recently we got to take part in something a bit more special than that.
Each year, a bunch of smarty-pants entrepreneurs, artists, and other assorted luminaries get together for something called the TED conference, and they award a prize to three individuals of $100,000 to "make a wish to change the world." Last year, one of the winners was a renowned war photographer named James Nachtwey, and his wish was to use the winnings to travel the world and document an underreported health story. Wouldn't you know it, he chose extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis.
A bit of background: A lot of folks think TB was wiped out 100 years ago, but it's still a major problem. 1.7 million people die from it every year, and 9 million people are infected. It's particularly bad for people with HIV/AIDS, and is actually the leading killer of people with AIDS. It's totally curable, often for as little as $20 if you catch it early, but because there's been so little investment, patients in the world's poorest countries often don't receive proper treatment, and their TB mutates into more drug-resistant forms. Extremely drug-resistant TB (or XDR-TB) is the worst kind of all. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat, often involving surgery, and can kill the patient before they're diagnosed, but not before they've passed it on. So for people in poor countries, it's a virtual death sentence. Scary stuff.
So the nice people at TED told us about this, and they had grand plans to project James' pictures in huge displays on the sides of buildings in all seven continents (seriously, they worked something out with a science base in Antarctica. It's nice to have a budget). But, darn the luck, they needed someone to help them with the wonky aspects of the presentation, and to give people something to do if they wanted to take action after seeing the pictures. Naturally, we were delighted to help.
So we've been working with these folks for a few weeks to get media attention, and to fact-check the presentations. There was a big unveiling in NYC on Friday night with a gala reception featuring people like Paul Simon and Anthony Edwards (the bald doctor from ER, or, as he's known in our household, Goose from Top Gun). For the curious, I did not get to meet Mr. Simon, though I stood next to him, and he is alarmingly Robyn-sized. I did meet Goose, and got his autograph, and can affirm that he is wicked chill. I'm very pro-Goose at the moment.
But from a professional standpoint, it was awesome, and kind of surreal, to see a cocktail party full of the NYC society types discussing the talking points of an issue you've been working pretty hard on for the better part of a year. We had a table set up for people to sign letters to Obama and McCain asking them to annouce a presidential TB initiative, and got a lot of signatures (including Mr. Simon and Mr. Edwards). Obama and McCain also each e-mailed our staff statements supporting the campaign in general. The pictures, and slides that we helped wordsmith, were broadcast on the Reuters screen in Times Square just before the reception, so I hoofed it 20 blocks up and back (in heels, thanks), to take pictures. There were actually some photography nerds there waiting for the presentation, because they saw the press release. I almost kissed them. And I'll tell you what, if you haven't seen something you helped write broadcast a couple of stories high at the crossroads of the world, I highly recommend it. Does wonders for morale.
So our obscure little health issue had a hell of a day last week. You can see the slideshow at xdrtb.org, and I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you to check out our site action.org for info on the issue. We also got news hits on USA Today, AFP, and Time magazine. It's pretty heavy duty stuff, but hopefully we've helped get the word out about it a little bit. Here are some pictures from the events:
Paul Simon signs our letter:
Anthony Edwards with my boss, Joanne:
Hello! Wanna sign our letter?
In Times Square:
We helped write the text