home of Dow Boardmember James Ringler on the 20th anniversary
Back to the Skills
The media is a powerful tool that can help you advance the goals
of your campaign. Use it! Whether on campus or in your community,
television, radio or newspaper coverage can allow you to reach thousands
of people. Using the media can help you educate and influence potential
supporters and campaign targets, enhance your group's name recognition
and credibility, attract new members to your group - and make Dow
wince. And who doesn't want to do that?
Many experienced activists suggest spending ten percent of your
organizing time on attracting media attention. The opportunities
for coverage are almost limitless - the launch of a new campaign,
before or after an important milestone, a major visibility event,
after a victory has been secured, the release of a report or new
information, the recognition of an anniversary, or the announcement
of a new coalition.
Ready to get started? Then follow the links below to find out more!
10 Steps to Getting Press
A tip sheet by the Drug Policy Alliance (available
here in pdf)
what’s "newsworthy." There is a big difference between
an issue and a news story. We can assist the media in covering issues
that are important to us by letting them know when a related "story"
emerges. What makes something newsworthy? Controversy, anniversaries,
civil disobedience, human interest, strange bedfellows, superlatives
(first, biggest, etc.) If a topic isn’t newsworthy - no matter
how important - they probably won’t cover it.
written materials. The first thing a reporter is likely to ask when
you call them to pitch a story is: "Do you have anything in
writing?" Help make their job as easy as possible by developing
brief, easy-to-read materials. Especially important is a 1-2 page
media advisory or press release with details of an event or news
story. The style and content should resemble a simple newspaper
story, with strong headlines, facts and quotes. When possible, other
background materials can be helpful, including fact sheets, spokespeople
bios or report summaries.
a targeted media list. It is important to think about which reporters
will be interested in your story. Are they reporters who cover health?
Politics? Entertainment? Is it a local or a national story? Is it
a story that’s good for newspaper, radio and/or television?
From there, develop a list of reporters’ names and numbers
Be by a fax machine and / or email. In order to quickly send your
written materials to a reporter, it is important to be close to
a fax machine or email when making pitch calls. If a reporter wants
to see something right away, it will not help to send them something
several hours later or the next day.
Identify strategic spokespeople. The messenger is often just as
important as the message when it comes to the media. A doctor or
patient talking about the importance of medical marijuana will probably
be more effective than a college student in perfect health, for
example. It is also crucial that spokespeople are articulate and
knowledgeable on the issue, and easily reachable by reporters on
deadline. (Not having a cell phone can sometimes mean not being
included in a story!!) Having experience speaking to the press is
always a plus. Remember - reporters are not your friends. Be careful
and strategic when doing interviews.
Practice your telephone pitch. Reporters get hundreds of calls a
day. What’s likely to make a reporter not hang up on you,
or immediately delete your message, is if you develop a well-focused,
30-second pitch that highlights the essence of your news story.
Once you hook them, you can describe in more detail why you are
calling and how you can get them more information. Practice leaving
messages on your own answering machine. Don’t forget to leave
your phone number if you leave a message.
lie or exaggerate. It is important that reporters feel they can
trust the information you give them. If they find out you are lying
or exaggerating, it will greatly hurt your chances of ever being
able to pitch them a story again. Usually the facts are strong enough
to make a case for a good story.
take no for an answer. Pitching is not dating. If a reporter says
no, try another reporter, or call them again when you have a different
story. If you get one out of ten reporters to write about your story,
that is a huge success! Remember, one reporter can represent thousands
of readers, listeners or viewers.
the media to get more media. If a good article comes out on your
issue, send it to other reporters who might also be interested.
Oftentimes newspapers will be more interested in op-ed pieces if
the topic has been in the recent news. Articles and op-eds can also
lead to radio interviews, and local stories can lead to national
stories, if they’re seen by the right editors / producers.
Say thank you. Developing friendly relationships with reporters
is helpful when trying to pitch news stories. If a reporter writes
a story you like, call them up and say thank you. They appreciate
it, and will be more likely to return your phone call the next time
- top -
Working With the Media
Where is the Reporter Coming From?
Keep in mind that reporters have a job to do, and their job is to
get a good story. They are not your friends and they know little,
if anything, about your issue. They are under deadlines and often
have multiple stories going at once, and they are under constant
pressure from their editors. The media are businesses with the ultimate
goal of selling papers and increasing their ratings, which place
added constraints on reporters.
Don’t let that intimidate you. You’re not going to
lose anything by trying. If you’re not having any luck, be
direct. Ask the reporter what it will take to get them to cover
your story. They might tell you exactly what you need to do. And
remember, reporters want to cover good stories, which are what you
The ‘RULES’ of Working with the Media:
on message! Don’t confuse the reporter with too much information.
They will often choose odd things to highlight in their coverage,
so only give them the information you want to get across. It is
good to have a short message that you can repeat constantly;
lie. It destroys your credibility. If you don’t know an answer,
admit it, but say that you can find it for them and get back to
them – promptly (remember, they are on a deadline);
is NO off-the-record. Remember, the reporter is not your friend;
they are out to get a story and sell papers. If you tell them something
“off the record” it will still end up in the story –
it just may not have your name attached to it;
on message! Repeat it, and repeat it again.
Some Useful Tips:
the work for them. If you provide all the information they need
to write a story, it makes their life easier (remember they are
on a deadline). Furthermore, it allows you to give them the information
you want them to have;
you call a reporter, always ask if they have a minute to talk. Often
times they will be on deadline and will not be able to talk to you
then. If they are busy, ask when a better time would be to call
them. The reporter will appreciate this greatly and be more receptive;
can’t be on the phone enough. Fax your press advisory or release,
but call to follow up. Be direct: Ask if the reporter plans to show
a relationship (not a friendship). Find out who the environmental
reporter is and make sure to send information to them directly.
If you are credible, helpful and timely, they will come to you when
they are looking for information. It is good to have one person
from a group be the press contact for consistency reasons, but this
is virtually impossible in student groups with such high rates of
are looking for specific things that make a story newsworthy. Here
are some ‘hooks you can use to ‘catch’ a reporter:
conflict, dramatic human interest, new announcement, trend, local
spin to national or global issues (or vice versa); controversy;
a fresh angle on an old story; milestone, anniversary, celebrity,
special event, etc. Young people like us get covered. Visuals always
get attention and send a message that is less corruptible than a
talking to a reporter, see if what you are planning to say passes
the “cousin” test. In other words, run it by your cousin
or someone who doesn’t have any knowledge of your issues –
to make sure that you are sending the right message, and that it
is clear. If you’re talking to a reporter and feel like things
aren’t coming out right, just stop, say “let me start
again,” and do so;
you are having a rally or large event, have your members practice
their sound bites beforehand. That way they can be prepared when
a reporter asks why they are there. Although, not everyone needs
to be an expert. Have one or two people who know the issues well
be designated as press liaisons. This way the information you give
to the media can be controlled. Make sure everyone at the event
knows whom to direct the reporters to after they have given their
- top -
Alternative media can also be a powerful way of spreading your
message, and it often reaches different audiences than the mainstream
media. Use it! One of the best is Indymedia
- find the site from your city or state (lower left) and post your
press releases. Depending on where you live, there may be other
alternative media available, including alternative newspapers, community
radio, and cable-access television. Ask around.
- top -
Press Releases & Advisories:
..........• Press Release: Dec.
3rd Day of Action
..........• Press Release: Quarantine
Action at the University of Michigan
..........• Advisory: “Return
to Sender” action, University of Michigan
..........• Advisory: “Run
for Your Life!” action, University of Michigan
- top -
Op-eds & Letters to the
..........• Op-Ed: to
the Michigan Daily, 2003
..........• LTE: to
the Michigan Daily, 2003
- top -
Resources for Media Events
Need handouts for your media event? Check out our nifty Resources
page. B-roll for television reporters? We've got it! Contact Ryan
if you're interested in receiving it.
Also use this media kit (developed
for the March to
- top -
the Media, A Guide for Activists by Carol Fennelly
Activist's Guide to Exploiting the Media by George Monbiot
the Media by Carolyn Danckaert
to Use the Media to Broadcast Your Message by the Rainforest
Training Manual by the Ruckus Society
- top -