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Using the Media
Outside the home of Dow Boardmember James Ringler on the 20th anniversary

Back to the Skills Toolbox

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!

Read this Comprehensive Guide (pdf) Choosing a Spokesperson
10 Steps to Getting Press The Interview
Working With The Media How to: Press Releases & Advisories
Media Strategy - Getting Started PR & Advisories: Samples
Develop Your Message How to: Op-Eds & Letters to the Editor
Target Your Audience Op-Eds & LTEs: Samples
The Best Media for You? Bhopal: National Media Contacts
Alternative Media Resources for Media Events
Holding a Media Event Evaluate!
Pitching Reporters More Information

 

10 Steps to Getting Press
A tip sheet by the Drug Policy Alliance (available here in pdf)

Identify 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.

Develop 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.

Develop 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 to call.

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.

Never 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.

Don’t 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.

Use 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 around.

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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 are providing.

The ‘RULES’ of Working with the Media:

Stay 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;

Never 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);

There 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;

Stay on message! Repeat it, and repeat it again.

 

Some Useful Tips:

Do 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;

When 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;

You 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 up;

Develop 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 turnover;

Reporters 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 verbal one;

Before 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;

If 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 sound bite.

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Alternative Media

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.

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Press Releases & Advisories: Samples

..........• 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

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Op-eds & Letters to the Editor: Samples

..........• Op-Ed: to the Michigan Daily, 2003
..........• LTE: to the Michigan Daily, 2003

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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 Delhi)!

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More Information

..........Managing the Media, A Guide for Activists by Carol Fennelly
..........An Activist's Guide to Exploiting the Media by George Monbiot
..........Using the Media by Carolyn Danckaert
..........How to Use the Media to Broadcast Your Message by the Rainforest Action Network
..........Media Training Manual by the Ruckus Society

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The international student campaign to hold Dow accountable for Bhopal, and its other toxic legacies around the world.
For more information about the campaign, or for problems regarding this website, contact
Shana Ortman, the US Coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
Last updated: April 30, 2008

WE ALL LIVE IN BHOPAL

"The year 2003 was a special year in the history of the campaign for justice in Bhopal. It was the year when student and youth supporters from at least 30 campuses in the US and India took action against Dow Chemical or in support of the demands of the Bhopal survivors. As we enter the 20th year of the unfolding Bhopal disaster, we can, with your support, convey to Dow Chemical that the fight for justice in Bhopal is getting stronger and will continue till justice is done. We look forward to your continued support and good wishes, and hope that our joint struggle will pave the way for a just world free of the abuse of corporate power."

Signed/ Rasheeda Bi, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Employees Union
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal