Back to Index
Making the news: A guide to getting the media's attention
Symon Hill, Red Pepper
If you've ever been passionate about an issue or a campaign, then
you've also disagreed - passionately - with how that issue was (or
wasn't) handled by reporters. It's tempting to simply throw up your
arms and blame it all on the sorry state of the media. But there
are two sides to every story, and active citizens must school themselves
on how to attract attention, and never, every forfeit the power
of the press. Here, then, is a 10-step primer from a media expert
on how to help get you or your cause notice, on your terms.
- The Editors, The Utne Reader
a clear message
you are calling for and keep repeating it clearly and concisely.
Don't dilute strong argument by going off on tangents or harping
on trivialities. Relate your cause to everyday concerns. For example,
if your campaigning for ethical investment, point out that it is
financially viable and has a positive effect on the world. If you
speak calmly and appeal to common understandings, radical ideas
can appear not only sensible but even obvious.
media a priority
means making media engagement a priority. I have often seen activists
organize an event and then think about promoting it to the media.
Put media at the centre of your planning from the beginning.
news only if it is new. Discussions of opinions are not news - but
you can make them news. When the University of London Union campaigned
on fair trade, they couldn't make headlines simply by repeating
its benefits. But by conducting a survey that showed that London
students were among Britain's most enthusiastic fair trade buyers,
they made a good news story. Don't forget to be imaginative!
If you are
aiming for a weekly paper that goes to print on Tuesday afternoon,
don't hold an event on Tuesday evening. Be where journalists are,
both literally and metaphorically. It's difficult to get journalists
to come to a protest outside a company's offices, but if you demonstrate
outside the company's big annual meeting, business correspondents
will already be there. Contact them in advance and there's a good
chance they'll come over and speak with you.
It sounds obvious,
but it is often overlooked. Issue a news release when you act or
respond to events, but don't rely on the release alone. Get on the
phone with the journalists who have received it. Be concise and
brace yourself for disappointments - most of them will not be interested.
But chances are you will find someone who wants to know more eventually.
Go back to
journalists every time you have a story, especially those who seemed
interested earlier. If you're concise and reliable, and give them
good stories, they will soon be phoning you for comments. When this
happens, make sure that someone is available. A good relationship
with a few journalists is worth a thousand press releases.
the right media
Who are you
trying to influence? If you're aiming to shift local public opinion,
the local press is, of course, vital. When the UK student group
People and Planet launched their Green Education Declaration, they
targeted specialist education media. The news was read by fewer
people than if it had been in mainstream media, but that audience
included the decision makers whom the initiative was targeting.
A single death
is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic. For example, Disarm
UCL is a group of students campaigning for an end to their university's
arms investments. They discovered that a University College London
graduate named Richard Wilson had written a book about his sister's
death as a result of the arms trade. By involving Wilson in their
campaign, they made the story and made it harder for their opponents
to dismiss them as inexperience and unrealistic.
A good image
can make or break your chances of coverage. Photo stunts should
be original and meaningful but not too complicated. A great example
is students who dressed in military jackets and mortarboards to
illustrate military influence on universities. With photos of protests,
be careful about the background. I'm amazed how often people protest
outside a shop or company without ensuring that the company's name
is visible in shots of the demonstrations. Specialist media will
often use photos provided by campaigners, so it's worth finding
someone who's good with a camera.
is hard work, especially when you are new to it. But don't give
up! The more you do, the more contacts you will acquire and the
more coverage you will get. Keep your press releases and your phone
calls regular. It will all be worth it when you see the coverage
making a difference to your campaign.
Hill provides media training to activists and faith-based groups.
His website is www.symonhill.co.uk
Reprinted from Red Pepper, A British magazine of radical social
Ok, so you've
finally got Anderson Cooper (or your local lifestyle-beat reporter)
on the line. What do you say? "Improving your communication
skills is probably the best way to deal with the media juggernaut,"
writes Jason Del Gandio in Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for
21st Century Activists (New Society, 2008). This little black book,
packed with straightforward tips for engineering and articulating
your message, is an important addition to any media-relations arsenal.
Del Gandio, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, acknowledges
that the media often misrepresent or altogether exclude radical
issues, but he calls on activists to rise to the occasion: "Newspapers,
magazines, journals, and radio and television shows prefer articulate,
charismatic activists who speak and write well. This is because
good communicators are able to clearly explain the purposes and
motivations for their politics and actions."
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.