Snappy Page Essence
Develop your credibility and reputation with the news media. Write to the editor, write a news release, give interviews, or dress up and do stunts for photo opportunities, but make your story newsworthy: original, with a new twist, or bubbling with human interest.
"Don't hate the media, become the media." Attributed to Jello Biafra, alias Eric Reed Boucher, rock band singer and political activist.
Why the News Media?
Make use of the news media - press, magazines, radio and television - for broadcasting your activities and developing your group's credibility and reputation. Many local newspapers have a free What's On
section; advertise your meetings and events in it. But you can go a lot further. Newspapers largely depend on the public to supply them with a constant stream of news. Indeed, reporters would be unemployed without a public to give them news. So the media need you as much as you need them and there is no need to be timid when approaching them.
Whether you are a solo campaigner or a group, engaging with the news media can range from writing letters to the editor, providing information, and giving interviews, to dressing up and doing stunts for a photo opportunity. Media publicity reaches a wide audience and can make your campaigning issue a public topic for discussion. Publicity for your group will raise group member morale (“…we’re in the news again - must be getting somewhere!”) and could bring in more members. In important point is that the more frequently you figure in the news the more impression you will make.
Make it Newsworthy
Your news story must compete with umpteen other stories to get into the media, so you should make it newsworthy. A newsworthy story tends to be something original or with a new twist, something exciting, with a human interest; it concerns people, is happening now or soon, and is controversial or dramatic. The media thrive on disputes and a reporter will contact opposing parties for their opinions, so help the reporter by having to hand the phone numbers of a few people who oppose you. Give the reporter a few names because not everyone may be available for comment when the reporter calls them.
Here are some tips to help you when reporters come round to interview you about your activities.
- Before the reporter arrives, draw up a checklist of the main points you wish to cover so that you do not leave out anything important.
- Emphasise only one or two main points that you want to get across, they are the purpose of your campaign, and state them clearly to the reporter. Reporters and readers cannot remember more than a couple of arguments, so there is no point spinning off a whole list of them.
- Be clear that your group's name, and if possible some contact address or your web site / blog, are mentioned in the article the reporter will write. This is your payoff for your story.
- Although reporters may seem supportive, friendly and interested in your cause, what they are really after is a story, so concentrate on giving them that. Do not get too pally and say something you may later regret.
- Be careful when speaking to reporters because they may report anything you tell them. Nothing is ever 'off the record' (to be withheld from the public) so never say anything you do not want reported; do not even use this expression (it is a Hollywood contrivance!).
- Always get the reporter's name and thank them by letter or email for their piece when it is published (even if it is awful!). Reporters are only human and being polite will help your media relations.
A Feature Article?
Stay close to the media.
When your campaign really gets going and you have something substantial to report, a newspaper might want to run a feature article, a detailed story, on what you are doing. Be willing to talk about your experiences, to give a human face to the issue, or you could offer a profile of someone who is involved with running your campaign. Photos are important when trying to attract the public’s attention. Have some unique, relevant, quality pictures that the newspaper can publish with the story. Alternatively, make an impressive photo opportunity for one of their photographers, a ‘publicity stunt’ that could help your campaign; the newspaper is paying for it so make the best of it.
The Letters Page
A newspaper's Letter to the Editor
page is one of the most well read pages of any newspaper. Write to the page as an individual or on behalf of your group. Make your letter stand out and memorable.
- Be brief and to the point.
- Write in plain English, without exaggeration, jargon or cliches.
- Grab the attention of readers with a good heading (if the newspaper prints headings) and with your first sentence.
- Make one or at most two points well, not many points diffusely.
Keep your letter short, about the average length of other letters on the page and no longer than the longest letter. Sign off with your group's name and contact details, either email or web site address, depending on the newspaper's custom, so that readers can contact you.
Check the page for responses from readers to your letter and follow-up with a second letter to the editor in reply to them. Tell members of your group to write their own independent responses to keep the discussion going and spin it out. As a bonus, send a copy of the published letters to newspaper reporters at other newspapers, suggest they write a feature article, and include the latest information about your campaign.
Write letters regularly, get other group members to do so. See Chapter 4: Media Watcher.
Sending news releases to your national or local news media is one of the main ways of communicating with people broadly. Tell the media something newsworthy about you or your campaign and what you are doing, such as organising a coming event, like a demonstration, picket or other direct action.
Your news release (see the example below) will compete with hundreds of other news releases from other people. So write it in the approved style and in a professional manner for it to stand a chance of being acted on. If you do not, it may only be scanned briefly for content then chucked out by a harassed member of the newspaper's staff. There are many books and web articles about the do’s and don’ts of news releases but the gist is simple. Most news releases follow this ten step format.
- Type your news release on your letterhead paper.
- Type News Release and the date at the top.
- Then write an attention-grabbing headline in the style of newspapers.
- The first sentence of your story is the most important, stating what your news release is about.
- Put the who, where, when and why of your story in the first paragraph.
- Work a quote into the text; the newspaper may print it and it imparts authority and a personal touch. You can quote yourself or find a celebrity or authoritative figure and ask them for a comment.
- Throw in some brief evidence to back up your message.
- Be matter of fact, do not exaggerate, use jargon or cliches.
- At the bottom put ‘For more information’ followed by your name and phone number.
- Fit everything on one side of one page - two sheets might separate and lose each other at the hectic newspaper office. Use regular size type. (This is an exercise in being concise!)
Send your news release a few days before the event and no more than a week. Some newspapers accept news releases by email or fax but many still insist on receiving them by letter only. It is usual to send news release to the News Desk, but check first. Newspaper details are published in various documents, which you can find at main libraries and on the Web.
Constantly keep close to the phone in the couple of days after they receive your news release. If the newspaper does not phone you during this period then no dice. Try again another time with a different news release.
Example of a news release:
1 April 2020
Grimstown Citizens Protest For Chickens
Grimstown citizens will gather outside the Town Hall at 12 noon this Saturday 5 April calling for Grimstown supermarkets to stop selling eggs from caged chickens. Members of Tails Up! - the Grimstown Animal Rights Group - dressed in chicken suits will stage an 'egg lay-in' confined in mock cages. A petition of over 1,000 signatures of Grimstown shoppers will be handed to the Mayor.
"Eating eggs from battery chickens is morally indefensible," says E.G. Smash, chair of the group. "No one is so poor they cannot afford eggs from free-ranging chickens with access to organic feed and to woodland. Organic eggs are a kinder and healthier option for chickens and people."
Tails Up! is calling on Grimstown supermarkets for an early phase-out of eggs from caged chickens. Members of the public are invited to attend an open air public meeting at Town Hall Square from 12.30 pm, with a speaker from the Chicken Liberation Network.
Global Respect for Farm Animals says there are five billion egg-laying chickens in the top five egg producing countries, the US alone has 280,000,000 egg-laying hens, almost all living in horrifying conditions crammed into tiny bare cages all their lives.
Photo opportunity of protesters with placards and chicken suites: 12 noon at the Town Hall.
For further information:
Secretary Tails Up!
Tel 01234 567890
Local radio stations are often keen on discussions and phone-ins and want local people to talk about their local issues. Send your local radio stations suitably adapted copies of the news releases you send to newspapers.
If you get on the news you will probably be broadcast live. Actual interviews may only be a few minutes long so stay focused to deliver your two or three key points. But should your interview be recorded, news editors will cut down mercilessly any long message to a few seconds; therefore make sure you deliver a few sound-bites that go straight to the heart of your issue, and be ready to come up with more snappy phrases just in case. Make them simple and memorable so that they stick in people's heads. Humour can often help.
- Speak well but be yourself.
- Speak slowly, calmly, clearly and let your natural good-natured humour show through.
- Give short but full answers and make your point as soon as possible.
- Say if you do not know how to answer a question and then go on to make a related point.
- Briefly answer a question that seems irrelevant and then pass on to something else that you really want to say.
- Keep strictly to your reply; do not wander away into other matters.
- Stop at once and listen to the interviewer if they interject with a new question.
- Convince the listeners - get their sympathy. Do not try to beat the interviewer should they seem hostile.
- Remember there is no such thing as 'off the record', even if the interviewer prompts you for such a remark!
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