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Influence the news media to make them objective, fair and accurate about animal rights and get them to broadcast more animal rights news and stories.
Most people bathe daily in the words of television, radio and print. The news media are powerful shapers of people's opinion. They influence both the man in the street and the decision makers of our society. Nevertheless, although the media are influential they are not necessarily difficult to influence. Journalists and their bosses, the controllers of media content, are not so remote that we as ordinary members of the public cannot make them hear us. As a media watcher your task is to influence the media to try and make them objective, fair and accurate about animal rights and make them broadcast more animal rights news and stories.
Animals in the News
There is no end of animal-related topics that you can pick up in the media: drug testing, veal farming, live transport, animal adverts, animals in entertainment, animal racing, activists treated as terrorists, nature conservation, and so on. Even when animals are not the actual topic, you can make some point by digging up a new angle, such as connecting a poor diet that is in the news with a contrasting healthy vegan or veggie diet. Of course, no one can scan all the news media every day, even with helpers this would be a daunting task. Therefore you will need to specialise, for instance on what you can find online in your own language or country.
Influencing the Media
Influence the media by searching for potential animal rights stories and getting as many people you can to send their views to the editors about the material you find. Here is how it works.
1. Regularly monitor the latest news.
2. Set up your own web site (see Chapter 3: Internet).
3. Paraphrase or summarise on your web site relevant animal-related news items you find.
4. Next to each summary place a link to the original news item and the email address of the editor or journalist responsible for the original item. You might also provide their phone number, postal address or other contact details. (You may want to give details of where an item was broadcast or published if it does not appear online.)
5. Drive viewers to your web site and invite them to give you their email address (ie to join your mailing list).
6. Email everyone on your mailing list about the summaries and include a link with each summary so that your readers can find them on your web site.
7. People receiving your email will be able to read your summaries, follow the links to the original news items and email their views to the editors or journalists.
What Do Editors Think?
What happens to the mail that your readers send to the journalists and editors? Well aimed and relevant mailings can influence the news media because editors take them as a gauge of public opinion. The media want to be popular and rely on feedback from their audiences. Therefore they take emails and letters seriously and may act on them. Furthermore, each mail that someone sends has more weight and worth than might appear. This is because for each email or letter that editors receive they realise there are several people who would like to send mail but did not for one reason or another. Therefore editors take each mail to represent many people with similar views.
What You Need
What do you need to be a media watcher?
- Making your own animal news information web site may especially appeal to you if you have journalistic flair.
- You should be an avid news vulture.
- You must have sufficient time and an abiding perseverance for grabbing most of the relevant news items most of the time and getting them down onto your web site.
- What to Look Out For
In addition to the usual animal items, look out for the sort of perspective, standards, stereotypes and language the media use when reporting news with animal content. For example:
- Unbalanced Perspective
- Check where stories come from for imbalances. Both sides of an issue should be represented for a story to be broadcast fairly. For instance, suppose a group of activists are accused of terrorism by officialdom without a contrasting statement from a sympathetic animal activist expert. When you find imbalances in perspective ask the media to widen their point of view.
- Double Standards
- Are the media measuring one party against one standard while holding up another party to a different standard? Humans alter whole regions to become largely uninhabitable for wildlife and when a few wild animals turn up they are seen as causing a nuisance or as threatening. Subsequently there is an outcry of 'infestation!' Many news media treat humanity's ravaging of Earth as normal but take exception when animals appear to menace human property. Expose the media's double standards.
- Are the media portraying animals and activists as stereotypes? Wolves, as an example, are not bloodthirsty ravishers of livestock and innocent people. Scientists (1) have shown that the wolf's reputation is a gross exaggeration (elephants kill more people than wolves yet few people decry these giants) and that wolves significantly contribute to a balanced ecosystem (2). Bring the media up to date with education about animals.
- Loaded Language
- How do the media describe animals? Do sharks really 'infest' swimming beaches? Are foxes and rats really 'vermin'? Are crocodiles really 'man-eaters'? The most important message in a story relating to animals may be implicit in the choice of words the media use. Ask the media not to apply distorted or indistinct language that fuels biased opinion against animals.
What sort of tone is best adopted when writing to the media? Experts on good communication say you should:
Standard Form Letters?
- Be upbeat and concise and stick closely to the point.
- Be factual, not rhetorical.
- Make only one or two points at most, preferably in your opening sentence.
- Make a good humoured remark. It is more memorable and conveys a better impact than verbosity.
- Always be pleasant and diplomatic. Be positive and pay complements when you can, but do not over do it or you will sound false.
- Avoid writing angry or insulting mail or you will antagonise people you might have won over.
- Give your full name, address and phone number. Newspaper editorial staff will want to check with you before they print anything you have written for them to publish.
You may want to provide sample letters on your web site that your viewers can send to the media. However, editors who receive lots of similarly phrased letters may count the lot as one letter. Editors tend to give more weight to mail from individuals rather than mail that is obviously from a mass writing campaign. So you may wish to goad fellow writers to make their mail uniquely different from each other. You could just outline the points they could make, ask them to choose a few of the points in their letter and write in their own words.
Do not underrate your potential to influence the news media. Show them that you are a perceptive and caring citizen and they cannot dismiss you as a crude, uneducated extremist (even if you are).
See Dawn Watch for an excellent animal media watcher.
(1) Linnell, John D C, et al. The fear of wolves: a review of wolf attacks on humans. NINA Oppdragsmelding, 731. 2002:1 - 65.
(2) Robbins J. Lessons from the Wolf. Scientific American. 2004.
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