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Media Basics PDF Print E-mail

Why do activists use the media?

The media - print, radio and television - is an essential tool for spreading the word, raising awareness and influencing public opinion. The media is a vehicle for communicating with the world. It can also be a catalyst for change, social and governmental. In some ways, media legitimizes your campaign - if your story gets coverage, it's an issue. Knowing how to use the media effectively can make the difference in the success of your campaign.

Who is your audience?

For all actions, it is essential to consider your audience. Who are they? What are their values? What types of media are they exposed to? (Remember, different papers have different audiences.) What will appeal to them? What can they relate to? What actions and/or words will turn them off or are not accessible to them? What response are you trying to evoke in them? What action do you want them to take?

Nonverbal Communication

What you wear and how you hold yourself is the first message that you send to reporters. Some activists say, "Don't fit their stereotypes." How you look is your choice, but it is important to consider what message it sends to the press. Body language is also extremely important. Think twice before projecting anger, aggression, or defensiveness. Always convey an attitude of nonviolence.

Banners and Signs: Choose your symbols wisely! They should be simple and clear and speak to everyone. Use your symbols to reach people's hearts. Think of a billboard: short, catchy, and visually arresting. Give the media an image they can't resist. Remember to consider your audience!

Verbal Communication

THE MESSAGE: Know ahead of time exactly why you are doing this action, for this cause, at this time, and at this location. If soundbites are your strategy, prepare them ahead of time. Soundbites, like banners, should be short statements (about 10 seconds long), simple, and clear. Think billboard. Practice, practice, practice!

REPORTERS: Not all reporters are antagonistic. However, some may try to divert attention away from the issue, attack you, or belittle you and your cause. Don't let this distract you from getting your message out there. You define the issue on your terms! Find a polite and creative way to redirect the question.

RESPONSES: There are two schools of thought on whether or not is appropriate to ignore a reporter's question and simply say your soundbite or "No comment."

Some activists believe that if a reporter is antagonistic, you're nervous, you don't know the answer, or it's not in the best interest of the movement to respond, you should say "No comment," and if possible direct the reporter to someone who can answer.

Others believe that everyone in the action should know the facts and be able to answer questions. It is okay to have designated spokespersons, but reporters don't want to talk to the same people all the time. When you say no comment, you risk losing coverage for your issue. Why should they cover you if you won't talk to them?

TWO STRATEGIES for situations where you cannot or do not want to answer a reporter's question are one: say something funny, and two: creatively turn their question around.

For example: You are doing a blockade, lock-down, die-in, tree-sit, etc. to protest for your cause.

- - - REPORTER: So how do you go to the bathroom like that?

- - - YOU: My waste isn't the issue - the issue is the needless waste of human life (natural resources, etc.). !

It's up to you which strategy you use. For new activists, it may make sense to use the spokesperson and soundbite strategy, and work your way towards having everyone be comfortable talking to the press. Be wary of sounding too rehearsed.

Remember, who says no comment the most? Politicians. Don't be one!

WHAT NOT TO SAY: Avoid saying: um, like, you know, whatever, I think, and profanity. They all detract from your message. Don't tell a reporter anything you don't want public!

DO SAY: Nonviolence, frequently. Speak the truth. Talk about what you know about. Show your commitment.

Additional Things to Remember

  • It is perfectly okay to PAUSE and THINK before you speak.

  • Note the reporters that give your issue good coverage and reach out to them next time.
    Get to know the media. Make connections.

  • Exclusives: You can tip off certain reporters ahead of time. They may come if they think they're getting an exclusive. Don't tip off anyone you don't trust.

  • Manipulation: Don't make the media feel manipulated. Speak truth.

  • Off the record: say it before you speak. Reporters will only use off the record info. if they are willing to blow the source.

  • Actions should always be a part of a larger campaign.

  • When planning your action, brainstorm about what kinds of things make the news.

  • Respect the media. You might not like them, but if you express this, they can burn you and your cause.

  • Don't stress. Don't panic. Don't get angry at colleagues if they screw up.

    Press Releases

    Your press release should contain: who/what/when/where/why/how. Be concise, with the catchy information first and the details/statistics/background information at the bottom. Include a quote or two.

    Send it a week in advance, a few days before, and the day before. Call ahead: ask which reporter you should send it to (i.e. who writes about the environment, local issues/events, foreign policy, etc.) Fax it with a cover sheet. Call to see if the correct person received it. Expect to have to fax it twice.

    Press Conferences

    Press conferences are held to disseminate new information - news! Don't have press conferences on the same issue over and over. Press conferences should be well advertised. Send press releases about them twice, and call.

    Have a hook

    If the news you are announcing might not be considered earth-shattering by the media, how you spin the press release and who your speakers are will make the difference in whether or not they come. Connect to local or national issues that are currently being covered in the media or that your audience particularly cares about. If possible, include speakers that will attract media. For example, if your allies include a government official or community leader, invite them.

    Impress the Press

    *Have Press Packets! Press packets are folders, with your group's logo on the front, that contain background information on your issue and your organization, as well as relevant pictures (like of speakers or actions) and copies of previous media coverage of your group.
    *Provide drinks, make sure the bathrooms are accessible, etc.

    Letters to the Editor and Op-eds

    Letters to the Editor and Op-eds are great and easy ways to reach people and get your perspective out their. Find out the guidelines and deadlines, and if possible link your letter to some local or national issue that is currently getting coverage.

    Sample Press Release

    Sample Letter to the Editor

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