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Home Action Media Outreach Resources Media Guide for Activists
Media Guide for Activists PDF Print E-mail

Fundamental Tips For Interviews

  • Discipline your message!  Use your slogan or message as much as possible.
  • Familiarize yourself with three soundbites (with backup information). Write them down.
  • Always turn the question back to your message.
  • Anticipate questions.
  • Know the opposing points.
  • Practice—even people who speak all the time practice.
  • An interview is never over even if the tape stops rolling.   Everything you say to a journalist is on the record.
  • Don’t get frustrated by difficult questions—just stick to your messages.
  • If you slip up, don’t worry.  Just ask the reporter to start again (unless it’s live).
  • If you need more time to think, ask the reporter to repeat the question or ask a clarifying question—or simply pause and think before answering.
  • If you don’t know an answer to a question, don’t force it.  Try to return to your message. If it’s an interview for print media, tell the reporter you’ll track down the answer later call them back.
  • Tell the reporter you have more to add if he or she overlooks something you think is important.
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Unexpected Media Calls

(Adapted from Salzman’s “Making the News” and SPIN Project Materials)

  • You’re doing your job!  They know who you are and are coming to you as an expert.
  • If you are not sure how to respond, simply jot down the question and assure the reporter that you will return the call as soon as possible.
  • Get the details.  Be sure of what the reporter needs.   Do they want a quote or background information?
  • Verify the reporter’s deadline.  Be sure to get back to the reporter before that time.
  • Don’t ignore the media.  Neglected reporters have a long memory.  Try to answer the reporter’s questions as quickly and completely as possible.
  • Nothing is ever off the record.  Don’t say things you wouldn’t want to see in print.
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Pitching Your Story

(Adapted from Salzman’s “Making the News” and SPIN Project Materials)

  • Telephone calls are the most effective way to communicate with reporters.  Pitch calls are essential to an effective media strategy.  Reporters are on paper overload—chances are they never saw your faxed release or advisory.
  • Target your reporters.  Contact reporters who cover your issue, and reporters you have a relationship with.  If you have to make a “cold call,” ask the general assignment editor or producer who you should speak to.
  • Find a “hook” for your story.  Show the reporter how your story is significant, dramatic, timely, controversial or impacts a lot of readers.
  • Always pitch the story first, and then ask if they received your release or advisory. Immediately capture the interest of the reporter—they won’t wait for you to get to the point.
  • Keep the pitch short and punchy.  Reporters don’t have time for long pitch calls, so get to the most interesting and important information in the first 90 seconds.  Don’t forget the Who, What, Where, When, and Why.
  • Be enthusiastic and helpful. If you’re not excited about your story, why should the reporter be?
  • Never lie to a reporter.  They may not like what you have to say, but they must respect you.
  • Be considerate of deadlines. Pitch calls are best made in the mid morning (9:30 to noon). If you sense a reporter is rushed or impatient, ask them if they are on deadline and offer to call back.
  • Only pitch one reporter per outlet.  If you do talk to more than one person, make sure the other reporter knows that you’ve talked with someone else.
  • Close the deal.  Ask the reporter if they are interested or if they are coming to the event.  Most will not commit over the phone but they will think about it.
  • Offer to send information.  If they don’t commit to attend your event.  Offer to send them information if they cannot attend.   (Remember to send the information right away.)
  • Don’t get frustrated.  Pitch calls can be frustrating when reporters don’t bite.  But remember that every phone call keeps your issue and organization on their radar screen, and is an important step in building an on-going professional relationship with reporters.
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Media Advisory - how to

(Adapted from Salzman’s “Making the News” and SPIN Project Materials)

What is a Media Advisory

  • Functions as an FYI that alerts journalists to an upcoming event.
  • Gives basic information: the who, what, where, when and why.
  • Sent out a few days before the event.


  • Headline.  This will make or break the advisory—include the most important information in the headline, and make it punchy. The headline can be up to four lines if necessary, including a sub-head, if used, but keep it short (and remember to use a large font – it’s eye-catching!).
  • Short description of the event and the issue.  Make it visual (“Citizens will carry large placards and life-size puppets to the Governors Mansion to protest the latest cut in education funding.”)
  • List the speakers at your event.
  • Contact information.  In the top right corner, type names and phone numbers of two contacts. Make sure these contacts can be easily reached by phone.  Include the contact’s home phone number, if appropriate.
  • Include a short summary of your organization in the last paragraph.
  • Mention “Photo Opportunity” if one exists and be sure to send it to the photo editors of local news outlets as well as to reporters – they don’t always share information with each other!

Structure / Form

  • In the top left corner, type “Media Advisory.”
  • Beneath “Media Advisory,” type the date.
  • Type “###” at the end of your advisory.  This is how journalists mark the end of copy.
  • Type “MORE” at the end of page 1 if your advisory is two pages, and put a contact phone number and short headline in the upper-right hand corner of subsequent pages.
  • Print your advisory on your organization’s letterhead.

How to distribute it

  • A media advisory should arrive at news outlets 3 to 5 working days before the event.
  • Fax or mail (if time permits) your advisory to the appropriate reporter, editor or producer at each news outlet on your press list.
  • If your region has a “daybook” (you can find out by calling the newsroom of your largest local newspaper) be sure to submit your advisory.   A daybook lists news events scheduled to take place in the region on that day.   Major news outlets review the daybooks each morning.
  • ALWAYS make follow up calls the day before your event, and have the advisory ready to be faxed.
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Press Release - how to

(Adapted from Salzman's "Making the News" and SPIN Project Materials)

What is a Press Release

  • Informs reporters about your event, report, or issue.
  • More detailed than the advisory—should tell all the information a reporter needs to write their piece.
  • Envision, then write the press release as the news story YOU would want to see written.
  • Sent out the morning of or the day before the event.


  • Headline.  This will make or break a news release—include the most important information in the headline, and make it punchy. The headline can be up to four lines if necessary, including a sub-head, if used, but keep it short (and remember to use a large font).
  • Important information should jump off the page—most reporters will only spend 30 seconds looking at a release.
  • Spend 75 percent of your time writing the headline and the first paragraph.
  • Use the inverted pyramid style of news writing. Make your most important points early in the release and work your way down.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short.  No more than three sentences per paragraph.
  • Include a colorful quote from a spokesperson in the second or third paragraph.
  • Include a short summary of your organization in the last paragraph.
  • Mention “Photo Opportunity” if there is one.   Be sure to send a copy of the release to the photo desk.

Structure / Form

  • In the top left corner, type “For Immediate Release.”
  • Below “For Immediate Release,” type the date.
  • Contact Information: In the top right corner, type names and phone numbers of two contacts. Make sure these contacts can be easily reached by phone.   Including the contact’s home phone number, if appropriate.
  • Type “###” at the end of your release.  This is how journalists mark the end of a news copy.
  • Type “MORE” at the end of page 1 if your release is two pages, and put a contact phone number and short headline in the upper-right hand corner of subsequent pages.
  • Print your release on your organization’s letterhead.

How to Distribute It

  • A release should be sent out the morning of, or the day before your event.  In some cases, you may want to send an “embargoed” copy to select reporters ahead of time, meaning that the information is confidential until the date you specify.
  • Generally, send a release to only one reporter per outlet.
  • If your release announces an event, send it to the “daybooks.”   A daybook lists news events scheduled to take place in the region on that day.   Someone from each major outlet reviews the daybooks each morning.
  • ALWAYS make follow up calls after you send the release.   If your release is announcing an event, make the calls the morning before your event is scheduled.
  • Have a copy of the release ready to be faxed when you make the calls.
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Letter to the Editor

(Adapted from Salzman’s “Making the News” and SPIN Project Materials

What is a Letter to the Editor

  • Letters to the editor (LTE’s) most often discuss a recent event/issue covered by a publication, radio station, or TV program.
  • They are your chance to “sound-off” to your community about issues in the news.  They are widely read—so make them an important part of your media strategy

Elements / Hints

  • It is much easier to publish a letter to the editor than it is to place an op-ed
  • Your letter has the best chance of being published if it is a reaction to a story in the paper.  Respond as quickly as you can.
  • Read the letters page—you will learn how to develop an effective letter-writing style, and you will see if someone has already responded with your idea.
  • Keep it short and concise—150-200 words.  The paper will take the liberty to shorten your letter to suit its format; the more it has to cut, the less control you have of what gets printed.  Lead with your most important information.
  • Focus on one main point and make a compelling case.
  • Write in short paragraphs, with no more than three sentences per paragraph.
  • Don’t write too often.  Once every three months is about as often as you should write.
  • Avoid personal attacks.
  • Put your full name, address and phone number at the top of the page and sign the letter at the bottom.  You must include a phone number for verification purposes.
  • Submit LTE’s to the “Letters Editor.”
  • Follow up to see if the letter was received.
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Writing An Opinion Piece

(Adapted from Salzman's "Making the News" and SPIN Project Materials)

What is an Op-Ed

  • Personal opinion essays which are typically published opposite the editorial page.
    They help legitimize your cause and you as a knowledgeable spokesperson for it.


  • Write a catchy first paragraph using a personal story or concrete example.
  • Clearly state your specific point of view.
  • Aim for 700 to 750 word and double space.
  • Write in the active voice with two-to three-sentence paragraphs.
  • Avoid jargon and “wonkish” language.
  • Write in a personalized or storytelling way.  Use humor, if possible.
  • Don’t respond to specific newspapers stories with an op-ed—write a letter to the editor instead.
  • Give the op-ed a short title.
  • Find a local angle for local papers, consider how the topic affects specific audiences, and write more broadly for a national paper.
  • Put your name, phone, and address in the top left-hand corner.
  • Type the number of words in the top right-hand corner.


Hints for Placing an Op-Ed
Before you send it, call and pitch the piece to the editor of the op-ed page to see if there is any interest.

  • Call early in the week and early in the day.
  • Ask about the paper’s submission policy.  Some major publications want the piece to be “exclusive” (submitted only to them).
  • Send your op-ed to several papers at a time, if this is allowed by their policy.
  • Write a cover letter briefly explaining your subject, why it is relevant and will capture reader interest, and your own background.  Remind the editor of your phone call.
  • If you don’t hear anything back from the paper a week after submitting the op-ed, call to see if it was received.
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Holding A Media Event

(Adapted from Salzman’s “Making the News” and SPIN Project Materials)

What is a Media Event

  • An activity intended to generate news coverage.  They often involve gimmicky visuals, playful stunts, props, etc.


Determine if your event is newsworthy.  The more of the following characteristics it has, the more likely it will get coverage:

  • Novelty
  • Conflict
  • New data, symbol of a trend
  • Simplicity
  • Humor
  • Prominent figure involved
  • Action
  • Bright props and images
  • Local impact
  • Holidays, anniversaries.


  • Build your media event—site, speakers, visuals—around your message and slogan.
  • Make it fun.  If you don’t look like you want to be there, why should the press?
  • Don’t be afraid to employ stunts.  Sexy and trendy events take precedence over long range things with the media.
  • Consider timing.  Is your event competing with other things?  It is best to stage an event Monday through Thursday, 10 A.M. though 2 P.M.

Find an effective location.  Consider the following questions when choosing a location:

  • Is the site convenient?  Reporters are busy and won’t travel far for an event.
  • Is your site too commonly used for media events?  Try to find a unique location, if possible.
  • If your event is outdoors, do you have a backup location?   A little rain or bad weather won’t ruin an event, but severe conditions will.   Also consider if it is possible to postpone it if the weather is very bad.
  • Do you need a permit? Check with the local police department.
  • Arrange to have photographers take pictures of your event.
  • Display a large banner or sign with your organization’s logo.
  • The event should last 15 to 45 minutes.
  • Distribute information about your issue and organization at the event.
  • Remember equipment.  Will you need a megaphone, podium, or portable microphone?
  • Have spokespersons ready to be interviewed.
  • find out which reporters attended the event.  Follow up with the no-shows.
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Press Conference - how to

What is a Press Conference

  • Scheduled to release new information about an issue, announce a further event, or respond to breaking news.

Elements / Hints

  • Determine if a press conference is appropriate.  Press conferences seldom get much coverage from media—it is usually better to stage a media event, or call reporters and fax them information.
  • Hold the conference outside, if possible.  Make sure to have an indoor backup for bad weather.
  • Choose a space that fits your audience.  Don’t have   room for 50 if you are only expecting 8.  It will appear as though the public is not interested in your issue. Have supporters fill empty seats.  Make the event look well attended for the reporters and TV cameras.
  • Be sure the room is adequately equipped for the media.   Make sure there are electrical outlets, enough room in the back for cameras and tripods, etc.
  • Practice the press conference in advance, including questions.
  • Place your group’s logo in front of the podium.
  • Assign someone to greet reporters, distribute a press kit and to ask reporters to sign in.
  • No more than four speakers, with each talking a maximum of five minutes. Put your most important speakers on first.
  • Create props for your speakers to hold, especially if they are the only visual element of event.  Speakers could gesture toward large charts and diagrams.
  • Speakers should dress in formal clothes unless they are in costumes or their clothes are somehow related to the message they are trying to send.
  • If only a few reporters arrive on time, delay for five minutes to see if more show up. But if you have a large group, get started on time.
  • Allow ten minutes for questions.
  • The press conference should not last longer than half an hour.   Reporters can ask individuals questions after the event if they want more information.
  • If possible, provide refreshments.
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Remember The Press Packet
  • Information about your organization should be distributed to media at your events.
  • Put the materials in a folder with your logo on it.
  • Don’t overwhelm reporters with too much information.   Target the materials to the reporter’s needs.

The press packet should include:

  • Your press release
  • Brief bios of the speakers at your event.
  • Two recent articles about your cause.
  • A good news clipping about your organization.
  • One feature article, a summary of a report, or any piece of more in-depth information.
  • If your organization has a web site, make sure the address is incorporated into your materials.
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Tips For Radio Interviews

Also see “Tips for Television Interviews.” Most of the same tips apply.
(Adapted from Salzman’s “Making the News” and SPIN Project Materials)

  • Be prepared.  Rehearse your message before the interview.   You can use notes, but don’t read.
  • Warm up your voice by talking for a few minutes before.
  • Don’t speak tooooo slooooowly, but do speak clearly.
  • Practice.  Have a friend ask you questions and tape your responses.
  • Most radio interviews are conducted by phone.  Be sure to be in a quiet location for the call.
  • Don’t answer questions with a simple yes or no.   Explain your position and have an exchange with the host.
  • Repeat your message.  Listeners may tune in late, and miss your message.
  • Vary your voice, but avoid “ah” and “um.”
  • Try to sound as if you are speaking to a friend.
  • Use humor, personal stories and concrete messages.
  • Be brief.
  • Have supporters call in while you’re on the show.
  • Have someone tape the show so you can listen to it later.
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Tips for Print Media Interviews
  • Newspaper reporters, who often cover “beats” (issue areas), are more likely to engage in a detailed discussion of your issue than broadcast journalists.
  • Don’t be afraid to fully explain your position, but be sure to emphasize your key points—those are the quotes you want to appear in the paper.
  • Don’t ignore questions.  Newspaper reporters usually want more precise answers to their questions than do TV interviewers.
  • Only ask a reporter to read back a quote of yours if it’s absolutely necessary.  Reserve this for extremely critical quotes.
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Tips for Television Interviews
  • Determine the format.  Is the show going to be taped and edited, or live?
  • Every “blink,” “uh,” and “twitch” is magnified on camera.
  • Look at the reporter or the camera operator.  Don’t look into the camera unless you are talking from the field with an anchor back at the studio.
  • Keep your answers brief and stick to your key points.   The more tape they have, the less control you have over what gets on the air.
  • In taped interviews try to remember to incorporate the question into your answer in a complete sentence.  For example, if an interviewer asks, “What are some ways in which the World Bank harms the environment?” don’t simply answer “By financing polluting industries and forcing poor nations to cut back on environmental protections.”

The reason for this is that often producers will edit tape to use a particular response, or “sound bite” elsewhere in the story.  If you don’t answer in a complete sentence, your answer may turn out to be incomprehensible when used elsewhere.  You will make a fast friend of the producer by answering in a way that can be used as a stand-alone soundbite anywhere in the story.   For example, “The World Bank harms the environment by financing polluting projects, and also by forcing poor governments to cut back on their environmental protections.”

  • If you make a mistake, stop and start over (unless it’s live).
  • Interpret questions broadly, or, if necessary, ignore them and say what you want.  This especially applies in TV interviews where may reporters will only take a sound bite and then move on.
  • Give personal and moving examples.  Refer to concrete images.

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