Reaching out to journalists and media
This free online course (comprising of 3 chapters namely Easy steps to grassroots action, Fundraising ideas and Media relations) are excerpted from** Bible of Organizing with some modifications, and are part of the Diploma in Organizational Management and Planning course, conducted by the Human Development Institute.
To reach a wider audience through coverage in mass media and e-zines, a grassroots activist has to be armored with the art of pleasing and attraction to the journalists and editors of on-line newspapers.
First of all, prepare a list of the media (newspapers, magazines, radio, television and on-line publications) in your region with the specific names, e-mail and snail-mail addresses, fax and contact numbers of the chief editor, feature editor, letters editor and disk jockeys, television anchors etc.
There are four easiest ways to approach media to draw their attention to the issues that you're toiling for.
1. Send out a press release
A press release is a short statement which you send to the media to encourage them to write a story about an issue or something you are doing.
The key to press release is that it can be read very quickly and that it includes just enough information to interest a busy journalist. If you succeed in interesting them they will contact you for further information about the subject or event.
A good rule when writing a press release is to think about your subject and answer the 5 Ws and 1H—What, Where, When, Who, Why and How. The release should fit onto one side of a A4 size paper and should not exceed 3 paras—the first para should answer the first four Ws, second the Why question and the last para the last How. The release should be easy to read with good-sized and well-spaced type.
If your press release is designed to encourage journalist to attend an event, it is a good idea to “hint” at something which they will be able to witness or enjoy at the event. The press release must be well-timed so that journalists have time to make their arrangements.
You might want to issue a press release which provides enough information for journalists to write an article without attending an event or needing to do any further research. In this case write a press release to interest them in the subject and add further information on a separate piece of paper titled “Notes for the Press”. In our case, enclose a copy of this action guide. These notes should provide enough information for journalists to write and informed article. They should be short, precise and interesting. Make your point but don't try to push readers to agree with you. Provide information which leads them to their own conclusions. Think of human interest angles—ask yourself: Why is this issue so important that we can't ignore it? What benefits can people get from the message?
When you write a press release, always;
- Include the name of your organization and address clearly on the top of the paper.
- Include details of how journalists can contact you for further information. Give the name of the a particular person with a telephone number and e-mail address at the bottom.
- Find out who should receive your press release at each place you send it to. You can do this by ringing up in advance to find out who writes articles about your subject, or by using a press directory. If you're going to write press releases regularly, it is a good idea to develop good relationships with particular journalists so that you have good contact points.
2. Writing an article for a newspaper, magazine or e-zine
Writing an article for a newspaper or magazine is a very good way to raise awareness of a subject, rather than an event.
If you want to write an article, it is best if you write an outline first and then contact the features editor of the publication to find out if they would be interested in printing the article and if so, how long they want the article to be. Ask for writer's guidelines. This is more likely to get a positive result than sending in a completed article “cold”.
To contact the paper or magazine:
- Find out who to send your letter to—this may be the editor or a beat editor who deals with a particular subject.
- Write a brief letter, explaining who you are and giving a short outline of your article. Say that you will telephone about a week's time to follow up.
- Telephone when you have said you will and speak to the person you wrote to. Ask the person if this is a convenient time to speak. If it is not, ask when you can call again.
- Ask if they are interested in your article. If they are, ask how long they want the article to be and when they want to have it. They may want more information before they decide, so, be prepared to answer questions. If you can offer good quality photographs, this may encourage them to accept an article.
When writing an article, there are some key things to remember:
- Keep the language simple, avoiding long words, technical jargons and complicated sentences.
- Make sure that the story is clear throughout. If it is a long story, split it into different sections so that it can be followed easily.
- Make the story lively and interesting, using case stories if possible. If you use case stories or photographs of people, always discuss in advance with the party how they want to be portrayed and whether they want to remain anonymous or have their details and identification changed.
- Stick to the outline and length you have agreed with the editor or journalist and make sure that you provide the article by the deadline you've agreed.
3. Writing letters to newspapers, magazines, TV or radio programs
This is a very easy way to get your point across to the media, especially to newspapers. It is usually easier to get a letter printed—especially in a national newspaper or magazine—than it to get an article accepted.
You can write a letter to a newspaper or magazine in response to an article they have published or in response to an event which is in the news and which you want to comment on.
Writing to a television or radio program helps you widely heard through their letters programs. You can even suggest them to air specific programs, featuring the action-oriented themes of Movement Millennium.
4. Getting onto television and radio
The easiest way to do this is to call chat shows or discussion programs which invite comments and participation, or to get tickets so you can be in the audience of this kind of the show.
Remember, journalists are too busy people. So, feed journalists with information moderately in a way that they feel neither thirsty nor drunken.