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Media for Activists

(Western States Legal Foundation Media Kit

  • What are your objectives and how
        can the media help you meet them?

  • Who is your desired audience?

  • What is your message?

    1) Develop a (local) media list. Don't forget fax numbers and e-mail addresses. Include the following:
    Major media
    Daily newspapers
    Weekly newspapers (eg. Bay Guardian)
    Wire services; local offices of AP, UPI, and Reuters; Bay City News Service
    TV stations
    Radio stations
    Alternative media
    Community and college newspapers
    Organizational and church newsletters
    College and listener-sponsored/community and pirate radio stations
    Public access cable TV stations

  • Ask local progressive groups if they will share their media lists.

  • When possible, get the names of specific reporters; check back issues to get names of reporters who have covered related issues.

  • Ask activists and friends who they know in the local media; personal contacts can make all the difference.

  • The Media Alliance puts out an annual Bay Area Media Resource Guide: People Behind the News. Media Alliance: Phone: (415)546-6334; Classes: (415)546-6491; E-mail: ma@igc.org; Website: www.media-alliance.org/

    2) Writing press releases.

            The media seldom just shows up -- unless it's a fire, hostage situation, or natural disaster. To get them to cover your action or event you have to let them know about it and try to engage their interest. There are three main types of press releases or media advisories. They are sent out well in advance of, just before, and just after an event or action.

            A media advisory can be sent anywhere from a few weeks to a few days before an event. It is basically a "heads up" announcement. It can be organized very simply under the standard headings: WHO; WHAT; WHEN; WHERE; and WHY. Try to have a snappy headline at the top, and be sure to describe any PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES under their own heading. Don't worry about including any quotes , just the basic information.

            A follow-up press release can be sent one or two days before the event. It should have an attention-grabbing headline, with the most important information about who, what, when and where near the top -- again, be sure to highlight photo opportunities. This press release is usually in a narrative form. Avoid using rhetoric. Basic information should be simply stated. Opinions and judgements about the information should be included as snappy quotes, and should be attributed.

            If the event is a success, you may want to send out an after-the-fact story -- as soon as possible. You can modify your press release to include the details of what happened, putting the story in the past tense (but in an active voice). Keep your quotes or add new ones. This release should basically be in the form of a news story that could be run as is. (In fact, this kind of release can be published later in a group's newsletter, etc.)

    Format and style:

            There an no hard and fast rules; the following suggestions are based on common sense and experience. Reporters are deluged with press releases on a daily basis. The most important thing is to the make your press release easy to read and understand.

  • Use organizational letterhead. If you don't have one, make one up.

  • Put FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE followed by (the current day's) DATE near the top of the page.

  • Put CONTACT information directly underneath. Include name(s), organizational affiliation(s) and telephone number(s).

  • Next comes the headline. It should be short, snappy, and informative. Try not to use acronyms (e.g. instead of DOE, say Energy Department). Put the headline in large, bold typeface. You may also want to add a sub-headline.

  • Start the first paragraph with the location of the event followed by a dash (e.g. San Francisco, CA -- ). Draw attention to the most important information by placing it near the top and bolding or underlining names of individuals or organizations, dates and times, locations, etc.

  • The press release itself should be no more than 2 pages single sided or a page double-sided. Press releases are often double-spaced to make them faster to read. You may also wish to send some background material, but keep it brief. If you are faxing more than 1 page, put the date, headline and contact information at the top of each page (in case the pages get separated at the receiving end).

  • Include a local angle whenever possible. Also, include a brief description of your group.

  • End your press release with either ### or --030-- on a line by itself. (This is standard format
             in the news biz and will make it look like you know what you are doing.)

    3) Sending out press releases.

            Thanks to the “miracle of modern technology,” we now have fax. This makes it much easier to disseminate press releases and cuts down on lead time. (There are also disadvantages. Time and space do not permit a discussion here on the pros and cons of technology and its effects on society.) Newer fax machines can be programmed to “broadcast” to a media list. This is the most convenient way to send out press releases, but it has the disadvantage that you can’t put a personalized cover sheet with each release. If you are faxing individually, you can direct the press release to the attention of an individual reporter. In any case, advance media advisories can be sent out up to two weeks in advance of an event. Press releases should be received 1 -2 days before the event to allow time for call-backs. After-the fact press releases should be sent out the same day as the action, if at all possible.


  • There’s nothing wrong with good, old fashioned “snail mail,” but it requires more lead time (and paper). Hand address the envelopes and mail them first class. (They will get more attention this way). Be sure to put a return address on the envelopes (so they don’t look “anonymous.”)

  • Direct press releases to specific reporters, if you know their names. If you don’t have the name of a specific reporter, address you press release to the ASSIGNMENT EDITOR or NEWS EDITOR.

  • If you have the names of several reporters at a single newspaper or station, send copies to each, and maybe to the Assignment Editor as well.

  • More reporters are starting to use e-mail; it is likely that e-mail distribution will become a more common method of dissemination press releases.

  • Don’t forget about alternative media. They are often most receptive.

    4) Follow-up.

            Making follow-up phone calls is absolutely essential. You should make your calls 1 - 2 days before the event and perhaps again the morning of the event. (This is especially important for TV stations.) Ask to speak to the person/s you addressed the press release to or the Assignment Editor. Identify yourself and the subject of your call succinctly. Ask if the reporter or Assignment Editor if they received your press release. (Don’t be surprised if they can’t find it.) Offer to send it again and do so right away. Ask the reporter or Assignment Editor if they plan to cover your event. Be polite but assertive. Call again with updates. Persistence pays off.

    5) Take advantage of other media opportunities.

  • Letters to the editor

  • Op-eds (opinion editorials)

  • Call-ins to radio talk shows

  • Editorial Board visits


  • Develop relationships with individual reporters over time. This is the single best way to get consistent coverage.

  • Avoid using ideological rhetoric. Try to use language that regular people can understand.

  • Don’t assume that a reporter knows anything about your issue. Start from the beginning, but don’t be condescending.

  • LISTEN CAREFULLY to reporters questions. Try to respond honestly, but don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” (You can also say: “I don’t know about that, but I want to say this.”)

    You don’t have to be a technical expert. You ARE an expert about your own opinions and feelings.

    Prepared by Jacqueline Cabasso, Western States Legal Foundation, 1504 Franklin St. Suite 202 Oakland, CA 94612; Phone: (510)839-5877; Fax: (510)839-5397; E-mail: webmaster@wslfweb.org


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