Media for Activists
can the media help you meet them?
1) Develop a (local) media list. Don't forget fax numbers and e-mail addresses. Include the following:
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.
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 cant 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.
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. (Dont be surprised if they cant 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.
You dont have to be a technical expert. You ARE an expert about your own opinions and feelings.