Getting media attention can bring us into the public view. See also: ActivismHowTo
To really get the word out you have to find lots of media contacts and get the message out to them however you can.
Make the story
Make our case appeal to reporters. Tie the issue to other topics of interest. What are the financial issues? Is taxpayers’ money being wasted? Are jobs being lost? Are the alternatives to proprietary software better for the economy? Make it interesting to someone who doesn’t give damn.
Write your own press release. It should read like a news story, not like your group’s manifesto. Put in quotes from group representatives. Be sure to include phone numbers so that reporters can call you to get more details and re-work your press release into their own story.
Fill in the “5 W’s” : Who, What, When, Where and Why. Make sure all your facts are absolutely accurate.
Send your release to ensure it reaches the media before or on your release date. If you are far from a media centre, you can fax or even phone in your release. It is then the decision of the news director in each outlet whether to use your story.
See: Sample press release
Beyond press releases, you may hold a press conference but don’t do it unless you have a really good story, or can bring in an acknowledged expert who won’t be available as a matter of course. Hold press conferences somewhere familiar to the media. Make it convenient. Try to avoid having to spend money to rent space. Is there a good community center close to the downtown? Can you get the help of someone in City Council to use City Hall or the Regional Government Center?
Letters to the Editor
Did you know that the letters section is the most read section of any newspaper? Not only do people in your community read the letters, government officials have clipping services that reprint the ones dealing with their area. Letters to the editor:
- reach a large audience.
- are often monitored by elected officials.
- can bring up information not addressed in a news article.
- create an impression of widespread support or opposition to an issue.
Letters should be short, direct and well written. Of course, they should be accurate and educate readers about your issue. Many newspapers have strict limits on the length of letters and have limited space to publish them. Keeping your letter brief will help assure that your important points are not cut out by the newspaper.
Make it legible. Your letter doesn't have to be fancy, but you should use a computer word processor if your handwriting is difficult to read.
Send letters to weekly community newspapers too. The smaller the newspaper's circulation, the easier it is to get your letter printed.
Be sure to include your contact information. Many newspapers will only print a letter to the editor after calling the author to verify his or her identity and address. Newspapers will not give out that information, and will usually only print your name and city should your letter be published.
Make references to the newspaper. Watch for opportunities to respond to articles that have been in the paper. While some papers print general commentary, many will only print letters that refer to a specific article.
Most daily and weekly newspapers accept outside submissions for publication on their opinion pages. Longer than letters to the editor, op-ed pieces generally run between 500 and 700 words.
Here are a couple of tips on writing an op-ed:
- Use short, simple sentences.
- Avoid jargon.
- Explicitly support or oppose something.
- Personalize the op-ed with an anecdote.
- Link the op-ed to a current news story but keep the focus local.
- Follow the particular paper's guidelines for submission closely.
Try the following outline for your op-ed:
- Start with a personal anecdote.
- Make your main point in the first or second paragraph.
- Begin to elaborate two, maximum three, supporting points in the following paragraphs. Make sure your paragraphs are short and contain one main idea.
- Use facts, statistics and studies to support your arguments. Do not, however, be overly legal. Use metaphors (sports, movies and music work best) to relate complex ideas.
- Conclude with a paragraph that draws the piece together and links to your opening anecdote.
Call-in Radio & TV Shows
There are opportunities for free access to the airwaves. Listen to a show a few times before you call in. Get a sense of the host so you won’t be surprised if they disagree with you. It is easy, anonymous and can get your message to lots of people.
- Call early and, if the line's busy, keep trying.
- Write down quick talking points before going on the air.
- Give the screener a clear, one-sentence pitch.
- Once on, be energetic and get right to the point. Don't get flustered.
- Use bridges to deflect questions. Respond to a left-field question with, "That's a good point, but what's really crucial here is…"
- Again, do not get flustered.
As an activist on any issue, you are likely to find yourself being interviewed by local television reporters. Here are some universal tips on how to deliver your message.
- Wear conservative clothing.
- For men, avoid loud ties, jewelry or button-down shirts.
- Be well groomed.
- For women, keep colors muted and accessories to a minimum.
- For both men and women, use foundation on your forehead, cheeks, nose and chin.
- For women, use "natural" toned makeup. Avoid bright lipsticks, too much mascara or excessive rouge. Make sure jewelery isn't overly reflective.
- For a backdrop, keep it natural. Use plants or posters.
- If seated, do not use a swivel chair.
- If standing, pretend your feet have put down roots. Do not fidget.
- Keep your gaze steady either at the camera or the interviewer (they'll tell you which).
- Write down and memorize soundbites before going on camera.
- Make only one or two points.
- Use common language, even when making a legal point.
- Above all, remain calm.