|How to Make the News |
The media are crucial as a tool in working for the animals.
Although the prospect of working with the media may seem daunting at first, you can reach hundreds and even thousands of people with one newspaper article or television clip.
Here are some tips for preparing yourself for effective media work in your community.
|Personalized Stationary |
Stationery personalized with your group's name provides the local media with a logo and name to associate with animal issues in your community. Make sure that your logo is in a place that allows adequate room for the news release's text.
NOTE: If your group has the time and resources, it might also be a good idea to create a brochure or flyer about your organization's mission and goals.
|Creating Your Media List |
Separate your media list into categories:
B. Contact information
|Writing a News Release |
When writing a news release, keep in mind that the media receive hundreds of releases every day. Try to follow these guidelines: Keep it short (one page for events) and professional. Come up with a catchy headline that will attract someone's attention.
NOTE: Sometimes the title will take more time to come up with than writing the release. That's okay -- the headline could be critical for getting an event covered!
In your first paragraph, cover the 5 W's:
Any opinions in the news release should be put in quotations from your designated spokesperson. Include things that the media finds newsworthy.
Some of these are:
Double-space your news release (if possible), even if this means having to shrink the font size or decrease your margins. Title the release "news release" or "news conference," not a "press release" or "press conference." (Press refers only to print, but media refers to all).
Make the time on your news release at least one half-hour later than the time you have told activists to show up at an event. This will ensure that activists are prepared and in place by the time the media arrive.
Choose a spokesperson for the event who can be quoted in the release and will be available for calls at that number the day before the event. Be accurate.
Have someone proof the release for spelling, grammar and content (determine whether what you are trying to relay is clear and accurate). Sometimes the person who writes the release may not notice mistakes that a fresh pair of eyes will catch.
Accuracy is very important in terms of your content and the location and time that you tell the media. If you do make a mistake, it is critical that you call and notify the media of the correction.
Mail, fax or hand-deliver your release three weeks in advance if you are announcing a meeting, speaker or film. If you are having a protest or a rally that you want covered as a news item, you should fax or hand-deliver your release two days before the event.
Make a follow-up call the same day to verify that the assignment editor or the person you directed your release to received it. More than likely, they will let you know if they received it. If they did not, then you should offer to re-fax or deliver it again.
The morning of your event (between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.) it is a good idea to have someone make calls to the media again--this time just remind whoever answers the phone about your event ("Hi, this is Lynn with Animal Liberation, and I am just calling to remind you that we will be having a protest at noon at Macy's. We hope you can make it out.).
If you have something "different or flashy," you might want to mention it. Sometimes the person who received the release may not be interested in the story, but the person who picks up the phone the day of the event might be.
Always try to call the media early in the morning. The later it gets, the harder it is to reach contacts and the less time reporters have to write the story or to reserve a news slot. Always return calls from reporters immediately!
Be excited and professional. It is always important to tell the truth. If you do not know the answer to a question, say so honestly and offer to find out the information if possible.
The animals we work for are in desperate need of our help and lies or inaccuracies will only hurt their cause. Once reporters know you are an accurate and reliable source of information, she/he will be more likely to work with you in the future.
Radio/TV talk shows and news interviews can be a very powerful vehicle for activists to get their messages out to a broader audience.
Here are some tips for being effective when interviewed by the media.
Rules and tactics
• Be informed. This is the golden rule. If you don't know the issue you are there to discuss, someone else should do the interview.
• Don't agree to an interview unless you know your subject better than the person you're being interviewed by - or if it is a debate, the person you are up against, and can head her or him off at the pass. Make sure your information is reliable and can stand up to critical examination. Anticipate the kind of questions, particularly the hostile questions, you are likely to get.
• Be calm. However much the issue, or your opponent, angers you, don't let it show. Generally the calmest person is the one whom the audience sees as the winner. This doesn't mean you can't be passionate and enthusiastic but your passion and enthusiasm must be tightly controlled and mustn't, repeat mustn't, spill over into anger. If necessary, take a deep breath before answering the question. Be polite but firm with everyone.
• Be concise. It's amazing how little time you get. Learn to talk in 15 second "sound bites." You must know exactly what you want to say, and say it in as few words as possible, with clarity and determination. The main point must come at the beginning of the interview: you should summarize the whole issue in just one or two sentences before expanding on your primary theme.
• It's the answers that count, not the questions. Have at least three points you want to make during the interview and be sure you make them. When being interviewed, you must know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. Don't be too concerned about answering the question: deal with it as briefly as possible, then get to the points you want to make. End the interview having made your points as effectively as possible.
• Don't try to make too many points. You want to have a maximum of three main points of argument. Any more and both you and the audience will get lost.
• Finish your point. If the interviewer tries to interrupt you before you've got to the important thing you want to say, don't be afraid to carry on talking until you've said it. Sometimes it's useful to say "Just a moment" or "If you'd let me finish". Be assertive without being rude. Don't let yourself be bullied.
• Simplicity. Make your points as clearly as possible. Use short sentences and simple words. Try not to use a sentence within a sentence or you'll confuse the listener.
• Lastly, dress the part. Unless the topic is diversity in animal activism, media interviews are not the place to showcase rainbow colored hair and multiple body piercings. Dress to influence the minds of peoples opinions you seek to change, not those who are likely to already agree with you.
Turn hostile questions to your advantage.
There are several ways of doing this:
• Deliberately misinterpreting the question. "You're quite right, I am an extremist. I hate rape all the time, I hate child abuse all the time. The same is true with cruelty to animals. Whatever the excuse, I am against it all the time."
• Undermining the factual content of the question. In other words, don't let the interviewer push you into a corner. (eg Q: "But, given that animal research is necessary to cure human disease, what you're really doing is putting animals before humans." A: "In fact you're wrong to suggest that animal research is necessary to help sick humans. By focusing so much on animal studies, animal researchers have caused unnecessary suffering and death to both animals and people. Take drug testing, for example...").
• Always bring your answer back round to your main points.
Leave your notes behind. If what you want to say isn't in your head, you shouldn't be interviewed.
Speak up. You're not having a casual chat with the interviewer or the other guest. A media interview is a golden opportunity to persuade mass numbers of people, and you must get your points across in such a way that the viewer or listener can't possibly ignore them. This means you must put more emphasis into your voice than you'd do in a normal conversation. It might sound strange when you first do it (be sure to practice before you do a real interview), but on air it'll sound fine. In fact, if you don't practice, you'll sound unfocused and probably flat and boring. TV and radio interviews are all about passion and authority. Good interview subjects must sound passionate and knowledgeable to make a positive impact.
Use your body. On TV your head and torso should stay fairly still (which makes you seem solid and trustworthy), but your hands can be used to lend emphasis to what you say (they can help to drive your points home). Expressive eyebrows can be useful too.
Humor. If you can do it without making it sound frivolous or irrelevant, humor can go a long way in helping win your audience over. Gently making fun your opponent's position can be quite effective. ("Well, let's take a look at the National Association for Biomedical Research. One of its main funders is the pharmaceutical industry, who, as the name suggests, wants to sell you and I drugs. Unfortunately, over 100,000 people die each year after taking prescription drugs that have passed animal tests so they haven't been that successful. There is another fine example of why humans don't go to veterinarians when they get sick. ..").
Don't hate your opponent... or at least, don't appear to. Yes, I know. When dealing with animal abusers or those who support them, this is the hardest task of all, but it is absolutely necessary. Whatever you might think about the person you're up against, you must leave your feelings behind when being interviewed by the media. If you allow yourself to hate them, you are more likely to lose your cool, lose focus and - most importantly - lose public sympathy. One way to approach this is to regard your opponent as someone who has been misled and needs to be told the truth. Think of your role as being to put them right, rather than to put them down, and you'll find that when being interviewed you'll be a lot more effective.
And remember - when being interviewed, you are there to tackle one issue and one issue alone, not to detail every animal issue that has existed from the dawn of time. Concentrate on one issue, and you'll be a lot less stressed out - and more effective.
If you have a lot of information you would like to share with the media, you might want to make media kits. They should be given to reporters who show up to cover your event or news conference.
Here are some ideas on what you might want to include in the kit (you should place these items in a pocket folder, if possible with your organization's name on the front):
After your event, remember to designate people to tape the TV coverage and keep an eye out for any newspaper clippings on your event. The clips can be used to motivate members within your organization (show them at monthly meetings or while recruiting new members) or to show to others (including the media).
Letters to the editor are an easy way for you to voice your opinion to policy makers and to educate readers about animal issues that concern you. Letters to the editor can be used to correct facts in an inaccurate or biased article, to praise or criticize a recent article or editorial, or simply promote your opinion on an important issue.
The letters section is one of the most highly read sections in any newspaper or magazine. In addition, many web sites also now have special sections for readers to comment on issues of the day. Make sure you read the paper before you write to get an idea of their particular format and focus, and be sure to name specifically the editor you’re addressing.
Keep it short and simple – Under 250 words ideally, even less if you can. Research the paper or magazine you are writing to see if they have a specific word limit. Keep your points clear and stick to one subject. Look at the editorial page of the publication you're writing to and copy the format they normally print.
Think locally – Demonstrate how this issue effects you locally, and - if possible - mention lawmakers or news makers by name to ensure you get their attention.
Follow-up. If the newspaper doesn’t call you, call them! Speak to the person in charge of letters to the editor (You should know who this is before writing your letter). Ask if they plan on printing your letter, and if not, ask if they have any feedback for you. Thank them for their time and feedback.
Don’t be discouraged if your letter is not printed. Every time you submit a letter, you are educating the editorial board of your paper and paving the way for future letters to be printed. Keep trying!
Seal the deal. If your letter is printed, be sure to send IDA a copy so we can track our effectiveness. If you mention an elected official, or other news maker you may want to send them a copy too.
Start by outlining what you want to write - not only the issue but the point of view you want to take. Consider what the paper has already printed on the subject and decide how you could best contribute to the debate. Again, unless you want to write for the New York Times, or another major national outlet, a local angle is your best bet. Remember, even international issues like the capture of endangered elephants or dolphins for theme parks or circuses have local impact.
• Keep your text to between 500 and 800 words (about 3 pages double-spaced) in general, but call the outlet you plan to submit it to for their guidelines.
The Right Author
You do not necessarily have to sign or write an op-ed by yourself. Sometimes it's best to ask an expert to collaborate on an opinion piece.
Finding the best author to collaborate with can be critical in getting your article published and maximizing its impact. Choose from scientific or other experts from your organization or others, ask a local veterinarian, media personality, or elected official - anyone who may be perceived as having an interesting perspective on the issues or the appropriate credentials for weighing in on a topic.
For example, a retired USDA inspector (like IDA's Marshall Smith) or a local veterinarian carries more clout discussing the problems with puppy mills and animal breeding than even the most well-known animal rights activist.
The best person (or persons) to collaborate with on an op-ed are not always experts on writing for the media. However, when revising the text, be sure that everyone who collaborates on and signs an opinion piece has the opportunity for revision and fact-checking.
Formatting an Op-Ed
• Double space your text.
First, call and get all the information you need:
• Word length
National Op-Ed Placement
Examples: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today.
Form: Must be focused, to the point, timely, and well-written.
Scope: Must be of national or international scope.
By-Line: For national papers, the more prominent the by-line, the better the chance for placement. You may want to go outside the obvious authors. A well balanced, jointly signed piece with a prominent scientist, government official or animal expert may be more easily placed than one signed only by a notable animal rights activist.
Word Length: Should be roughly 750 words. Word length varies from paper to paper. Call for guidelines.
Exclusivity: Pieces are submitted to national publications on an exclusive basis - once you submit a piece you must be rejected by them, or withdraw the piece verbally or in writing before you send it to another outlet or service.
Cover memos: All pieces should be accompanied by a cover note to the op-ed page editor. The cover note or memo should be short and refer to:
Sending: Call the outlet and check, but it would be a safe bet to fax the piece and cover memo, and then send them by overnight mail. This will ensure that the op-ed is seen and put into circulation for consideration.
Follow-up: This is key. Call the following morning after submission. Please note that Op-Ed page editors and their assistants are deluged with submissions and follow-up calls each day. Keep it short - say you are calling to confirm whether they received the piece. If the editor or editor's assistant seems receptive, be sure to include a line about why the piece is particularly important/timely now - it may help put it on their radar screen.
Most places will tell you: "We'll call you if we are using it, don't call us." In that case, ask when they expect to make a decision and indicate that you'd like to submit it elsewhere if it doesn't suit their needs. Most editors understand this and will let you know when it's okay to call back for a final decision. But remember, every newspaper has its own policies. The New York Times, for example, holds it for ten days (you can withdraw it sooner if you let them know) and does not appreciate inquiry calls. On average, national outlets should be given 4 business days after the initial follow-up call before checking in again. If the response is negative or non-committal, it's time to make a decision about moving on. If they indicate interest, you need to decide, perhaps in consultation with your client, if you should wait it out and for how long, or move to another outlet.
Keep it moving: A sure fire way to not get placed is to send in an op-ed and forget about it. Getting published can become a game of moving the piece around, in a way that maintains its timeliness while exhausting the most promising possibilities. If the national strategy fails, then it may be time to re-work the piece for regional papers or services. If you have not heard about your piece after one week, pull it and submit it somewhere else.
Examples: San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, etc.
Form: Must be well-written (in regional placement, local or regional representatives can often write the piece with editing assistance from a professional writer).
Scope: Must have a regional or local hook - this is essential for regional placement.
Content: Again, should be timely and of significance to the region.
Byline: The more local the author, the better. This does not mean that the byline must be local, but it does help (some op-ed editors will tell you that they do not publish unsolicited pieces and many of them fill their pages with items from syndicated columnists only).
Word Length: Check with the papers, but aim for 650 to 750 words.
Exclusivity: When pitching an op-ed regionally, exclusivity is usually not an issue. You can submit the same piece (re-worked to fit the region) to several papers around the country at the same time. You should not, however, have the same piece simultaneously at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times, for example. Stay away from markets that overlap, because if you don't, you will only succeed in upsetting the op-ed page editor and damaging your relationships with these papers. If you are uncertain about whether a paper demands exclusivity, ask.
Cover Memos: See above, but add the regional/local significance.
Sending: Call the paper and ask to whom it should be sent. Unless you have a large budget for overnighting hard copies, it's generally okay to fax submissions.
Follow-up: See National Placement. Remember there's a fine line between schmoozing someone and annoying them.
Keep it moving: With regional placements, keeping track of all the places you have sent the piece, including when it was sent, when calls should be made, and when to move it along can get confusing. So keep good notes and mark your calendar when it's time to move from one place to the next.
The political leanings of a newspaper are expressed on the editorial pages. Editorials can be signed or unsigned opinion pieces printed under the paper's name. These are different from op-eds, which are written by experts or others not directly affiliated with the newspaper. Editorials in nationally recognized papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post are highly regarded by local and national policymakers.
Editorials in regional and local papers are very useful when trying to reach congressional representatives, local government representatives, or others who are influenced by public opinion.
When you consider the effect that editorials can have, it may be in your best interest to persuade the paper's policy to reflect your own. It is now time to talk to the editorial board. A paper's editorial board is usually made up of the paper's editor, editorial page editors, and publisher. Since meetings are rare, and you want to remain in good standing as a source for environmental issues, choose your opportunities to meet with editors carefully - remember, you are asking for their valuable time.
A large paper may have editors assigned to write about issue areas such as education and environment. Many large newspapers hold daily meetings to discuss upcoming editorials or issues.
Editorials are typically written two or three days in advance, but may be written a week or more before use. Keep deadlines in mind.
Type of Editorial Board Meetings
One type of journalist meeting is an editorial board meeting. This may be with a formal editorial board or with a single editorial writer, and is a unique opportunity to persuade a paper to advocate a particular viewpoint.
You can expect any combination of newspaper staff members to sit in, including publishers, editors, editorial page editors, deputy editorial page editors, editorial writers, reporters, editorial cartoonists - even a photographer. If possible, encourage a reporter to sit in on this type of meeting - that way, even if the newspaper does not publish an editorial on your subject, you may interest a reporter in covering the issue from a news angle.
When to Schedule An Editorial Board Meeting
Editorial board meetings should be scheduled before a paper writes on your subject. Approach the editorial board or editorial writers when you have important insight or information on:
• An issue that is breaking 'news' currently being covered;
Editorials are influential because the people who write them usually carry weight in a community or in the nation. Even if you do not expect to land an editorial that is favorable to your position, try to visit the editorial boards of major outlets in your area. If you don't, editors will most likely never hear your side of the issue.
To Get a Meeting, You Must First Request a Meeting
Since editorial boards are never at a loss for interesting topics, you will have to request a meeting. If you don't already know someone on the editorial staff, contact the editorial page editor to arrange a meeting. When you are contacting a large metropolitan daily, ask to speak to the writer who specializes in your issues. Have your information ready to send, messenger, or fax, and don't forget to try to get to know this editor for the future.
When you call an editor you do not know, introduce yourself, your organization, and your issue. You can do this as background, but you will increase your chances of a meeting if you have a new report or new information on a timely subject to share, or if you are offering them an opportunity to speak with an expert or resource person who is only in town briefly.
Calling Editorial Page Staff
• Editorial writers are busy, just like other journalists. Make your pitch concise, compelling, and to the point.
Be sure you already know what stand the paper has taken on this issue and what they have written in the past. You cannot expect a paper to take a particular stand on an issue if you don't know what the paper has already said. This research will also help you choose what aspects or special interests will appeal to your audience.
Read the paper on the day of the meeting. Make sure that you read any past articles on your issue or organization, because the editors certainly have.
What to Expect
Meetings are not commonplace, and are usually reserved for new, complex issues, major recent developments, or visiting experts. Most likely, you will sit down with only an editor and editorial page editor. If you have a really "hot" topic, there may be as many as six or seven other people, plus the publisher.
If you arrange a meeting, plan to present your case in brief, using facts and figures that are verifiable to add credibility. Opening statements should be limited to no more than three minutes. Quickly summarize your organization's position on the issue, supporting evidence, and anticipate and adequately address your opposition's criticisms.
Then, let the editorial board ask questions. They may seem 'unfriendly' or 'against' your viewpoint. This does not mean that they are predisposed to disagree with you, but they must consider counter-arguments that they will receive from their editors and readers through letters.
They may also want to test the validity of your position by playing devil's advocate, so be sure to anticipate the common criticisms of your position ahead of time and prepare to defend against them. If you cannot adequately defend your opinions, neither can the newspaper.
Always remember that the editors are extending a favor to you by listening and considering your viewpoint. Be sure to respect their opinions, positions, and constraints. Be sure to thank them for their time and interest.
• Practice responding to potential questions before the meeting.
After the Meeting
If the newspaper does not write a favorable editorial, or decides to write nothing at all, suggest that they print an op-ed piece or a letter from your organization.
If the editors decide not to agree with you, make it clear that agreement on any particular issue does not affect the future relationship - always maintain mutual respect. Editors stay around a long time, and getting on the wrong side of an editorial board, or a single editor, can be costly for years to come.