Working with the Media: Activist Milestone #3
February 19th, 2014
Meet Face-to-Face with the Editorial Board of Your Local Paper
Even in the digital age, the opinion pages of local print news outlets remain critically important for influencing both legislators and the community at large. Elected officials are particular attuned to editorials, as they represent the views of the entire paper, rather than just an individual. Newspapers take editorial content decisions seriously, recognizing their broad influence. Those decisions are made independently, but they’re driven by current events, local relevance, and the editorial board’s assessment of what matters to its readership. In this way editorials both reflect the views of the local community and actively shape those views.
We know that issues of poverty are always important, but their “newsworthiness” at any given moment may not be immediately apparent to editors. So how do you increase the chances that our issues rise to the top of the list for your local editorial board? Just like with Members of Congress, a strong relationship is key to ongoing success, and meeting face-to-face with your editorial board is a great way to develop that relationship.
Tips on Scheduling and Holding a Meeting with Your Editorial Board
1. Familiarize yourself with the editorial page. Knowing what your local editorial board is already writing—good, bad, or otherwise—is essential for a productive meeting. On your local newspaper’s website, you can also often find out which writers cover which issues and the best ways to reach them. Remember that reporters are people, too! The more you can tailor your request and the content of the meeting to the interests of that individual, the more likely you are to meet with success.
2. Lay the groundwork. If you see something positive or interesting in the paper, sending your editors a two or three sentence email of praise or gratitude will help set you up for future success. This is a great practice even when there isn’t a specific request on the horizon.
3. Get clear on your ask. Think carefully about why you want to schedule a meeting. If you’re going to ask them to editorialize on a specific issue, make sure you know your issue well and are clear on how to pitch an editorial. See our activist milestone on generating editorials. Sometimes there may also be opportunities for a more general conversation with editorial board writers. These meetings can be harder to get, but a casual conversation over coffee about the range of RESULTS issues is a great foundation for ongoing editorial success. By discussing a few issues, you can find out what’s most interesting to your writers and how you might be able to work with them moving forward.
4. Consider your angle. If you’re pitching an editorial, consider how to make the issue timely and relevant to your local community. Is there a recent news story in your area on a related issue? Is there a time-sensitive opportunity related to the topic, such as an upcoming vote in Congress? Are there other leaders in the community who might be able to join you, lending credibility and a local connection? Get creative!
Arranging the Meeting
1. Send a meeting request. With reporters, it’s almost always better to initiate contact via email. Construct a short meeting request that gets right to the point – introducing yourself, requesting a quick meeting, and briefly touching on the issue you’d like to discuss and—critically—why it is newsworthy right now. If you can connect your request to something the paper has already covered or something unique to that editor, even better. See a sample meeting request here.
2. Make a follow-up call. If you don’t hear back within 2 or 3 days, follow up your email with a phone call. If you reach voice mail, leave a message, but don’t count on a return call; it is up to you to make the personal contact with your writer. Be courteous, enthusiastic, and mindful of the editor’s time. Journalists are largely overworked and underpaid, and they’re technically not accountable to constituents the same way legislators are!
3. Be persistent. It can take time for editors to confirm a meeting given the ongoing time pressures inherent to journalism. Be polite, but keep calling until you get a yes-or-no answer on your request.
4. Email or call again to confirm. Once you have scheduled your meeting, thank the editor and inform him or her that you will reconfirm the meeting a few days in advance. Make a note to do so.
1. Create a meeting plan. Once you’ve decided who will attend, make a plan mapping out who will do what:
- Introductions and thanks
- Why you’re there and why you care about this issue
- Background on the issue, its connection to your local community, and why it’s newsworthy
- Specific request
You can also assign a manager role, to help guide the meeting, and a secretary role, to keep notes for follow-up.
2. Practice, practice, practice! You will only have a few minutes with the editor, so make sure you’re prepared to speak powerfully (use the EPIC format wherever possible) about the issue.
3. Bring a thank-you. Do some research so you can lead with a brief word of appreciation for accepting the meeting, the important role the media plays, and, if possible, a specific reference to past coverage of poverty issues.
4. Be prepared with information, but be prepared to listen well. Take notes on the priorities and decision-making process of the board. Listen carefully to how they seek to balance competing interests, and be ready to offer baseline information on the issue you’d like to see the paper cover, as well as at least two reasons why the topic is relevant to the readership.
5. Show a track record. Be prepared to demonstrate the history of breadth and depth of media that RESULTS has published on your issue, and see if you can come up with an example of how that media was used to influence a legislator.
6. Make a specific request. Make your request in the form of a yes-or-no answer. Will the newspaper consider writing an editorial on your topic? If not, will they consider publishing an op-ed written by either a staff writer or you/your RESULTS group? A yes-or-no question will elicit some kind of response, which is what you want. If the editor agrees to cover your issue, ask what additional information might be helpful for you to share, or if there’s any other way you can help.
After the Meeting
1. Say thank-you twice. Right away after the meeting, send a quick email saying “thanks” and providing any follow-up information you promised. If an editorial or op-ed is published, reach out again to thank the writer for the piece and tell them you plan to share it widely, including with your member of Congress.
2. Follow up with new developments. If there is legislative action or other good news on the issue you discussed, be sure to inform your writer, restating how important media coverage was to that success.
3. Maintain the relationship. If you do not get a face-to-face meeting right away, be persistent until you do, and then make a habit of it. Even if you can’t meet regularly, find reasons to reach out via email to comment on an editorial or share positive feedback.
4. Report on your meeting. Be sure to include your success in your monthly report on your advocacy actions.