Working with the Media: Activist Milestone #4
May 26th, 2009
Generate an Editorial or Article in Your Local Paper and Send a Copy to Your Member of Congress
Elected officials watch the local media to check opinions, news, and any mention of their name. This is why the media is an important channel to members of Congress for RESULTS activists. Building a solid relationship with a newspaper editorial and news writers so issues of poverty are covered will ultimately educate, inform, and inspire your member of Congress, as well as members of your communities, about effective tools to fight poverty.
The Media Basics:
Persistence: There’s a fine line between persistence and pestering, but realize that just like our members of Congress who see thousands of bills in any given year, editorial and health writers are faced with similar challenges. Remember to remain persistent when your phone calls or e-mails are not returned right away, or if the answer is “no” for the tenth time on getting an editorial published. Keep calling, keep educating, keep asking, and keep offering them information that they will eventually want and need.
Relationship: Fostering and building good working relationships with editorial and health writers are crucial to our success in generating media on a consistent basis. When we are working on developing our relationships with the media we should proceed much as we do with our members of Congress: 1) Get face-to-face meetings, 2) Use stories and videos to highlight the point (ideally the stories and videos make a connection between the issue and the local community), 3) Make very specific requests, 4) Build a personal relationship over time.
Education: Good reporters and editorial writers are always looking for a fresh scoop to follow and a dependable source of information. Our job is to provide them with current, accurate, up-to-the-minute information on our issues. Don’t expect that your writers will know more than you on any given subject surrounding hunger and poverty; in many cases you are far more educated on these matters than they are. You can become a valuable resource for your editorial writers by providing them with the information and background on our issues.
Sensitivity: Writers, particularly at daily newspapers, are busy folks. Be sure to ask up front if they have a moment to talk and be prepared to reschedule your call with them. Be sensitive to their moods and possible gruffness, don’t take terse responses personally, and stay polite and on message. If the writer you are talking to seems uninterested, ask if there is amore suitable contact for your topic. Know, though, that editorials are much more powerful than news stories in most cases.
Success: If you follow these steps you are well on your way to generating media in your community! You may not get your writer on a particular media call or generate an editorial right away, but every contact you make pushes your relationship further and further ahead. And the more you educate your editorial and news writers on an issue and its relevance for the community, the more comfortable they will begin to feel with the topic.
How to Generate an Editorial in Your Local Paper
Do your research. To find relevant articles, do a key word search on your paper’s website for the issue you are interested in, such as “tuberculosis” or “Head Start.” You can refer to these articles when you speak to editorial and news writers. Be on the lookout for editorials that are closest to our issues. Call the paper to find out who wrote those specific editorials; most do not print their names but the paper will provide you that information. Be sure to record the contact information of the editorial writer to whom you would like to pitch your story.
Develop Your Pitch. A “pitch” is a story idea that will get your editor or reporter as interested in your issue as you are. Typically, this means developing three or four talking points about your issue.
- Ask yourself what are the most interesting or compelling aspects of your story or editorial packet?
- What makes this story newsworthy locally, regionally, nationally?
- How does this information relate to the pressing news of the day?
- What difference will it make if your paper covers this issue?
- Does your news pertain to specific legislation? What is your goal in getting news coverage?
Your own words, from the heart, are fine, but it’s best to have them written down and rehearsed before you make that call. Brevity is key – editors and reporters are extremely busy, so keep it short, informational and inspiring. Use the RESULTS EPIC Laser Talk format to script out what you want to say. For example, you can:
- E: Engage the writer by complimenting them on a piece they wrote and asking if they have time to speak.
- P: State the Problem simply and briefly, and suggest that an editorial on this subject could make a difference to community members and decision makers.
- I: Inform the editorial writer about the solutions, including why this issue is important right now. Try to draw links between the issue and the local community.
- C: Your Call to Action is to reiterate that you would like the writer to write an editorial and also that you would like to set up a face-to-face meeting to inform him or her about our issues.
Also, check in with a partner or staff person for support and coaching on your Laser Talk and follow-up plans. Practice your conversation before making the call.
Gather Local and National Media Contacts. Consider radio stations, television, weeklies, magazines, and local and city newspapers. Target reporters who cover the issues we are raising. This includes local news, women’s issues, education, health, international, business, children’s issues and features. If you know a reporter or editorial writer, start there. If not, ask the news editor who covers your issues. Don’t pitch the same story to more than one person at a news outlet at a time. However, it is okay to pitch to news reporters and editorial staff at the same time as they write different kinds of media.
Make the Pitch. Direct contact in person is best, by phone is next best. 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.
- Introduce yourself and ask if s/he has a minute to hear about your idea for an editorial or story.
- Let them know you are calling to ask them to write an editorial or story up front.
- Use your Laser Talk to explain why he/she should consider writing about this issue.
- Be yourself as much as possible, and stay relaxed, enthusiastic, and genuine.
- Answer questions honestly; never lie to the media.
- If you are asked a question that you don’t know how to answer, acknowledge that you do not know, but you will get the answer as quickly as possible.
- Offer to send any background material s/he may need.
- Be kind, courteous, enthusiastic, and mindful of the journalist’s time.
If you have made several contacts with one editorial writer who seems completely disengaged, it is perfectly okay to ask if there is another editorial writer who may be more interested in your materials. You can also contact the editorial page editor to make the pitch.
Persistence, Persistence, Persistence. Be kind and thoughtful and follow up! In order to get your issue covered it has to stay on the top of the pile. Editors and reporters get pitched hundreds of stories. Persistent reminder calls asking if they need any further information or updating them on any changes will keep your issue hip, hot and happening. If you are not getting through to your editorial writer, you can also show up with in the office and ask the receptionist if you can drop off your editorial packet in person. You may get lucky and get a brief face-to-face encounter. If so, be sure to use your laser talk. Remember, there is a fine line between being persistent and being annoying, but most people feel they are being annoying before they actually become annoying, so go for it.
Post Pitch. If you’ve generated an editorial or article, congratulations! Follow up with your editors to thank them for their work and ask if you could set up a meeting to share with them about our other issues. You are on your way to becoming a trusted resource.
If you haven’t generated anything, now it’s time to pick up the phone, thank your editor for taking the time to look at your information, and ask if there is anyone else on the editorial board who may be more likely to write on these issues. Ask if you can set up an appointment with the editorial board to speak to them about our issues and what resources you can offer as a RESULTS volunteer. You too are on your way to becoming a trusted resource for your paper.
Tips on Hooks and Framing
So what are hooks and what is framing?
A hook is a key idea on which to “hang” a story. It is the juicy tidbit that piques an editor’s interest in writing a story or publishing your letter or op-ed. It can be a day, like World AIDS Day, or a new publication like UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report. It can also be another story in the news that relates to your own community, such as a story in your local paper about new poverty statistics or an outbreak of TB in your area. Be resourceful – you can create a hook from practically any front-page story, even if it doesn’t relate directly to one of our issues.
The frame is how you want a writer to write about your particular hook or issue. Just about every paper will cover something about World AIDS Day, but what the journalists decide to write about AIDS is critical.
Framing helps shape the debate, define the debate, and educate your target audience about what you think is important about your issue. Your frame must explain why the issue you are asking him/her to write about is important in a way he/she can relate to. For example:
- Sometimes we talk about foreign assistance through a security frame – highlighting how investing in children going to school, for example, is a way to stem terrorism.
- Sometimes we frame our issues in terms of how they relate to American values. For example, we value entrepreneurship in the U.S., so it makes sense to provide economic opportunities through Individual Development Accounts for those with lower incomes.
The Power of Framing
How you frame your news will:
- determine its prominence in the media;
- define the debate;
- define the players;
- persuade people, including public officials, voters and regular community members, to respond in a particular way;
- inform the public about your position and communicate your messages;
- determine what images and metaphors communicate the story;
- determine the competitiveness of your story compared to all other news of that day.
Source: Spin Works! by Robert Bray
See our Media Hooks and Framing page for more information.
Send the Editorial or Article to Your Members of Congress
Remember, the main goal in getting our issues in the paper is to influence legislators to become champions for ending hunger and poverty. One powerful way to reach them is through editorials and articles in the newspapers read by their constituents. Make sure your representative, your senators, and key aides get a copy! Send both a copy of the piece or the internet text and a link to the piece.
Also, please also send a copy to Meredith Dodson (U.S.) at [email protected] or Ken Patterson (Global) at [email protected] as well as Colin Smith at [email protected]. They will want to track and acknowledge your success!