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Appendix 1.  10 Ways of Engaging the Media


1.      Editorial Meetings: 

An editorial statement from your leading local newspaper, addressing the responsibilities of your elected officials, is perhaps the most powerful form of media advocacy. You should approach the editorial board members of your local paper and offer to provide them an editorial briefing on the issue. If you can arrange an editorial board meeting, this will provide you with an excellent opportunity to gain the editorial support of a newspaper which, in turn, can be very influential in shaping political decisions. Begin by doing your homework prior to the meeting. Profile the kinds of editorials that appear in the paper and the position they tend to take, particularly in relation to international issues. Arrive armed with facts and figures that are relevant to the newspaper's audience. Make a persuasive argument that their readers should be concerned about the issue. Make clear why specific elected officials from your area have influence on these matters. Be ready to answer any questions the editor might have. After the meeting, research and provide any further information requested.

2.      Opinion Pieces:

Most newspapers print opinion editorials (op-eds) or guest columns. An op-ed is an expression of opinion rather than a release of news. Although style varies according to different countries, an op-ed tends to be lively, provocative and sometimes controversial. They provide a very effective way to register concern about your issue to policy-makers and to inform communities about why they should care about addressing it. Op-eds are usually around 600 to 1,000 words. It is best to call the newspaper first and request their guidelines for submitting an op-ed. If possible, speak to the appropriate editor to alert them that you intend to submit an op-ed, briefly explain the importance of the issue.

3.      Letters to the Editor

Newspapers and magazines have a "letters page" that gives readers the opportunity to express their view or correct previously published information they feel to be inaccurate or misleading. Letters are widely read and provide a good opportunity to promote your cause. Letters should be short and concise. Those over 500 words are unlikely to be published. Well-written letters of no more than 100 words can be very effective. A letter should aim to make one main point and to end on a challenging note, with a call to action. Letters can also be signed by a number of signatories, representing various organizations or interests, which may increase their impact. If a letter is responding to an article carried in a daily newspaper, it is important to email, fax or deliver it to the paper within a couple of days.

4.      News Advisories:

Advisories are used -- along with phone calls -- to alert journalists to a media event or news conference. An advisory should give all of the basic information on the purpose, date, time, location, and speakers at an event, often in a Who, What, When, Where, and Why format. A good advisory should also build some anticipation concerning the news that will be announced. A strong headline helps.

5.      News Releases

Some journalists receive hundreds of news releases each week. For your release to get noticed, the headline and first paragraph must catch their attention. You should devote most of your time to getting this right compared to preparing the rest of the news release. You can either issue the release in advance and embargoed until the date of publication, or you can issue it on the day of a news event/conference.

6.      Calls to Journalists: 

Once you have sent an advisory or news release it is imperative to call journalists to make sure they have received it or that the right journalist has it. Sometimes, you will be asked to resend the release. Sometimes it will be to another journalist or bureau. When you call a busy journalist in a large city, you may have only 30 seconds to gain his or her interest in the story. To be successful, you must be direct and to the point concerning the importance of your story or event. Keep it simple and do not overwhelm them with too much information. Consider practicing your “pitch” with a colleague or friend before making your first call. Try to avoid calling when journalists are facing deadlines. It will also be useful to know something about the publication or program that you are calling. An editor can sense immediately if you have never read their publication or watched their program and may not see you as a credible source of news.

7.      Suggest a Feature Story: 

Feature stories are usually longer than news stories. They go into greater depth on how an issue affects people. In magazines, they can span several pages and be accompanied by pictures. On television, they can become five minute segments or programs up to a half-hour in length. The best way to obtain a feature story is to describe your idea in a two or three-page story proposal. Be prepared to do a substantial amount of research on this before handing the story over to the journalist to follow up. Your proposal should provide an outline of the story and list interesting people who could be interviewed. The newer, more unusual, significant or dramatic the story, the better. For example, a journalist may be more interested in an unreported story about a hate incident in a school than just a general story about hate activity.

8.      Press Briefings

If journalists -- who cover hundreds of different stories and may know next to nothing about this topic -- are to produce informative and accurate stories, they need to be properly briefed. Consider organizing an informal press briefing that also serves to build good relations with journalists. For example, invite half a dozen select journalists to attend a briefing in advance of your event. Brief them on key developments and issues relating to it and your group's relevant work on the issue. You may want to conduct this as a breakfast meeting and provide refreshments. It is a good idea to have clear briefing materials to distribute, such as fact sheets or advocacy publications. If you attend an important national or international conference, you may wish to brief journalists in your community about important developments upon your return.

9.      News Conferences: 

A news conference can be a very effective way to announce a newsworthy story to journalists. Speakers take the platform in a venue and make presentations after which journalists can ask questions. This is a tried and tested formula which can make life easy for journalists and for yourself. Be sure that your story warrants holding one, as news conferences can take a lot of time to organize and it can be disheartening if only a few reporters attend. In some cases, you may find you can achieve the same results by handling the story from your office. For this, you need to send journalists your news release and briefing materials under embargo until the date of publication, highlighting who is available for interview, and talking them through the story in person or on the phone.

10.          Photo Opportunities: 

Television news and magazines need good pictures or visuals in order to report on a story. When you plan a media strategy, think about what images you need and how you will supply these. You may want to pay for a photographer to take pictures and then distribute them to selected publications. You may also want to prepare a video news release (VNR) for broadcasters to use. Or, arrange a "photo opportunity" for photographers and television news people to take pictures themselves. To announce the photo opportunity, send an advisory that gives the "Who, What, When, Where and Why" of the event to media.