The Media and You
Remember, large or small, the media’s almost always interested in reporting local events. When you merge this opportunity with a respectable outreach in your community of leaders and activists, the press is more likely to be interested in covering your event. With a little work, your group is going to make the news!
Journey for Justice: Washington, DC 2002
Develop a relationship with the local media early in your planning.
Who is the likely reporter that might cover an event in your area? Read your local paper carefully to determine what reporter might be more interested than another. The type of stories a reporter covers is your clue. Some newspapers have large writing staffs, and one reporter might routinely cover social justice, or assigned to cover local events. All you have to do to determine this is read your local paper for a week.
When you send a news release to a local paper, if you direct it to a particular reporter, you might find you receive more success in getting coverage. Now and then, try to get an "out of town' guest, that is sometimes a good media hook, too.
Does your local group have other activities planned in the meantime? If so, then now is the time to get to know that local reporter, or perhaps at least one member of the editorial board. If you are comfortable doing so, and can afford it, take a reporter to lunch. Introducing the issue of drug war imprisonment, and your group's work to a local reporter is an appropriate 'lunch invitation' theme. Or ask if you can make an appointment to stop by his/her office and introduce yourself and the issue you represent.
Put a human face to your news releases, and remember that if you choose this method of contact with a reporter, you are representing an issue, your local group and national groups as well.
Dress appropriately, be neat, timely, and keep your conversation within your experience. If you do have lunch with a media person, don't open a restaurant tab if you can't afford to pay for it. That is why an early luncheon date is preferable if you choose this method -- it's for business discussion, and a simple lunch can be inexpensive. Of course this is only a couple of suggestions. You will want to consider ways you will make a press contact, and build a business relationship with a local reporter(s).
If you have some experience with media, all the better, but don't think that you need experience before you start getting experience. It really is easier than you might think.
You will want to try to get a story in the local newspaper before the public event. This will bring people to the event that would not heard of it otherwise.
As soon as you have a firm schedule of events your group can submit information to online and community calendars, and you are ready to notify your local reporters and radio news broadcasters of the upcoming public event(s).
Journey for Justice: Rainbow Farm, MI, 2003
What is the newsworthy event, if your date is months in the future?
The subject of the excess and harm of the war on drugs would come up more often in many local papers, if there was a 'local hook'. Today, most papers only cover the war on drugs if there has been a recent 'drug raid,' or new funding for drug tasks forces, etc. You can change that. Make the news with a public call for local volunteers to attend a planning meeting. Planning meetings can be newsworthy, if the event you are planning attracts, or has the support of a large coalition of organizations.
When you schedule a public event, the TV news may be interested in sending a reporter and cameraman. You can develop working relationships with TV news teams as well. The chances of finding reporters who will give your event fair and accurate coverage are very good, but writing a news or press release, and proper timing sending them is imperative.
If you succeed in getting some pre-event publicity -- congratulations! And if you panic about an upcoming interview that's been scheduled, the following webpages will help you learn how to conduct a great press interview:How to Give Great Media Interviews: Prepare, Control, Educate -- Tips on Giving a Good Interview
If TV news covers your demonstration, assign one person to tape each television station that was present at your event so you may begin a library of media coverage.
Don't forget to pick up the newspaper the next day to see how the event was described, and save this paper in your own archives. You'll want to send news footage tape and news articles to the main offices of the November Coalition - we will include this on the event archive of reports, and press coverage.
If you have a loved one in prison, whose story you want to share with the press, be brief. Don't try to explain a complicated drug conspiracy case. Nora Callahan has learned to say, "My brother was charged and imprisoned in 1989 for a drug conspiracy and sentenced to 27 years in federal prison. There was no evidence, just the word of those who traded testimony against my brother for their freedom."
Try to schedule talk shows or newspaper interviews as part of your event publicity and media coverage.