Exploiting the mainstream media

In our information driven world, news media is everywhere. Because of the 24 hour news cycle reporters are always looking for a story, a new angle on an issue or something to investigate. Activists have more power than ever to influence the media and sound the alarm on injustice.

For inspiration, check out this case study of a successful grassroots media campaign completed by the TTC Riders Sardine Awards.

This guide will go over:

Crafting a media message

Getting the word out

When they come to you

Confronting media

Tips

Crafting a message

Journalists are taught to boil down the important points in short amount of time. It's to your advantage to draft a simple, digestible and media friendly point that is easily reported on. Each protest can have a unique message even if its under the same issue. The key is being specific and concise.
Reporters are less likely to pick up on an event that is:

A protest for world peace

versus

A sit in against globalization, corruption and violence

Be specific about what you're fighting against and how.

Once you have agreed on a message, use it on posters, press releases and social media sites. Make it clear what your protest is all about.

Getting the word out

The best way to make sure that your campaign gets media attention is to make it easy to cover. Arrange for your protest to be in a prominent public place. Send out press releases to news media outlets. Write guest posts on news blogs, letters to the editors or opinion pieces. Has someone recently written in favour of an injustice? Submit a rebuttal.

Many media outlets are struggling to maintain a high level of content with few staff and would welcome your free synopsis of an issue. Don't forget about independent media. More so than mainstream news, independent radio stations, campus papers and leftist news sources are ready and willing to cover your campaign.

Words of wisdom from the TTC Riders' Sardine Awards Case study:

"The media likes novelty: mock awards are not common.

The media likes events, and we were planning on organizing an event to deliver the award.

The media -- especially TV -- likes visuals, and the photos coming in from TTC users provided that.   Not surprisingly, TV liked our story more than print media. Aside from the Toronto Sun, the print media left us alone.

The media also like controversy and drama, and there is mystery and conflict inherent in our whodunnit story as we were planning on giving an award to an as-yet-unnamed high profile elected official."

Use social media. Many reporters have their own twitter accounts; tweet updates at them about your campaign. Create a Facebook group. Journalists are taught to report on both sides of every story and because of this they often go looking for opposition to a recent event. Make your group name easily to find with a quick google search.

Another great way to attract attention is through a Youtube video. A short video can summarize your message and get important facts across. It can also show how many people you have supporting your issue and lend legitimacy.

When they come to you

If the protest is going on and media outlets haven't turned up, give them a call and pitch the story. It never hurts to tip them to a story in progress. Describe the scene in a descriptive, colourful way. Many stories fizzle out during the day and your campaign could fill a gap in the newscast.

When reporters do show up at your action, be ready for them. Have someone talking pictures that you can send to media contacts. Many journalists are now responsible for taking their own pictures as well, so clearly designate where reporters can take pictures, so that people who don't want to be in a photo can stand behind them. In Quebec, photojournalists have to explicitly ask for permission to take a photo of anyone who is identifiable. In the rest of Canada permission isn't required but journalists will often concede to the rules of the protest; they want to cover, not make, a story.

The best way to get media to coverage your campaign is through news management. Plan ahead who is the media spokesperson and make sure that they are up to the task. The best spokespeople are well practised, well briefed and passionate. Make sure other protesters know who the reporters are and that they don't have to talk to them.

Confronting media

Don't let a misquote, factual error or even a misspelling of a name slide. If the media hasn't gotten it right, let them know immediately. Twitter is great for this, as tweeting a journalist gets directly to the reporter who wrote the piece. Try contacting the news organization itself, but if you have no luck, there are many overseeing media bodies in Canada. For broadcast the Canadian Radio-Television Commission takes complaints.

Tips

Maintain eye contact with journalists when being interviewed.

If you use acronyms, explain them.

Keep in contact and stay friendly with journalists who cover your campaign.

Use humour, wit and irony to communicate your message.

Understand the "luck" of a news cycle: sometimes, a slow news day can mean a campaign will be on the tip of everyone's tongue - other times it can be hard to get a word in edgewise when the mainstream media has whipped itself into a frenzy over a single story arch.

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