Media Training


Handling the Media

Try to choose a "media friendly" time of day and day of the week. Keep in mind that newspapers and the wire services (Associated Press, United Press International etc.) close their stories by 5 or 6 p.m. That means if you want a story in the next day's papers, the demonstration would ideally end before 2 or 3 p.m. Local television news can be less rigid. They may be able to tape up until an hour or two before air time or, if your demo is really spectacular, they might be able to put you on live during the broadcast. Don't count on any of this. If your story is "in the can" early in the day, and you have time to flesh out your story to the producer or on-camera reporter, you're in a better position.

So, what does all this mean for time of day? Noon or earlier is best. As far as day of the week goes, Mondays through Thursdays are best. Saturday is okay (to get in the Sunday paper) but keep in mind that your target will probably not be in his/herfits official location on Saturday so the demo loses impact. Friday is not the best day because Saturday papers are the lowest in circulation.

Encourage clear, concise, dramatic visuals for the demonstration. If a photograph or a few seconds of video coverage can get your main point across and look interesting doing it, your chances of getting media coverage are greatly increased.

Find media friends ahead of time. Contact any friends you have in the media. Find out what help they can be in covering your demo. Friends means anyone from personal friends working in the media to friends who have friends in the media to any reporter in your area who has covered AIDS or AIDS-related issues. If they've done bad reporting in the past, give them a chance to redeem themselves by properly educating them. Encourage advance, day-of, and follow-up coverage of the issue and/or the demo.

Put together a press kit. Your press kit should contain a detailed explanation and background material on the issue. You should also include any related articles you think are helpful, and some background on your organization. If you have the time and resources you might want to send some press kits out to reporters a couple of weeks ahead of the demonstration. Otherwise, make them available to any reporters who ask for information. It is also helpful to take some press kits with you to the demonstration.

The press release. Your press release should be no longer than one page. In general a press release should give the who, what, where, when, and why in the first paragraph. The next paragraphs should detail the what and the why, give more details on the issue. Strong adjectives are good, and a dramatic and emotional quote is always helpful. Put your media contact person and his/her phone number at the top.

Who to send the release to and how to find them. Send the press release to media contacts that you've had in the past, or that you've just discovered. Find the local newspaper reporters who might cover either AIDS issues or political demonstrations. Call the news editors of the papers if you're not sure. Notice what television and radio stations and reporters have covered such stories. Find out if there are any local reporters from the wire services. A newspaper reporter can probably tell you, or find a regional listing for Associated Press, United Press International Reuters, and any other wire services you've seen your local papers print. Sometimes you may have to simply start finding your media contacts by calling the general number of a paper, TV station or radio station.

Just keep at it. Ask for the assignment editor, the news or metro editor, ask for health and science reporters. Ask for who might cover a demonstration. Collect phone and fax numbers. Ultimately, you may have to send your release to the news editor, the metro editor, or the assignment editor. You may also have to send it to the regional wire service office, but it is important that all these news sources receive your release. Your follow-up call can help move things along. (More on this later.) Compile a list. Be sure you've covered all the smaller newspapers, radio, TV wire services. And don't forget the smaller newspapers, radio stations, etc., that may target an audience that would be particularly interested in your issue.

Fax the press release if possible. Send it out 24 to 36 hours ahead of time. For instance, if the demo is Wednesday at noon, send the release out Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. If you have to mail the release, send it to arrive at about this same time.

Follow-up phone calls.

These are EXTREMELY IMPORTANT! They should be made a few hours after your press release is faxed or soon after you expect it to arrive in the mail. If the release is faxed in the afternoon, make the calls the next morning. These calls serve several purposes. First of all, you find out if the release has been received. If not, arrange to get them a copy as soon as possible. If they have received it, ask if they plan to cover the story. If you talk to assignment editors, try to find out who they are assigning the story to. When you speak to wire service editors, be sure they have recorded your demonstration in their day book (that's where they log in stories to be covered on a particular day).

Be friendly, be clear about the issues, and be as persistent as you can. But do not demand, criticize, or "guilt trip" reporters or editors into covering your story. They will not respond to it. (See below for more tips on talking to the press.)

What to do at the demonstration. Designate people to handle the media at the demonstration. They should have some press kits with them to give to reporters who might need them. Look for reporters. They usually have press credentials hanging around their necks. They'll have notebooks, cameras, tape recorders, etc. Introduce yourself to them. Ask who they are and where they're from. Ask if they need anything, a press kit, someone to interview, etc. If they want interviews, direct them to people who you know are willing and able to articulate the issues. Be sure to get the reporter's name and phone number so that you can update their story after the demo is over. Also, you can add them to your media list if they're not already on it.

A couple of important points to keep in mind: All reporters should have some kind of press identification. If they do not or if they refuse to show it to you, consider them suspicious, especially if they are filming or taking photographs. They are quite possibly some kind of law enforcement or with some kind of right wing group. Often these people will curtail their filming or photographing if pressed for their identification. Also, if civil disobedience is part of your demo, it's good, if possible, to have the press witness it. If there is any kind of police misconduct, you'll also want to get reporters right to it. The last thing the police want is press witnesses.

Following up the demonstration. Be sure someone is at the media contact phone for several hours after the demo. Reporters may have questions as they write their story. If something interesting happens after a reporter has left the demo (civil disobedience, arrests, etc.) be sure to call them and let them know what happened. If something truly spectacular happens, then you might want to consider doing a wrap-up press release describing what happened.

General tips for dealing with reporters:

Be friendly. Have a sense of humor whenever possible.

Be straightforward about the issues. Give them the "hook" for the story right away.

If they've done some reporting you thought was good, tell them so. Reporters do not get a lot of compliments. They get complaints, so a compliment will incline them to listen to you.

Don't make demands. Reporters already have enough of them. If they do not respond to "friendly" persistence, they are not going to respond.

Don't expect them to be familiar with your issue. Reporters often cover a huge variety of issues. Even a reporter who writes only on AIDS issues may not be familiar with every AIDS issue. Inform them if they don't know, tell them why it's an important story.

Offer them a press kit.

Make it easy for reporters to reach your media contact. Reporters are on constant deadlines. If they have trouble reaching you, they won't keep trying to track you down, and they'll move on to something else.

Provide reporters with a good interview. If they know that you can provide someone who gives them good quotes, accurate information, or a good angle on a story, they'll put you in the Rolodex and call again in the future, and you develop a good press contact.

Always keep in mind that you are potentially developing a relationship with a reporter or editor. Even if they don't cover this demo or issue, they might cover one in the future. Try to be accommodating and with any luck they will sooner or later do the same.

If a reporter does a good job covering your demo or an important issue, let them know. Write them a note preferably, or give them a call. If they get something wrong, let them know that too. Again, preferably in writing.


This second Media Training seminar was sponsored by Common Sense for Drug Policy.

written by Dawn Day, Dogwood Center, February 1998








(These are opportunities to build relationships with reporters, rally our supporters AND find new supporters.)












written by DAWN DAY



EPILOGUE: Members of DIVA TV (Damned Interfering Video Activists) will add:

"The mainstream media will NEVER represent us, our issues or states of mind...
so we better damn well MAKE OUR OWN MEDIA."


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