Author Topic: Media Guide to Your Issue  (Read 4466 times)

Toedancer

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Media Guide to Your Issue
« on: November 30, 2006, 08:29:16 AM »
Debra, is this in the right thread? Should this be a sticky? He is talking about IW's, but it goes for all issues really. Where you see the word (kiss) it is kill, the program changes that word cos of IW suicides.

Hi All,
I recently wrote a series of stories in Edmonton about the WCB. As is usually the case (and the prime reason why media ignores wcb stories) I've been flooded with calls and emails from injured workers across Canada looking to further their claims.

In the interests of helping folks here understand how media works these days, I've written a short guide to getting press coverage for people to consider. If you don't agree with it, please keep it to yourself. I have no time to waste debating such things. But if you find it useful, more power to you and good luck.

Thanks,
Jeremy Loome

p.s. Please note the copious use of PARAGRAPHS. No one who isn't injured (most media included) is going to read angry emails or forum posts that are one long sentence.


INTRODUCTION

Ok, so you've got a story to tell or a cause to address. Doesn't everyone?

Sounds callous, but that's the attitude you're going to face when it comes to getting both media attention and political action. Nobody wants to help the little guy; after all, if media and politicians were all on side already, we wouldn't have underdogs.

It is, however, quite possible to pierce the veil of self-interest that prevents average public advocacy lobby groups from getting the attention they require to get the message out. In this somewhat exhaustive paper I'll discuss some useful techniques. Read it, live it, learn it.

Like most tactical approaches, it comes down to knowing and understanding both your target and your target audience, then giving media and politicians a reason they can't ignore you. That means understanding what they want from you and why they do what they do.

With that in mind, I'm going to break this paper down into the following three areas:

1) Print media, including magazines, daily and weekly newspapers

2) Broadcast media, including radio and television, web

3) Political impact groups, such as lobbyists, politicians and service organizations



But in each case, the goal is the same: getting the message out.

PRINT MEDIA
The old newspaper axiom "if it bleeds, it leads" is often true. The more an issue is perceived by the general public as being violent and frightening — the more it delves into a side of life they hope to never experience -- the more likely it will run.

It is not, however, the only thing to keep in mind. So here's a checklist with explanations of what assignment editors are looking for at daily newspapers, followed by one for weeklies, and then for magazines. Each is followed by a list of approaches to overcome barriers. If any media read this and are insulted, feel free to email me and we'll debate it in person. However, insulting people isn't the intent; this is also just my opinion, and I sure as heck am not always right.

PRINT - DAILY NEWSPAPER COVERAGE

1) Reader impact. How will the average joe or jane react the story and why? If, for example, you're talking about injured workers, it pays to consider that most people already believe workers compensation boards are screwed up and screw people over.

But it also pays to see what the other side of that debate already knows: those same people, because they are able-bodied and working, think many who apply to the WCB are just looking for a free ride. It's such a common conception that one of the most popular skits by Canadian icons The Kids In the Hall actually revolves around a guy taking advantage of "the [b!tch] goddess of workers comp."

So you can't just rely on the average person supporting you; on the contrary, the average joe may think his local MLA is a lot more trustworthy than you are because, well, you just want a handout.

2) Sex appeal. How commonly would this story play in ANY market? In other words, does it have universal appeal and will other newspapers and outlets pick up on it, thereby increasing the journalistic notoriety of the paper that originated the story.

3) Efficiency. Can the story easily be done -- note 'easily' as very important -- in a single day and will the repercussions from the story make it harder to get other stories done. Most daily newsrooms have been stripped of the kind of staff that allows them to fish or dig for good angles and good stories; they report spot news (murders, court, politics) first and foremost, then quirky/sex appeal news secondarily, then light features third. Investigative work that takes time is generally a last priority because it takes weeks. If a daily news assignment editor is called and offered a complicated WCB case to look into, he's already figuring out how to get you off the phone before by the time the word "board" has come out of your mouth.

There are two overarching approaches to getting daily newspaper coverage. You can a) go through the assignment editor or b) go around the assignment editor.

• Knowing that you need to consider relevancy, broad appeal and ease, any phone call to an assignment editor should be backed up by examples of such.

If you need to make it relevant by holding onto the story until a related issue makes the spot (breaking) news or until your issue reaches such a critical mass it is itself breaking news (not by your standard but by that of the public at large) , then hold onto it. If you can find an existing problem the paper has written about that relates to your issue, latch onto it. That can mean doing some research through the paper's back issues, or waiting for a while until you've identified such issues from day to day coverage.

If, for example, you're trying to get a daily newspaper to do a story about the lack of a tribunal in Alberta to hear contentious claims, you need to know as much about that story as possible to exploit it. Right now, in Alberta, there's a Tory leadership race that includes one candidate in a wheelchair and another who wrote a damning anti-WCB report in 2000. Surely one of those two men would be willing to endorse or look into your position. You can then take that to an assignment editor and say, 'look, this leadership candidate is saying it's a problem, too.' Suddenly, someone with relevancy and sex appeal is involved and you've covered two of the bases. Give them the paperwork they need to do the story with as few phone calls as possible -- and some source help -- and you've just covered all three bases.

You can accomplish this as well sometimes by playing potential newspaper sources off against one another; if the aforementioned politician who wrote the WCB report is ignoring your calls, look back at what was going on when he wrote the report (news stories from the day, government reports from that time into the WCB etc etc) and see if there's another public figure from that period who will challenge the politician and force him to respond. In the example given, for example, there was a judge who wrote a similar report on WCB at the same time; perhaps he'd be willing to back your group's position and mention what he thinks of the aforementioned politician going back on his word.

• If an editor says he is not interested, ask him why and tell him you're just trying to figure out the best approach to your job of publicizing the issue. There's a good chance he'll tell you off the top which of these (or his/hers) priorities you didn't meet. Sometimes, the subtle pressure involved in discussing an issue past where the assignment editor wanted to discuss it will also be enough to shake loose a story. Ask if you can call back and why they think the story isn't relative.

• Tell the assignment editor why people will read it. If he doesn't think it has sex appeal, he'll usually [xkissx] it quickly. But you must ensure that any news release makes it clear why this story must get out. If it's shocking, include shock. If it's degrading to individuals, have a quote from the degraded individual. If it's overly debatable or even complicated in detail, you're in for a tough time.

• Generate a buzz; if there's an AM all-news/all-talk radio station nearby, give them the first crack at the story. Although they probably won't have enough listeners to have a direct impact, the chance is good that every assignment editor in town listens to the morning and noon radio news. If they hear a printable story on radio driving into work, they'll flag your press release for consideration once they see it.

• Make sure you have visual aids that can be used for a photographic prop; a good chunk of newspaper shots are "set ups", not spot news they're just lucky to catch. If, for example, you're trying to get them to write about people who've been injured by substandard WCB rehab, having the injured worker, preferably still in full-cast, available is absolutely essential for TV and pretty much the rule for newspapers these days as well.

• News stories are like the book "Six Degrees of Separation": you can almost always find an ongoing coverage type, complete with pre-existing sex appeal, that you can tie your issue to in order to make it seem more relevant. If you have a group of injured workers and one of them has a sexy sister or brother, get the sibling to protest along side you in a bikini. Yeah, it's a cheap stunt. But it's a cheap stunt that will get the related sidewalk protest into the Paper. That might, in turn, get them to cover it the next day. Why? Sex appeal, naturally. It's sad but true, and relates directly to the fact that sex sells papers. If it's just a guy with a sign, a newspaper has about as much interest as a motorist: in passing, and that's it.

• If an assignment editor bites and says he "might do" something on it, that usually means 'if we get time, which won't happen until hell freeze over.' If he says "we'll get to it," he means, "we'll get to it when hell freezes over, because that's when the company might hire the staff to get the job done. " If an assignment editor flatly says no, it's an absolute. Move on to 'going around the assignment editor." Any call backs will just frustrate that very busy individual. In other words, you need a yes upfront or northing's going to happen with your story.

But then there's always the alternative, which is.....

• .... Going around the assignment editor: Start with columnists, not reporters. Reporters answer to the city editor, who does not want to hear that they've started a story without telling him or her.

Plus columnists get far more leeway to use colour, dabble in opinion and be as one-sided as they like. So make sure you're the one side they're on. For contentious issues or those that are complicated by the need for subtle or broad expertise in a particular subject, the second option of going to a columnist or other section is often your best. There are plenty of other people at print outlets that don't work on city desk deadlines, that don't face as many complications or restrictions and that actually welcome the odd good feature or investigative tip.

• Columnists are primarily concerned with the human angle; their livelihood largely depends on their writing ability, because they have to establish a separate identity in order to be successful. Their turn-of-phrase is a part of how they accomplish that. Another method is specializing.

• They'll still want it to be relevant, sexy and easy, though, so try to time anything you send them to coincide with a broader news event. If your goal is to increase workplace safety and the paper in question is covering a massive industrial accident, that's the time to send out the story you've been holding onto to a columnist; if they get enough material from you to pursue a decent read but not so much that it's intimidating, you can actually pitch it on the basis of time relevancy. You should ALWAYS try to pitch it by phone first, then a quick email. If you don't hear back, move on. NEVER badger a member of the press; they react ...well...like badgers, really: Nastily and with their claws out.

• Columnists didn't get the job by being dumb: they've nearly all worked as daily reporters at some point or as experts in another field, and are weary of becoming mouthpieces for a special interest lobby. What they do have that a daily reporter doesn't is time: if you can convince a columnist that a particular issue is worthy, they can gnaw away at it for weeks before actually writing something.

• The risk with a columnist is that they won't properly analyze the material and, because of the leeway they're given, will slam your group. This can happen no matter how nice or accommodating they seem on the phone; media people learn very early that you get more with sugar than salt, and will sometimes go to any length to prove it.

• But that's also avoidable; when you're pitching to a newspaper columnist, pick the one whom you respect, not necessarily the one with whom you most often agree. Does the columnist traditionally include a lot of supporting data, factoids and research in their writing? If so, they're more likely to get your story right. If they typically write really well but with mostly just their own opinion to support what they're saying, avoid them like the plague. If they include a billion facts -- but all from one side -- they're probably an idealogical demagogue, which makes them useful: you can probably tell from how they write about other issues whether they'll support yours.

People who write largely opinion with little sourcing or factual evidence in the piece make up a big chunk of columnists and editorialists but are the most unpredictable and prone to causing problems. Plus, they usually suck when it comes to little things like accuracy, consideration and fairness. Weed them out and instead.....

• .... Identify the stars. There are a few ways to identify the star writers at a paper and ensure they're among the ones getting your information: if they're a regular columnist, they'll get a mugshot with the piece and, typically, will appear in the same spot in the paper daily. If they're a star reporter they may write less often than others but their bylines always appear in the first few pages of the paper, usually followed by some kind of series of stories.

• Cultivate your media relationships. Offer yourself or other association members up as experts, first and foremost, who can address a variety of concerns whenever they call you for a quote. Send them a contact sheet with multiple spokesmen from your group, each with an individual area of expertise. The axiom of having one spokesperson to avoid confusion only minimizes the number of times your group will be contacted, and should be avoided except in circumstances where you're trying to tightly control information flow.

• Ensure other departments that might be able to use the info -- such as lifestyles and business -- also have your contact sheets. Even if your spokesman is talking about a minor, fluffy issue (say, an electrical accidents experts talking about plugging in that Christmas tree safely for a lifestyle piece) it increases your group's credibility every time the name gets into the paper. EXPLAIN in an accompanying letter (or even better, and to keep it to one sheet, on the top of the contact sheet) why you're sending them the material.

• Begin a support network for sourcing separate from your lobby. THIS CAN BE VERY EFFECTIVE for contentious lobby issues. If anyone cares about your cause it's because they see the human dimension to it. So give them the humans. But don't just try to spoon-feed them individuals, which reporters often see as a crass attempt at directing the story flow.

Instead, help the people you're representing set up a a non-political support group and establish an entirely separate identity for it. Help it remain entirely autonomous but offer free advice and even string-free funding to that end. Then, when the press does address your issue, they can get react and supporting quote from the support group, because the press is more trusting of victims than of special interests.

Keep the support group apolitical and explain to them UPFRONT why keeping that in any charter or rules of order will avoid the group being seen as taking sides. Ensure any "problem" members of your lobby (people with non-conciliatory approaches and aggressive natures) are funneled into the support group, not the lobby group. The last angry man might be a good guy to have on a jury if you're innocent but he won't do diddly for your public reputation.

It also helps to encourage the affiliated support group to look for celebrity endorsement early and often; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for example, had a horrible reputation and a damn near impossible time getting coverage, no matter how gimmicky it was, because of how militant its supporters can be. Then they signed up Pamela Lee Anderson; now they're the most visible and likely fastest growing animal rights group in North America. If you're looking for a celebrity endorsement, avoid the fields that are full of folks who are unlikely to be sympathetic -- movie stars have no big reason to support the cause of injured workers, for example. They have enough money to bankroll injured relatives, after all. But musicians often came up the hard way, strained backs lugging gear across the country and are less likely to be making a ton of money ever year.

Be realistic about who will back you and why. Try google and newspaper library database searches for terms like "the brother of singing star" and "injured". Anything to pin down a likely backer who is well known.

• Help your affiliated support network set up the processes required to be legitimate: support meetings, affiliation with professional counseling, somewhere to meet etc. There is a wide array of free volunteerism available to tap to do so, particularly if you go through community supportive educational programs at local colleges, such as kids training to be counselors, labour advocates etc.

But also keep in mind how broadly effective it can be in linking your issues to seemingly unrelated matters. If, using the WCB again as an example, you happen to know that a support group regular has lived or is living on the street, then all of a sudden the inability to get benefits is tied directly to homelessness, which the media writes about all the time but particularly in winter, over the holidays and on weekends. Homelessness stories are easy to get.

• Be aware of EVERY other potential field of interest that is touched on by your group: for the aforementioned WCB example that could mean the insurance industry, the counseling industry, the casual labour industry, the mental health field, the rehab field, etc etc. Memorize a list of such ties so that when a reporter is looking for a source for a story you can point them to fellow lobbyists or people in the support group who can be a source for them. Although it pays to have a flotilla of experts on hand, keep in mind you need an EMERGENCY contact, the main spokesman for a group who can be reached at ANY time, be it Christmas at 1 a.m. or on their wedding anniversary. Welcome to the self-sacrificeville. If the media can work those days, so can you.


• Keep a calendar handy; newspaper coverage is often heavily affected by who is available for sourcing, and on weekend and holidays, it's always more difficult for them to find the people they want. If, for example, a newspaper is doing a Christmas piece on homelessness, it helps to pitch them a source on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, which are the toughest days to find official spokesmen. Sunday is particularly useful: newspapers often have their weakest assignment editor working Sunday, and yet it's the toughest day to get people. The net effect is that they'll sometimes take anything even remotely newsy.

Here are some quick 'dont's' for daily newspapers:

• Don't overdo it. If you send out a press release every week, newspapers will treat you like you're just fishing for press. Which you are. Nobody -- not the Queen, not Paris Hilton, not Desmond Tutu -- has something that important happen to them every week.

• Don't underestimate art. 98 out of 100 causes pitched to a newspaper get ignored in favour of spot news, because spot news is easily palatable to the public and easily coverable by papers with scant resources. The only thing even more popular with a newspaper is a good picture, because they're an absolute necessity to break up copy. Don't make it too hoaky or setup looking, though, as reputable dailies often avoid that stuff. Among the types of picture a newspaper will absolutely not cover: people standing at a podium speaking; people presenting or receiving a cheque; group shots of people that look like they're being lined up for a firing squad (the 'execution at dawn' shot; two people shaking hands; etc

Look for backdrops that are colourful, frightening, ironic, humorous -- if, for example, you're protesting outside a WCB building you're likely to get very little coverage. Solemn pictures of unnamed people holding placards outside a government office don't sell papers. But if you've got someone being mock buried in a coffin outside a funeral home owned by a WCB board member, well, now you're cooking with gas (especially on a slow news day.)

• Don't assume there's something wrong with everyone who disagrees with you; people make decisions for all sorts of reasons you won't even know about, up to and including whether they call you back. Be persistent, but [xkissx] them with kindness. If you fly off the handle with them in any respect, it is not going to help you maintain credibility. If you're sure you can't pull someone over to your way of thinking, be polite, be nice and get off the phone and stop wasting your time. You won't change their minds and are far more likely to just piss them off.

An example: after recently writing a series of stories on the WCB, I was flooded with more than 180 calls or emails from injured workers. Curiously NONE of those emails was also being forwarded to someone who could actually do something about their problems, such as MLAs, politicians etc. There were also quite a few who were aggressive and even threatening in their attempts at getting equal time.  Bye bye, Mr. Aggressive.

• Don't mass mail the media. EVER. It's just a waste of your time and resources, and of their time and resources. If you're going to try and get a press release in, pick a target at the paper and stick with it. If you're following this plan, you should know who they are, what they like to write about, how you should approach them etc. That changes from person to person; you can't dictate an effective strategy by mass mailing and it REALLY pisses media off.

• Don't argue with the media; there's an old saying in newsrooms: we never run out of ink. It basically means that you can argue until everyone else on earth thinks you're right but you will never --- NEVER -- Get a newspaper to admit it was wrong unless it's beyond a shadow of ITS doubt. And it will never run out of ink writing about how wrong you are.

• Don't waste their time with small-fry; if you call a newspaper to a press conference and don't have a story that is likely to go on page on or in the first six pages of the paper, they'll think you wasted their staff's time by having them come out to something when you could have just phoned or emailed the material in. Save press conferences and dramatic pronouncements for only the most salacious, scandalous material. For the rest, try a phone call and follow up email (NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND!!! ****IMPORTANT INFO ALERT****IMPORTANT INFO ALERT***** Reporters hate getting follow up calls for press releases they've already decided to pass on. Your chances are about 1000% better if you personalize the information relationship first. And the more you know about the person you're talking to, to move the conversation into his or her comfort zone, the better).

• Don't give up on corrections....but make sure you're right. If the newspaper is 100% factually wrong, you should demand of the city editor that the offensive material be corrected and in the same space and placement as the original in the interests of being seen by the same number of people who might've seen the first. If it's a matter of opinion to the writer (not to YOU, it isn't about YOU) then forget it. If the city editor won't help, go to the publisher or newspaper ombudsman. If the newspaper is wrong about something but it has no impact on the message of the piece or your reputation JUST LET IT GO. As much as reporters hate being wrong, they hate being outed for wrong even more. And with the volume of info they troll weekly, they're always going to be wrong sometimes. It's just reality, get used to it.

• Don't ignore the OTHER daily. Most Canadian cities have at least two. If you're certain you can't get a story in the biggest daily paper, offer it first as an exclusive to the next biggest one. If they bite, you can almost guarantee the larger paper will pick up the coverage thread the next day. Keep in mind that offering it to the second biggest paper still requires that you pay attention to the earlier suggestions.

• Don't ignore the number one concern of newspaper management: "This is not a hill to die on" is one of the most common phrases among senior editors and basically means the newspaper is not willing to touch the subject at hand with a 20' pole. Self-interest, such as fear of losing advertisers, can be a cause of this attitude but there are any number of others.

WEEKLY NEWSPAPERS

Getting coverage in weeklies is a lot easier than in dailies and is often more effective, even if they aren't seen by as many people.

Why? For one, they have the most captive audience. The 7,000 people who may read a small paper in Nowheretown, Ont. ALWAYS read it, and they read every word. Sometimes, they'll do so repeatedly, over the whole week that it sits on their coffee table.

For another, they represent an important political voice. If two-thirds of Canadians live in cities, that means there are a good 10 million others out there who could be selling your message.

And it's almost a dead certainty that you can get weekly coverage: they have no staff, they are relatively inexperienced at sifting through what is and isn't important, and they have so little going on in their towns that they WILL run "execution at dawn" photos and other things banned as too common and trivial at big dailies. The same is often true of the few small dailies left in the country, and as an added bonus they send copy to wire services that will forward it to big dailies.

In a province like Alberta, where a rural/urban population divide is poorly reflected in MLA seat representation, swinging rural politicians behind your cause can make a HUGE difference. One tiny manitoba town of 100 managed to get full coverage for a public daycare simply by showing up at the legislature with a bunch of farmers -- an important political constituency there -- in tow.

For weeklies, consider the following:

• Can it be related to someone who is well known in a small town? If you feature a famous local name (great hockey player, local politician, local Tim's owner etc) you're p. much guaranteed a story. This is a simpler version of the "celebrity endorsement" technique mentioned in the daily coverage section.

• Can it be used whenever they have a slow week? If so, mark any press release as such. Either way, you're going to call them and pitch in person if you're doing the PR job right anyway, so make sure you mention that it is an ongoing problem or issue.

• Can the weekly coverage be accessed via one of their regular sources of news, such as service club meetings, council meetings or school board meetings? If you can address one of those bodies for a few minutes you'll a) give smalltown politicians some attention and b) get coverage. Weeklies cover almost every minute of such bodies' meetings and report much more of it as well. Sometimes, it's to the point that if you end such an address with "in closing, the people of XXXXX town have proven themselves in the past to be fair and compassionate, and we're hoping they'll contact their MLA about this important issue", then TONS of that weekly's readers will generally do so. Why? Because it's true.

• Can you provide them with camera-ready art that will save them from having to find a local way to illustrate the story? Weekly editors realize that larger issues have the potential to affect their town; that doesn't mean that within the four days of reporting and writing they have (with a day set aside for production) they'll be able to find local examples. Either give them the local examples or give them art to stand up the story without local examples that features a celebrity or just a great generic 'dramatic' shot. Sometimes providing the latter is as easy as asking local photojournalism school students if they'd like some work experience that will run in papers and be good for their resume clips).le.

• Is any of your material even remotely offensive to a local sub-group? If so, weed it out. Many rural weekly publishers are scared of losing advertising revenue and eschew controversy as a result. If he thinks, for example, that a WCB piece will tick off every small town employer, then he also stands the risk of losing a substantial chunk of his advertising base. Keep that in mind when you decide how to pitch to a small paper and again, KNOW YOUR TARGET. There are also maverick weekly owners who would love nothing more than a good local scandal; if you find one, latch on to him and help his paper get as much coverage as possible

• Can your issue be simply and effectively conveyed as a series of positions that would theoretically impact their town? Weekly reporters tend to be younger or untrained, and as such rely a lot more on their instincts than is often safe. There's a good chance they'll never have written about your topic, so you should keep things as simple or helpful as possible.

• Tailor your press release mail outs to weeklies that are near major cities. Why? Simple: you're much more likely at those papers to find journalism school students who didn't manage to land a job at a daily right out of school; the reality is that those kids may want to make their bones in the business, which means uncovering a few skeletons along the way. They're hungry for scandal. They want real news. And they're going out of their minds with boredom at the lack of it in a small town.

WIRE SERVICES
The Canadian Press is the only substantial wire service in Canada, although both Reuters and Bloomberg Financial News are also widely read. Agence France Presse will, for reasons that have mystified me, also cover Canadian social issues from time to time.

Getting the Canadian Press out to your presser or to report on your release is tougher than it used to be, because they have fewer staff. But it's worth a try if;

a) Your issue can play to a national audience. They like stories they can ship to any subscribing newspaper, which is all of the dailies.

b) Your issue deals with fundamental principles of natural justice; CP editors have generally been around the block; many of them are there for moral reasons, because they didn't like the spin or direction of a mainstream newspaper employer. If they think someone is being treated unfairly they will very often cover the case even when other media outlets don't.

c) Your issue is quirky. Every paper in the country likes "brites" -- news pieces that aren't too serious and are a little bizarre -- so there's a good market for CP to move that kind of material to its subscribers.

BROADCAST

Figuring out what TV wants in order to give TV the most reason to over your event is not hard: it boils down to the visuals.

It's becoming more and more important to compellingly illustrate your event, protest, presser etc. Most newspapers now have working relationships with TV because of their shared interest in websites and blogging as a new marketplace. And TV news simply can't function without good pictures, which is why a local traffic accident -- despite having absolutely no relevancy or broad impact -- will often lead a newscast .... instead of the ensuing announcement of millions in funding for the poor, for example.

But thankfully, that reliance also makes television news the most easily penetrated. When a tv station does an expose on graffiti and its links to increased local violent crime, it's not necessarily because the assignment editor really thinks that there's a link....or even an increase in local violent crime. But graffiti makes for nice pictures.

So, first think about your location. If you're staging an event or presser, ensure it features a dynamic presentation of some sort. For a WCB protest, that could include the aforementioned coffin or girl in a bikini (although sex does less well on tv, so be careful). It could include a mock surgical procedure; it could be at the site of a recent disaster, with carnage still fully on display.

Some rules:
• Make the image dynamic. If it's static, i.e. a bunch of people behind a table or podium, forget it. TV won't show. If it's a guy "trapped" under a derrick, you're a lot more likely to get the coverage. TV likes mock disasters almost as much as the real thing.

• Appeal to younger audiences; tv news is pressured more and more nowadays to target images that are based around their prime advertising demographic, which represents youths and young adults. If you can positively portray an existing advertiser for that station in your story, more's the better.

• If possible, make the image exclusive to a large-viewership station. TV LOVES exclusive pictures, even more than newspapers love scoops.

• If possible, make the image participatory; TV loves to demonstrate reporters are "men of the people". Things that involve the reporter by taking a test or racing a car or something like that\, will work that much better.

If you don't have an image, you don't have coverage. It's usually that simple. TV saves non-image related stories (or those with stock 'graphics') for stories they have to cover but don't have art for, which usually means a piece of spot news .

Broadcast TV is the ultimate exponent of the concept 'Keep It Simple, Stupid', otherwise known as the "KISS" rule. If your story can't be understood by anyone with a gr. 4 education, they won't take a chance on it. Make it as salacious, simple and dynamic as possible and you'll get coverage. Everything else is a crap shoot.

• Keep it short. Simple isn't enough. If they can't tell your story in under 90 seconds, you have basically no shot.

• Understand the difference between public and private; public TV broadcasters such as CBC, TVOntario, Access in Alberta, etc will often take on stories they just believe are important. Private stations will almost never make that a consideration. If you can't provide the formula required to make the story attractive to private stations, go public or go home.

RADIO

Radio stations provide unique advantages: they cover both the short and wide-scale coverage formats and they're first on the air, all the time. Most of their audience is driving in traffic, and therefore somewhat captive. And they cross all sorts of demographic barriers.

• Radio will often be your first stop, if for no other reason than the fact that radio is the first thing TV and newspaper assignment editors tune to in the morning. Typically, that only means news and talk radio though, so don't bother with music-based stations at all. Most get their short-feed news spots from an affiliated news station anyway.

• The priority with radio is speed. Radio reporters have to update their own stories every half hour, sometimes even every 15 minutes. So whatever they cover in the morning will either have changed radically by the afternoon or have been discarded completely by 2 pm., which about when print and broadcast stop monitoring radio. If you give them a brand new story at 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. you have a very good chance of it getting on the air. If it gets on the air between 6 am and noon, there's a chance other outlets will pick up on it.

• Radio reporters are terribly compensated but stick around for years. You cannot snow them with glitz. Just keep in mind they get even less time -- 15 to 30 seconds typically -- to tell your story. Keep it simple, short and timely.

• Keep in mind, however, that public broadcasters abound in radio as well, and will often also run long-form (two minutes or more) stories. CBC has been known to run hour-long radio documentaries. So there might be an outlet there, as well. It'll have to be compelling and it helps if you've gathered the bulk of any comprehensible evidence for the reporter (those time crunches often still apply even to long-form reporters) and sent it in with the story.

• In the cases of both TV and radio, knowing to whom you should speak is as important as with newspapers; which reporters at that station are known for hard news? Which are soft-ballers who like fame?

• There is one other consideration for radio, and it's a biggie: Just as television wants a great image, radio wants a great quote. Whomever speaks with radio should have a dynamic, resonant voice and have at least one all-purpose quote about the story prepared in advance that will definitely be used, because it's too strong to ignore.

• Regardless of what you say to a radio reporter assume you are being taped (they need it, but you can also assume the same of TV and print, as many reporters tape without telling the source. It's perfectly legal).

• Regardless of what the story is, avoid time references that will date the material. That way they can reuse the audio clip whenever they like, giving you a fresh audience each time.

Well, that's it for the media part. The rest will be refreshingly short.

POLITICIANS AND LOBBY GROUPS

If newspaper people knew what made politicians tick, we'd have told everyone else long ago. Assume the worst and you'll probably do all right.

But a few guidelines include:

• Meet with the politician in person by pre-arranging an appointment. Most MLAs will do this. Most will not only avoid you if you call out of the blue or show up at their office, they'll inform staff to screen for your calls. Do not take along anyone who is generally considered to be difficult, in any respect. Even the smallest hint of indignancy or rush to judgment will get you frozen out faster than a puddle in January.

If you've done your homework with the press section of this paper on getting the word out, however, getting politicians involved is easy; they live, breath and sleep for press, because it helps them make their points. Once your story is being covered, politicians will gladly make themselves a part of it.

Until then, you'd have better luck swimming against a honolulu riptide. Why would they take the risk of publicly endorsing or promising something when they don't even know what the political fallout could be? Get them to think they need to meet with you and you'll be in like flynn.

Of course, one other way to achieve that is to start by appealing to their constituency; most provinces and the federal government now list campaign donations on-line; which groups and companies are giving them money, and can you get their financial backers onside first? If all it takes to get a half a dozen of a politician's strongest backers on your side is a speech to a rotary club, it's time to nosh with the big boys.

• Follow up. Politicians turn over issues by popular demand; if they are convinced via ongoing news coverage that your group is regularly in the spotlight, they'll meet with you.

• Arrange a meeting with the appropriate minister; after he's finished glad-handing and ignoring everything you tell him, arrange a meeting with whomever is the critic for the first politician's portfolio. let the second party know how the first meeting went.

• Look for the guy who's honest. There are always crusaders within parties who seem willing to shake up the establishment. That doesn't make them right, just brave. Or stupid. But there's a small subsection of politician out there that is in it for all the right reasons. If you can find that guy, you'll have a better chance of a hearing.

• Don't ask politicians or their underlings for advice. It's entirely likely to be self-serving, so if you do ask for it, don't be afraid to ignore it or use it as a character guage.

• If you can get an endorsement from one member of a party, you can get it from the rest. Despite the so-called ideological divisions between them, politicians tend to stick together. Once someone is on side, make a HUGE deal in press release, on your website, in tv commercials, whatever you can manage, about that endorsement. Others will come on board.

• If you have something on a politician that will shame them, you might give it to someone you know will use it. But don't do the shaming yourself. Political 'shame' is a matter of optics, not reality. The guy who's made to look stupid today doesn't necessarily even lose political currency for it. But everyone who knows him (whether they like him or not) will thereafter avoid you like the plague. Better to give the info to media quietly.

• Lobby groups will be far more receptive to your message. Just keep in mind that they're not trying to win your case for you, just to find another venue for their own message. Work with each other and see if they can get you access to people you wouldn't normally be able to see. For injured workers, that could mean people on sympathetic social lobbies such as the Council of Canadians, or people on business lobbies who just want to discuss how reforming the WC Act could lower their premiums. Find an inroad and test it out.

Thanks,
Jeremy Loome
"Democracy is not the law of the majority, it's the protection of the minority." -Albert Camus 1913-1960

 

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