GW Associates Public Media

Mass Media - A Resource for Activists

"I'll contact the media when I get back" is a comment I've heard often from people traveling on delegations. If the mass media is used at all to share a "Third World" trip unfortunately, this is generally the way it is approached.

I say unfortunate as it reflects the low priority that is placed on using the mass media to bring home the story of people from the developing world. By mass media I mean your local AM & FM radio stations, network affiliated TV stations including public and cable stations and daily newspapers in your community

Presentations to churches, schools, activist groups and articles in newsletters are the usual methods that delegates use to share their experience. Radio, TV and newspaper interview and talk show appearances are the exception.

There is nothing wrong with speaking in a church or writing an article in a newsletter. However, the audience is generally small and self selective.

I think the largest group I've ever spoken to was 150 people. This compares to reaching a potential audience of 90,000 readers by getting coverage in the Syracuse morning newspaper and over 200,000 when we arrange a story in the Sunday edition.

Lets take a look at how a six person delegation from Central New York (Make a link to report on Witness for Deace delegation to the Dominican Republic) arranged over 36 news interviews and talk show appearances. The message they brought back from Haitian refugees living in the Dominican Republic in July of 1994 reached over a million people in the US. This coverage was in addition to presentations they gave throughout Central New York and articles they wrote for newsletters.

How did they do this and how can you?

First and very simply, you need to make using the mass media a priority from day 1 in planning your delegation. You need to allocate time and resources and state clearly that you expect the delegates to share as widely as possible the stories of the people they met with. The most effective way to accomplish this is to contact, prior to their departure, their local radio and TV stations and newspapers and inquire about news interviews and talk show appearances.

Once you have set the expectation you need to provide media training resources. While "pitching" a story through a press release or a phone call is not that complicated most people have never done so.

A few simple techniques will improve your "batting" average:

There is also often a negative attitude within the activist community in regard to working with the mass media. Instead of being seen as a potential resource the mass media is often seen as uninterested at best or an adversary at worst. "Why bother contacting them. They aren't going to do a story anyway" is a comment I've heard before.

You need to set a climate that gives people confidence and sets an expectation that contacting their local media is a priority.

Each member of the Syracuse delegation was provided with a 60 minute media training tape (Make a link to Living Media tape) as soon as they signed on to the delegation. The tape covered nuts and bolts of how to work with the media in addition to sharing stories from other activists who successfully used the media. In addition, a few hours were set aside to discuss working with the media at the delegation orientation session.

By the time the delegation left Syracuse eleven news interviews had taken place in the print media, radio and TV. The interviews were generated around announcement of the travel ban to Haiti, a local fund raising dinner, weekend training session and departure from the airport.

If your delegation is traveling to a "international hot spot" you can use this to your advantage and piggy back a local story on to a national story.

By conducting all of our media contacts prior to departure we were also able to arrange a few interviews while the delegation was in the Dominican Republic. We asked assignment editors if they were interested in receiving a collect phone call from the DR. Two newspaper interviews and one live radio interview resulted.

In addition to inquiring about in country interviews you might want to consider asking a reporter to join your delegation. If you do ask the reporter a few months in advance as someone will be needed to cover their responsibilities while they are gone.

A newspaper reporter accompanied an engineer from Syracuse who went on a Pastors for Peace delegation to Cuba. (Make a link to pastors for peace report) She wrote a 14 articles series. Make sure you provide background material to the reporter as local reporters are generalists. You should not expect that they will know a lot about the country you are traveling to.

Another strategy used to generate coverage was having a committee arrange media coverage for the delegation while they were out of the country. Press releases were mailed out by the committee and followed up with phone call to all assignment editors including radio and TV talk show producers.

When the delegation arrived at the airport at the end of their trip print, radio and TV reporters were waiting to interview them. A schedule of talk show assignments was provided and all the delegation had to do was decide who would do what interview.

The six person delegation arranged coverage in the two daily papers, a local minority oriented paper, the Catholic Diocesan paper, two newspapers from cities where delegates lived outside of Syracuse and a national religious newspaper.

Radio interviews ranged from brief 30 second sound bites to five minute feature interviews. The radio talk shows were 60 minute, call in formats on both AM & FM stations. A syndicated radio talk show was broadcast on 125 stations.

TV news interviews were broadcast prime time on both the 6 and 11 PM news. TV talk shows ranged from 30 to 60 minutes on network, public and cable stations.

And finally, we provided a media report back form to each delegate. Each delegate was requested to report back on news interviews and talk show appearances they conducted. This once again reinforces the message that using the mass media is a priority and not just an add on, if you get around to it task.

Access to the mass media is possible. The more you make it a priority the more likely you are to get coverage.

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