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8.2.3 Working with the media

The media is extremely important, as newspapers, radio and TV can disseminate your message and reach a great number of people. In many countries the media functions as a watchdog and exerts pressure on politicians. However, the media is not always independent. In some countries the state monopolises the media and it can be dangerous to publish a critical opinion. If it is therefore impossible to work with the national media, one solution may be to turn to the international media. However, the pressures on the media not only originate from the government: all newspapers, radio and TV stations also have to contend with economic issues. People working in the media must be convinced that an issue will be of interest to as many people as possible before they include it in their broadcasts. The objective of the media, especially radio and TV, is not purely to inform, but also to entertain. Any cooperation with the media needs to consider that the topics covered can quickly change, and that the media face a range of deadlines for all their reporting.

More information

You can read about the worldwide situation of the freedom of the press at http://www.rsf.org/ (Reporters without borders) and at http://www.freedomhouse.org/.

Checklist: Media Campaigns

Press release

A press release or a press statement is a short written statement on a specific issue. The release should contain newsworthy information, e.g. providing relevant and/or new information on a specific topic, information on a specific event (e.g. the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities), or involving a VIP. A press release is designed to inform the media with the aim of getting it published. You should be prepared should the media call you for more information on the subject or to request an interview. Make sure that you have all material available that is mentioned in the release (e.g. reports or other documents mentioned).

Normally a press release is sent to as many media stations and news agencies as possible. Email or fax are the best ways to distribute press releases, which in general are only published if they are considered sufficiently newsworthy and interesting. Sometimes including a photo attracts more attention than a press release without a picture. After distribution, a systematic follow-up might ascertain whether journalists actually received the press release and if they need more information; however, this is a quite time-consuming activity.

Make sure that you send out information in sufficient time. Try to get to know as much as possible about the news cycle and working habits of journalists in your country. For example, in many countries it is best to send out press releases before 10 a.m. if you want the information to be disseminated the same day.

More information

Tool: Structure of Press Release

Interviews

Giving interviews to the media is another way of distributing information, although it is more likely that journalists will themselves ask for an interview if the issue is already in the news. Writing a press release is often the first step before giving an interview. Any interview needs ample preparation, including the anticipation of uncomfortable questions. Notes summarising the main points of the issue at hand are particularly useful.

During the interview it is important to speak slowly and clearly. Answers need to be short and should directly answer the question, otherwise may be edited, which could mean cutting important details. Anecdotes and real-life situations help to make the issue interesting and more concrete to the audience. The atmosphere should be polite, friendly and open. You should try to prevent journalists from putting words into your mouth. For a face-to-face interview, it is recommended to ask beforehand if pictures will be taken.

Press conferences

On important occasions, journalists can be invited to a press conference. This approach should not be used for less important news items, which should be communicated via a press release as suggested above. Having a good list of contacts at papers, news agencies, TV stations etc., is vital for maximising the dissemination of your message. Media directories exist in some countries, providing useful contact data. The more one knows about the working habits of the media in a specific country, the easier it is to tailor events to journalists’ needs. When organising a press conference, it is important to think carefully about the message(s) that should be conveyed. It is always helpful to prepare some short, written material for the press conference (cf. media kit).

More information

Checklist: Press conference

Media kit

If you work with the media more frequently, it is useful to have standardised, short and concise material at hand, which can be updated regularly. For example, it can be helpful to draft short, one-page fact sheets on specific issues (e.g. the PRS network, the essential positions). Press photos and other material can be included.

Letters to the editor

A letter to the editor comments on a previous article or letter. There are two possibilities:

  • criticising the article, correcting incorrect facts, or
  • confirming the facts and information given and adding more information.

Such letters have to be short, as otherwise they will either not be published or will be shortened, again with the risk that important parts could be edited out.

More information

CARE: Advocacy Tools and Guidelines.

CIVICUS: MDG Campaigning Toolkit.

CIVICUS: Handling the Media.

CIVICUS: Writing Effectively and Powerfully.

CEDPA (1999): Advocacy: Building Skills for NGO Leaders. The CEDPA Training Manual Series, Volume IX, Washington.

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