Our ‘How To’ series is developed to help start/develop your justice and peace group and are all available on the resources page.
6. How to use the media
Contacting Local Media
Using your local newspaper, radio or television station to get your message over to the widest possible audience is both essential and easy. Local journalists are interested in what you have to offer because you live in the area, can provide local names and faces for their stories and can give them something to interest their readers or audiences. So don’t be shy about it. They won’t bite. Indeed they will be glad to hear from you. The media is a people business and you are concerned with people issues.
The first step is to let the media know who you are, where you are, and what you do and how you can be contacted. This can be done by phoning all the media offices in your area and asking for the names of the journalists assigned to cover news in your town or village. Have a chat with them. Suggest story ideas and generally let them know you are around. On the journalists’ side, you are a new ‘contact’ and will be entered into their address books and diaries for future reference.
When establishing the initial contact, arm yourself with copies of leaflets from J&P or whatever agency you are campaigning for at the time. Explain what J&P does so that the reporter (who may be covering several stories at the same time) can get the correct information. If you are publicising an event, take the trouble to be accurate, spell out your name and give your contact details and the date, time and venue.
If you live in fear of speaking to the press, gain some confidence by asking the reporter why the paper is interested in a particular story. If a contentious issue comes up and you need to be sure of your facts, contact the relevant agency or your J&P Fieldworker.
By following these simple guidelines and relaxing, talking to the Press can be fun and not a chore.
Writing Press Releases
To obtain coverage the story you wish to tell should be of interest to the public. Local papers look for local angles. People in Bristol, for instance, don’t really care about a seminar in North Yorkshire. So the local element is essential in obtaining coverage. If you are planning an event involving several well-known members of your community, the press will be interested. Provide photographs whenever possible, or ask the Press to send a photographer.
When writing, journalists usually stick to the five W’s: what is happening, when is it happening, who is doing it, where is it happening, why is it happening.
So you could write a press release as follows:
- What: a skip will be placed
- Where: outside St Angela’s Catholic Church
- When: from Monday 10 August
- Who: by the parishioners
- Why: because they wish to collect all their newspapers for recycling. Of a possible 87%, only 30% of paper in the UK is recycled.
If space is short, editors will often leave out the last few paragraphs. The first paragraph is the most important one and must attract and hold the editor’s attention. If he or she has to wade through three paragraphs before getting to the point, the chances are your story will end up in the bin. There must be a basic reason for telling the story and you have to find that peg on which to hang the story.
Apply the ‘inverted pyramid’ style of writing,
i.e. put the important ideas and significant quotations at the beginning, followed by progressively more detailed, less crucial information. The lead sentence should sum up the one or two ideas that inspired the release.
Use good, simple English and avoid jargon. Don’t put ‘Justice & Peace’ or the name of your parish in every sentence or paragraph – once or twice is quite enough.
The best way to learn is to read the stories in your local papers and observe how they are written. Two things characterise most newspaper reports:
- The topic is stated in the first few words,
- The gist of the story comes across in the first paragraph and the rest of the story substantiates the report.
All press releases must be typewritten, with double spacing between the lines and four spaces between paragraphs. Leave a margin of about one inch on each side and print on one side of the paper only.
Write ‘Press Release’ at the top of each one and if you wish to have it kept until a certain date write: ‘Embargoed until …’.
At the end of each release, give the name and telephone number of the person they can contact for more information and then write ‘ends’.
The guidelines for dealing with the Press are also relevant when dealing with local radio. When giving an interview, decide in advance what message you want to convey and get it across no matter what the question is. Use short, uncomplicated sentences and beware of firing a lot of statistics. You will very often be dealing with people who have little knowledge of the issues you are working on and their questions can be vague or trivial.
Q: We hear that today a large skip has been placed outside your church. Who put it there and why?
A: Only 30% of paper in the UK is recycled and the figure could be more like 87%. Parishioners of St Angela’s will from now on collect their wastepaper in a skip they themselves have organised and arrange for it to be recycled. Preventing waste is one way of saving our dwindling natural resources and easing poverty.
Don’t be shy about radio interviews. Broadcast journalists are experienced in dealing with members of the public who are nervous. Give the interviewer a press release as a basis for the interview. He or she will put you at your ease. Ask beforehand what the first question will be. Always listen to the question. Remember people like you will be listening to the broadcast. The public only expects the presenters to be professional, not the interviewees.
Attracting Media Attention
- Organise a special display in the parish.
- Capitalise on the visit of a specialist speaker.
- Visit your local MP to solicit his or her support for your concern.
- Ask a parishioner with some relevant experience to give an interview or write a story.
- Produce some street theatre.