THE MEDIA is one of the strongest forums to get the message out quick, build support and put pressure on policymakers. Radio is the most widespread communication channel in Afghanistan, followed by television and lastly, print media. Print media is important but due to low literacy rates, it is not the most effective.
Here are some tools you can use to engage with the media:
1 Press Release is used to explain your issue to the media. It should be written like a news article.
2 Press Conference + Press Kit are ways to bring your issue to a large audience, quickly. It is an event that you organize with selected speakers to announce different things, such as a new finding, breaking story, the launch of a campaign, etc. These are formal meetings with the media and should only be conducted for big events. The Press Kit is the background material and key information that you give journalists so they fully understand your issue.
3 Interviews can be held for television, radio or newspaper audiences. This is a powerful way to engage with reporters, as long as the speaker knows the issue very well and can easily convince the audience with strong arguments. There are different types of interviews. Sometimes reporters will call you for background interviews, where they are trying to collect important information on the issue. Other times, you will be on-the-record with the journalist and respond to the questions asked. The third type are off-the-record interviews, where you are trying to anonymously spread information to the media. You remain anonymous due to security risks or potential backlash.
4 Opinion-Editorial are letters that private citizens or members of organizations write to the newspaper to express their opinion on a particular issue. Editorials are meant to present a strong, convincing argument in support of or against a particular issue. They usually get printed in a special section of the newspaper.
5 Television Documentary is a way to broadly publicize your message to the public. Many times, a news program will do an in-depth, special report on a topic, such as corruption, drugs trafficking or gender equality. They may then recruit certain civil society groups to participate.
6 Animations & Public Service Messages are short, interesting messages that can be broadcasted on television or radio to inform the public about a certain issue. They should be extremely short, dramatic and communicate your message to a broad range of ages, backgrounds and education levels. See Chapter 5 for an example of an animation we produced.
7 Weekly Media Monitoring Report is a combination of 1) collecting news stories that are relevant to your issue, 2) collecting media coverage that is specific to your organization and 3) understand the media coverage of your campaigns, reports or press conferences.
8 Press Roundtables are discussions held on television, usually on a news show, where a group of experts, pundits, politicians, journalists or activists gather together to discuss a particular issue.
HOW TO WRITE A PRESS RELEASE
1 DATE AT TOP
2 PUT “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” AT THE TOP of the page if the release is for a story for that day or the next day or WRITE “EMBARGOED UNTIL ______” (insert date of the event on the top of your press release) if you do not want a reporter to write about your release before your event or conference.
3 WRITE A CATCHY TOP LINE FOR THE RELEASE (“HEADLINE”) to grab a reporter’s attention.
4 GIVE THE MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION IN THE FIRST OPENING PARAGRAPH Answer the questions WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHY, WHERE. Leave less essential information for the end of the release.
5 USE CLEAR, SIMPLE LANGUAGE and short sentences and paragraphs.
6 PUT EXPRESSIONS OF OPINION OR EMOTION “IN QUOTES” AND MAKE SURE YOU WRITE WHO SAID THOSE WORDS Quotes by the head of your organization or others can provide interesting material for the journalist and support the story.
7 USE FACTS AND NUMBERS THAT WILL SUPPORT YOUR POINT
8 INCLUDE A SHORT DESCRIPTION OF YOUR ORGANIZATION AT THE END OF THE PRESS RELEASE
HOW TO DISTRIBUTE IT
1 SEND RELEASE (and any other information) to all media on your list at the same time.
2 DELIVER THE RELEASE IN THE MORNING so reporters have time to interview people and create a story.
3 CALL JOURNALISTS you think or know will be interested and tell them the release is coming, and that you will be happy to answer questions once they have read it.
4 KEEP RECORDS OF WHO USED YOUR RELEASE, and save press clippings or tapes of audio/video programs for your files.
This material is from A Media Handbook for Creating Social Change, Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, 2000.
Networking with journalists is essential if the issue you are working on has to reach a large public and raise a general debate among people.
In general, an organization invites journalists to press conferences and roundtables. First a press release is sent to them and they are contacted for confirming their presence. It is advisable to contact them also on the same day since journalists schedules are usually packed.
BE CATCHY! The press release should attract their attention and be interesting for them. For example, at the Tokyo conference, the issue of accountability was raised, which means that for an organization dealing with accountability issues it is the right moment and an interesting topic that journalists can further develop. Posing the right issue at the right moment are crucial for attracting media! Journalists are also attracted by first hand news, which means news that nobody has published yet. Media should also be regularly followed in order to be updated with current affairs.
Facts Journalists need facts (for example a statistic), on which to base their news. They should be prepared in advance.
Check what journalists said or wrote. What has the journalist actually published after the interview or discussion? How was it used? Media should be monitored in order to check the final message. Sometimes they can misuse the information provided. On purpose or accidentally. For example, IWA provides journalists with information regarding accountability (for example a statistic) that was produced by another organization. The journalists then stated that the information is based on research produced by IWA, which is not true. In this case another press conference should be announced or a correction made in a new Press Release.
Workshops Sometimes the organization can propose a workshop that will deal with a certain issue. Journalists are contacted where they are asked to forward their CVs. The organization chooses them and sends them an invitation to the workshop that starts soon afterwards (at IWA, after 2 days for example).
IWA, for example, organizes several workshops on Extractive Industries Monitoring. Journalists requested IWA to create a network for journalists where they would be able to share their experience and reports. IWA would be in charge of leading this network and provide contacts with experts and other relevant stakeholders.
TIPS ON DEALING WITH THE MEDIA
1 MAKE SURE YOUR STATISTICS ARE ACCURATE Giving inaccurate information can seriously damage your reputation.
2 NEVER PRETEND TO KNOW THE ANSWER OF A QUESTION Sometimes a journalist will ask you a question that you do not know the answer to. Do not feel pressured to answer them or to make up an answer that may not be correct. Simply say that you do not know, but you will get back to them with the answer within 24 hours. Or, you can refer the journalist to another person in your organization or outside who can better answer their question.
3 EXPLAIN THINGS CLEARLY Do not assume that the journalists knows the acronyms that your organization uses. For example, instead of IWA, say Integrity Watch Afghanistan. Instead of CBM, say Community-Based Monitoring of Infrastructure Projects. Also, when you use terms like “social accountability,” it is also good to explain what you mean by that in case the journalist is not aware of these issues.
4 SPEAK IN SOUNDBITES Television and print media is interested in short quotes and soundbites. Even if your interview with a journalist lasts one hour, they may only use 10 seconds of video or audio footage from the interview. That’s why try to limit and condense your message to 10 seconds or less. This will ensure that your main message gets through to the media and they do not quote you out-of-context from a long explanation.
5 ALWAYS RETURN A JOURNALIST’S INQUIRY & RESPECT THEM When a journalist contacts you, it is very important to return their phone call or respond to their email. If you regularly ignore journalists, it can ruin the relationship between your organization and their agency. Building good relationships with media also means remembering the names of journalists and thanking them for their time and attention to your stories. Also, try not to be biased or favor one newspaper over another. This can create jealousy among press agencies and create negative feelings towards your organization.
6 NEVER LOSE CONTROL, GET ANGRY OR OVERLY EMOTIONAL If you appear unreasonable in your interview and become overly emotional, you may lose credibility with the media. That is why it is important to stay calm and composed, even if your opponent in a television roundtable is shouting at you. Generally, people will listen to the calmer individual.
7 USE DRAMATIC STORIES TO GET JOURNALISTS’ ATTENTION It is important to give journalists interesting stories that their editors will want to publish. Press and TV agencies are interested in increasing their readership or audience. That’s why they are more likely to publish a dramatic success story or a story of a dramatic failure. Drama, generally speaking, sells.
This material is based on Building Relationships with Media Workshop Handouts, PACT/DanChurch Aid Advocacy Expert Series.
A Press Conference is an easy way to promote the activities of an organization. However, they should only be held when there is a special event, achievement, or issue to advertise. Instead of meeting with reporters one-to-one, you can save a lot of time by approaching all of the media outlets in one event.This is however, quite expensive since you will have to book a hall, provide refreshments, and make sure you can accommodate all of the people who want to attend.
SETTING THE DATE & MESSAGE Make sure that the date does not fall on a public holiday or another event that will take priority over your message. Also, make sure the timings of the press conference are convenient for people to attend, usually before and after lunch is a good time. Too early or too late in the day may be inconvenient for people.
SEND A PRESS INVITATION Send an invitation to all major media outlets, informing them of the press conference date, time and location. Also, let them know who will be attending and a brief synopsis about the purpose of the press conference.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE PREPARED PRESS KITS FOR DISTRIBUTION Sometimes it is difficult for journalists to capture all of the information you want to send. So, in order to control your message, it is important to prepare a PRESS KIT, with a press release, brochures about your organization, fact sheet on your issue, graphics and photographs, biography on the speakers, and contact information for follow-up questions. A press kit is a helpful tool for journalists that will help them write their article or prepare a news story. It is also a way to ensure that your quotes and main message will be included in the news article. There should be someone to greet journalists as they enter and give them the press kits. Also, have a sign-in table to keep track of who attended the press conference.
SPEAKER PREPARATION Generally, it is good not to have more than 3 speakers at your press conference. Also, the speakers should be influential members in your organization or influential members in society. High profile speakers are more likely to gain the attention of the media. Speakers should also be given preparation before the beginning of the press conference. For example, you should ask the speakers difficult and even controversial questions that they may receive from the media. That way they are prepared for the worst situation and will not be surprised.
BACKGROUND Make sure you have a banner in the background, behind the speakers, where you can see the organization’s logo.
EQUIPMENT Make sure you have organized all of the cameras, microphones, speaker’s podium and banner in position. There should also be enough chairs and refreshments for the attendees.
HOW TO PRODUCE A NEWSLETTER
1 DATE & LOGO AT TOP. USE THE HEADING “NEWSLETTER” or come up with a clever name for your newsletter. Determine whether you will produce a weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual newsletter. This newsletter should go out to a predetermined group via emails, mailing, personal distribution, etc.
2 PLACE A TABLE OF CONTENTS IN THE BEGINNING If your newsletter is long, you should have a table of contents to help people navigate the newsletter.
3 WRITE CATCHY HEADLINES FOR EACH ARTICLE to grab people’s attention.
4 PLACE THE MOST IMPORTANT ARTICLE ON THE FIRST PAGE This can be the biggest event or activity your organization has done in that month or week.
5 USE CLEAR, SIMPLE LANGUAGE and short sentences and paragraphs.
6 PUT EXPRESSIONS OF OPINION OR EMOTION “IN QUOTES” AND MAKE SURE YOU WRITE WHO SAID THOSE WORDS Quotes by the head of your organization or others can provide interesting material for the journalist and support the story. It is also important to include the credentials for each photograph, stating who has taken the photograph, when and where.
7 USE FACTS AND GRAPHICS TO SUPPORT THE ARTICLES A newsletter is both an advocacy and communication tool. Thus, it is a good place to distribute facts and graphics that can convince others of your main points. Graphics, like charts and tables are easier to understand and can enhance the chances that people will actually read your newsletter. Download a SAMPLE of our Newsletter – English.
It is very important to keep track of newspaper articles and TV reports that are relevant to your organization’s work. It keeps you updated on what is the most recent debate, discussion and event in your field, such as corruption.
It is also a way to keep track of how the media is covering the work of your organization. This means that you know when you are receiving POSITIVE media coverage and when you are receiving NEGATIVE media coverage. In case of negative coverage, you will have to devise a response to the media to either correct your statements or defend them. Sometimes, you can be misquoted, where you can demand a correction. Other times your facts may be incorrect, and you will have to amend your statement publicly.
Media monitoring is typically done on a weekly basis. Download a SAMPLE of our Weekly Media Monitoring Report – English