EU policy/WEASELguides/Media Work
How can you shape your work so the media works for you?
Your topic can be anything you currently care about or work on. Still, there are a few good hints on framing your subject to reach a maximum impact. Generally you need to make sure that is something as many people as possible can relate to in their daily lives and that there is some kind of topical, ongoing "drama" to catch media attention. Talking about hypothetical threats in the future is not likely get media traction. Since most issues you will be working won't be taken care of in a week, it might be helpful to think about if your topic can be spun into a story that can be told over longer period of time. Or is there a larger storyline your issue fits in already?
- Why should the audience care about this?
- Do you have a specific example?
- Is it a current issue?
- Would enough people care about it?
- What is the overarching narrative?
What the right tone is depends on what you want to achieve and on how you want to be seen. As a general rule, highlighting threats may be necessary to achieve defensive goals, such as stopping a bad piece of legislation, while an upbeat message is better to promote positive change.
Also decide whether you want to be perceived as a policy activist with an agenda or whether your role is that of an innocent victim who has been dragged into the world of politics.
Regardless of what image you want to project, always sound constructive. Have something to propose that will make the situation better or at least be a step on the way.
A warning regarding irony to express your message. People often don't get it. The risk is especially large in writing where your facial expression and tone of voice is lost.
Selecting media channels
You have many different types of news outlets that you can choose to target. Which ones are most appropriate depends on who you want to reach and what your message is. Do you have a story with the potential to draw in the broad public, or is it a story that will mostly appeal to a more narrow group of people with a special interest? Certain Wikimedia-related issues can for instance be interesting to media that report on ICT, technology or culture. If the news concern a certain category of Wikipedia articles — such as articles on architecture or on cat breeds — media reporting on those topics may be interested.
You can chose to target a certain form of media, such as written media, or you can go after every kind. You have many to choose from.
- specialised outlets
- social media
Relevant niche media are often more likely to pick up your story than the big mainstream news channels.
News offices normally provide email addresses, or sometimes web forms, which they encourage you to use for news tips.
While social media is gaining in importance, getting coverage in traditional news media is still the best way to reach large numbers of people. Traditional media also tends to get the attention of decision makers, who monitor public opinion.
Journalists are always looking for something to report. Reaching out to them is a fairly simple step-by-step process.
Figure out what your story is
What is your story and why is it important? Try to boil down the answers to these questions into one or two sentences.
Write a press release
A press release can be anything from a short tip to a well-formatted news article with a headline, an introductory summary and quotes. Which format you choose is less important. What matters is whether you give the journalist a good story.
Get to the point quickly. The first paragraph, the first sentence if possible, should make clear what the story is about and what makes it newsworthy. If a bit of background information is necessary, put that background information at the end.
Many news articles consist not only of a text but also of a picture that illustrates the story. If you have a picture that could contribute to the story, send it along.
Include contact information, either your own or that of someone else who is willing to answer follow-up questions.
If you want in-depth instructions on how to formulate a professional-looking press release, that's easy to find on the web. However, remember that it is the news hook that matters — not the format.
Once you have gathered a lists of recipients and written the press release, send it.
Don't throw all the email addresses into one message even though it saves time. Instead, send each recipient their own mail.
Be prepared to take questions
Or make sure that someone else is.
If you have given the journalists your own contact information, try to guess what questions they may ask so that you can prepare answers.
Interviews will sooner or later become a part of you work if you engage in policy work. The key to looking good in an interview is talk to the person rather than the microphone/camera and prepare briefly.
Know which are you most important points
You need to think in advance of 1-3 (but never more) points you really want to make. Before you go to meet the journalist, take 10-15 minutes to think only about these core messages. You might be nervous or the interview might go in an unexpected direction. Even so, chances are you will share the things you were mostly thinking about beforehand. Ideally, your points will built up on each other but also make sense on their own. Conversations often get cut off, so don't count on being able to say everything you wanted.
To prepare, do write down some questions you believe you might get asked. After a while you will realise that you get asked some general or difficult questions all the time. Having thought of short answers and bridges can be a confidence booster!
Be aware of your audience
It is indispensable for a good interview that you keep in mind who you are talking to at all times! If you are giving an interview for a specialised technology blog you can expect you users to know what a Wiki is and get a few giggles with a geeky joke. If you are talking on your national TV's evening news, you need to be more descriptive and relate to people's daily lives. In a financial journal you will emphasise the economic aspects of free knowledge, while talking to Modern Dog Magazine you might want to bring an example including our Dog breeds task force.
Have sound bites/quotes ready
Journalists love sound bites or quotes. They usually include them in outtakes or emphasise them on the page. Just prepare one or two lively sounding sentences that bring your point across and repeat them several times during the conversation. Sometimes TV and radio crews ask for several takes. Don't forget to repeat the soundbite you prepared each time!
Be ready to bridge
Don't worry if you get asked the "wrong questions" - you can always bridge them. That means that if you get asked a question but would like to say something else, you just need to find a quick way to connect the two with a half-sentence. Device like "This is important, however...", "The main point we are focusing on right now is...", "I agree/disagree... but more specifically..." or "...also..." can help you out here.
Knowing journalists before you need them is always a cornerstone of successful media work. As with political decision-makers, you might just ask for a meeting and present yourself and your goals, although that might work mostly for specialised media and less so for mainstream outlets. Still it is easier to make the step from specialised/local to national. Another strategy might be to tell them that something is not topical yet, but will be a hot issue a year from now and you want to provide some background information.
Once you have met someone, don't forget about them! If you have information that is not relevant to you, but you believe it might interest them, drop them a line. They will be grateful.
You probably don't have the time to be an all social media all the time, so you'll need to make a decision. Do you invest your time in Facebook or on Twitter? EU-level politicians are mostly on Twitter, but in some countries online interaction mostly takes place on Facebook. Just check out the accounts of the minister and several MPs responsible for your topic and see where they are more active.
Social media is a private public space. This means you need to think of it as public communication mixed with personal details that won't go into a regular press release or interview for instance. Feel free to add information that is not immediately relevant to what you are working on. It is important to go about it with a certain discipline and not just drop out after a couple of weeks. The goal here is build relationships, which requires frequency, although you don't have to post something 4-5 times each day. What is most important is to be part of dialogues. Reply to interactions of other users and comment on their posts. Finally: If you are not witty, at least be constructive.