So you're thinking about working with the media - or they may already be contacting you. Before starting to write your news releases and preparing for interviews you should consider some basic questions:
If the main purpose of your action isn't to interest the media then don't bother spending lots of time on media work! On the other hand if you want media coverage then you'll save yourself loads of hassle if you think a bit about which media to target, and how.
Even if you're not expecting media coverage of your actions it's still worth preparing a news release (short summary of your action with your key messages) just in case any journalists turn up. You're a bit more likely to get your message across if you give the journalists your side of the story.
How are you going to portray who you are and what you're doing? Does your media angle fit into the wider aims of the campaign?
Work this out beforehand so that the media liaison person can prepare some sound-bites and revise the basic facts. The perfect person for the job is someone who is friendly, confident, able to be firm and good with words.
The media often like to talk directly to people doing the most interesting things (e.g. sitting on a big yellow machine or up a tree). The media liaison should know who is happy (and able) to talk to the media and point reporters in the right direction.
Local newspapers and radio often cover virtually anything that is even just a little offbeat. The TV is more choosy, and you'll need to come up with something fairly big to get them interested. It's more difficult to get national media interested (but easier if you're doing your action in London).
Think about which media you want to attract (local, regional, national - press, radio, TV?) and then develop your media strategy. Ask yourself the following:
What message do you want the media to pass on? Focus on two or three simple key messages to ensure that the public remember them.
Is your action sexy enough, controversial, or current enough to be interesting to the national media? Or is it only going to interest local and independent media? Look at similar stories that national media have run in the past - is yours as exciting as those? If your action relates to other news headlines (e.g. taxes on SUVs) draw attention to it in your news release.
Are there going to be colourful, dynamic images? Photographers and TV will only bother to turn up if you're offering something with a good visual impact.
Do you know which journalists to contact directly? Ask other activists which journalists are friendly and likely to do a positive write up - try these first.
Do you know where to send your news releases? Make an up-to-date list of email addresses and telephone numbers of your selected media. You can look up their email addresses on the web or ring them up and ask for them.
Journalists are snowed under by news releases - make sure yours stands out:
sample news release
For immediate release: date
On-site mobile: 078xxxxxx Stills/footage: 078xxxxxx
Today activists from Earth First! (1) halted continuing destruction of countryside at Shipley (Derbyshire) by UK Coal. The action is part of an ongoing campaign against UK Coal's plans to open cast mine 1 million tonnes of coal from the site over the next five years. This will release an additional 3.5 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere over this period.
Protesters entered the site around 1pm and brought work to an end whilst they peacefully occupied machinery. They intend to stay for as long as possible. Climate change is the biggest threat facing us, and burning coal is the biggest historical cause of climate change. This year electricity generator's demand for coal was 3% higher than last year's. (2)
Jim Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and eminent climate scientist, wrote in a letter (3) to Gordon Brown "The single greatest threat to the climate comes from burning coal. Coal-fired generation is historically responsible for most of the CO2 in the air today - responsible for about half of all CO2 emissions globally".
Dave Porter, a protester at the site said "All over the country groups are emerging as part of a growing, international movement defending communities and the climate from new coal. We're faced with a system that's not listening to the people - a system that disregards the science in the face of the single biggest threat to our planet. If the government won't save the country then it's down to all of us to take action! More and more people across the country are pledging to continue resistance to all developments of the UK coal industry."
(1) Earth First! Is a network of campaigns using direct action to confront, stop and eventually reverse the forces responsible for the destruction of the Earth and its inhabitants. EF! is not a cohesive group or campaign, but a banner for people who share similar philosophies to work under.
In June 2008, activists squatted an abandoned farm house on the planned opencast site near Shipley in Derbyshire. The farm was about to be demolished and work was held up for several weeks until the eviction which lasted for nine days in August.
Today's action follows a mass trespass at the site on Saturday 25th October 2008, when people from around the country gathered at the site in Derbyshire to show the strength of opposition to plans for developments in the coal industry.
(2) Statistics from the Government's bulletin of statistics on energy in the United Kingdom.
(3) Jim Hansen is the director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and renowned climate scientist. He wrote an open letter to Gordon Brown on the 19th December 2007 calling on him to lead the way with renewable technologies and not renew coal. More recently he has given evidence to the crown court in defence of six Greenpeace activist who were found not guilty of causing criminal damage at Kingsnorth coal Power station in Kent.
Being interviewed doesn't have to be a nerve-racking experience . You have a much better chance of a good write up if you're well prepared, and if you make sure the media speak to people who know what they're talking about. The best way of doing that is to offer them selected interviewees.
Interviews with newspaper reporters are usually more relaxed and slower than with the radio or TV, but the same principles apply:
For radio or TV interviews there are a few extra things for you to bear in mind:
NB: Writing "Embargoed until [time]" at the top of the news release isn't enough to guarantee that the media will respect your security.
Actions often rely on secrecy in order to achieve their goals, but how do you make sure the media will be there without giving them all the details? If a reporter already knows that you do interesting actions then she/he may be willing to be on stand-by without knowing exactly what may happen.
Most of the time we just have to make a decision on whether or not it's too risky to tell the media in advance. Remember: it's the media's job to get different viewpoints, and they may well pass on details of your action to the police or to the target of your action while doing this.
If you don't want to risk telling the media before the action then take a media contact list with you on the action and phone them when you get there, or you can have someone in an office to send out news releases for you when you give them the signal (but make sure they don't send out the releases before you tell them to - all sorts of things can go wrong!)
If you have the skills and equipment you can post your own pictures and videos of the action on your website for the media to use. You'll have to make sure that:
Remember to check photos and footage for anything dodgy (eg: could look bad if portrayed out of context by the media, or be of use to the police).
Letters to the press can be an effective way of getting your message out to people, particularly local papers where they have a good chance of being published.
If you want to find out more about dealing with the media (including how the media works and dealing with unwanted media attention) look at our longer briefing on Dealing with the Media