Media work for events
In planning events, many human rights activists think of media work as a side thing, a luxury, or worst of all as a hopeless endeavor. The reality is that media work must be the first and central element in planning your events. Here is why:
1) Events are attended by a tiny fraction of the population at large.
2) Events are attended by a tiny fraction of the people who read a local newspaper or watch TV or listen to the radio.
3) Events are attended by those who know about them and media work is one way to let people know about your events
4) Even advertising ahead of time widely is not sufficient. Those who come at least have some level of interest and energy to attend. Most people donít and they must also hear about it later if we are to reach a mainstream audiece.
Many people also think it impossible to get coverage in mainstream media or that mainstream media is the only outlet for media work or that alterantive media has very limited outreach and is thus not cost-effective. These and other media myths have been proven wrong time and time again.
If you are convinced that media work for events is essential, you must convince others in your group of the same, Then for your event, you must start planning media work early. Some say even before planning anything else, you should have a media strategy. This is because sometimes, getting good coverage demands changes in the program. For example an a convention where media is sought might seek to bring well known media magnets as invited speakers (say Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tuto, Hanan Ashrawi, a famous actor etc.). A demonstration can be made more media attractive by making it novel, simply changing its location, or making it highly controversial (e.g. we got great media coverage in our demonstration in front of the ADL offices in Connecticut). This is called newsworthiness. A group of people getting together to speak about their own concerns is not newsworthy (but might be covered if an edtor has sympathies; this occurs with Zionist groups who have Zionist editors in key positions).
Thus, you need to plan your media strategy concurrently with your event strategy (inseparable). Those volunteering (or in some cases hired or appointed) to do media work must understand this organic connection between the program and the media work.
The media strategy ideally would include answers to these questions:
1) Why: Why this event? Why do media work? (clear ideas known to your people)
2) Who: Who is going to be doing pr-event media work? Event media work (press spokesperson)? Post event (follow-up)?
3) What: What will this strategy contain? What speakers attract media attention? What message? What actions?
4) Where: Where do you get coverage, where to send your press release? Where to call after you send your press release?
5) When: When to issue press releases? When to call? When to really not try to get media coverage for your events?
The gatekeeper at the local station - the person to whom you want to get your press release and make your pitch - is the news assignment editor. But since this is TV, it's not enough to have a relevant story and coherent soundbits. TV needs pictures - preferably pictures of people in action. So you have to have action that attracts attention. Items in the news already attract attention so you can build around those. For example, we in Connecticut had excellent coverage for a demonstration we did outside Senator Joseph Lieberman's house after he was named VP candidate and it was to protest his silence n Israeli brutality (Killing the child Rami Al Durra). Also if an important official is coming to town, being honored (e.g. President Katsav of Israel getting an honorary degree). These bring out the media. Remember newsworthy is what you want.
It is very important to build trust with media people. Do not overestimate the events. For example, do not tell media you expect 400 people at an event and then have 50. They have to learn to trust your word and your statements. When not sure, state so and give your reasons for being uncertain (e.g. The first such event, response time, etc).
Build personal relationships. Use every opportunity to do that. Take time to befriend journalist and editors (and not just get the job at hand done). This means speaking nicely to them at events, helping them, getting their contact information, and even taking them out to lunch occasionally. They are very busy people so be helpful to them, a resource for credible information they can rely on. I even give them information on who to contact on both sides of an issue. Of course you believe in the justice and truth of your cause. Thus, you believe that they should see this but present it to them as such and let them learn the truth.
Occasionally, they will call you to get input on certain breaking stories (e.g. They called to find out the reaction of the local community to an international event such as the result of the Israeli elections). Make sure you put in all the soundbits for your issues. You certainly do not have to limit yourself to the questions or events they want to cover (more on this below).
Activists need to pick and plan good events that attract attention. It is important to look out for what else might be happening that could keep the media from coming to your event. Sundays are usually good for events because not much is happening. At the planning of the event, have dedicated media coordinator selected or elected. Their task is to insure that our point of view reaches the wider world. This coordinator can build a committee with specialized tasks (e.g. to meet and escort the journalists, to call newsmedia on the day of action to ask them to come etc).
This media committee and coordinator should familiarize themselves with the media terrain, try to get pre-publicity. This involves networking and knowing who, what, where, and when. A first press release can be issued 10-14 days ahead of the event if possible and then a day or two before the event. Follow-up with phone calls to remind journalists and editors of your event (press releases get misplaced or intentionally trashed!). The press release MUST be written in a format that is followed internationally. It must include from top of page: Your contact information, a short headline, one sentence which tells the whole story and two or three short paragraphs expanding on this (see example Exhibit 6.3).
At the event, ensure journalists/reporters are provided adequate information and that they interview key people. Journalists will likely be talking to anyone at your event. However, giving your activists some tips and educating them can help ensure a uniform message. Also designating spokespeople and handing out press kits can help ensure the message is not distorted. This can be tricky and requires careful planning and preparation among all activists. The media team should act as a source to the journalists and to activists.
It is important to provide media talking points to activists. Here are general examples:
- Sharon and most Israeli leaders (Labor and Likud alike) are responsible for ethnic cleansing: Millions of Palestinian refugees were created by Israeli forces and still prevented from their right of return (protected by International law)
- Israel currently is an apartheid state with racist and discriminatory laws and policies (Sharon was one of the advocates of South African Apartheid and arming white South Africa in the early 1980s and Israel adopted similar strategies, NY Times 14 December 1981).
- Human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Righst Watch, BíTselem, Physicians for Human Rights) have all condemned Israeli army and settlers for targeting civilians.
- Israel's policies of collective punishment included home demolitions, shelling of civilian neighborhoods, torture of prisoners, assassinations of political activists, and siege of Palestinian towns and villages (preventing people from getting to work or school).
Talking points must be tailored to the event. Thus, media work and alerts for a rally for the right of return should include specific talking points about the right of return including why it is essential for peace etc.
A good example of an event than needed lots of work with media is the bus tour of the Wheels of Justice. This is a tour of a moving educational center with eywitness account to occupation in Iraq and Palestine. You can click to see the kind of work needed for the Justicewheels Media and devlop similar strateges in your rea.