Meeting with editors
This is an important task but one that requires some research and preparation. As always what, who, why, where, and when are relevant questions. First do a research into the coverage of the particular media outlet. What did they do right and what did they do that culd be improveed. Try to have this as factual and quantitative assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. A good example of such analysis is found at http://ifamericansknew.org]. Then do your research on WHO the people in charge are. There are books and web pages that will show you who are the people in the positions in the media outlet you are interested in. We subscribe to the Media Yellow book which gives updated information quarterly (with phone numbers and email contact information). There are also some web pages that will allow you to do that. An example is at [http://capwiz.com/adc/home/]
Most newspapers (unless very small) have two separate groups of editors: news editors and opinion page editors. You will usually need to meet with those two groups separately. Contact the managing editor to set an appointment with the News Editors. Contact the editorial page editor to set-up an appointment with the editorial page staff. In large newspapers this would include assistant and associate editors. It would include op-ed and letter editors.
Make a first contact by phone or email. Here is how we approach speaking and writing to editors:
1) Make sure you and others meet with them as representing a group of organizations and activists for human rights. List those groups.
2) You would like to set up a meeting with the editorial board to exchange information and discuss coverage in the media outlet in question.
View your task as a long-term one. They need to understand that you will always be there and that you want to help them do a better job.
Always be patient and polite. Be persistent but don't be a pest in follow-up with them. One mail every two days should be the average. But make sure you do not go too many days without having your name pop up in their mailbox. One easy way of doing this is submitting pieces on behalf of people for publication in the paper. You can also forward them relevant news items once in a while.
Be responsive and useful: column editors have to deal with hundreds of columns a month, with dozens and dozens of writers. You don't want to be a mere voice in the crowd. You want to be a resource for them that makes life easier and not tougher for them. When they ask for information, help finding a piece, try to be as responsive as possible.
Build a map of the editorial board: who is who, who is sympathetic, who is hostile, and who is in the neutral. Try to enlist the help of the sympathetic ones, try to convince the neutral ones with strong arguments, and try to avoid angering the ones in the hostile camp.
Preparation is the keyword. Having a detailed report, and coming to meetings with specific requests, will impress them. When you present an argument, make sure you simplify it and present only the strongest points. A well-known technique of shooting down arguments (unfairly) is to latch on to the weakest part of it, attack that part (even if it is incidental to the argument) and then claim victory when you step back on that point. So, when you are presenting a set of facts, drop anything that you are not 100% sure of.
Try to learn about how editorials are written. There is always someone in the board who is the point person on any particular issue. Find out who they are and build a strategy: e.g., take them out to lunch, give them reports and findings, and try to get into a debate over the substance. The main thing is to force them to justify their paradigm. If you get them to even look at the underlying framework of thinking – in this case, the notion that Israel is merely defending itself -- as something challengeable you have won half of the battle.
Have a get together with the activists selected to go to the meeting. Recommend no more than 6 activists and that brief presentations be given from no more than 3 (maximum 4 of the activists). Time will be limited and this will not be a history lesson or a lengthy lecture.
One important function of the meetings is to let the editorial board know that we are a serious enterprise and not a transient group of malcontents. Our simple task is to show the editors that just like South African Apartheid, Israeli government policies over the past 57 years have been working against human rights.
At a New York Times meeting, they were telling us they include Israeli peace and left wing editorials. We had to explain to them what Labor Zionism view of peace is (us here, them there = apartheid) and that presenting varying Israeli Zionist perspectives is not presenting a balance. If you want to do it that way, then an equal pile and mix of left and right wing Palestinian perspectives must be heard. But more important, the issues boil down to human rights and Justice and so on. On that the issues become much clearer:
- Right of refugees to return: you are either for it or against it
- Occupation being illegal (inadmissibility of occupying another people's land by force and illegality of settlements) and so on
This then differentiates those who are for Human rights and international law and those against (Israeli government and its apologists). If we are to argue for equal space, then it is for those two groups. I am pro-Israel in the sense that I want Israelis to become human beings, stop abusing other people, live at peace and security BASED ON JUSTICE AND EQUALITY.
So after you have done your homework and won the right to meet, what do you do at the day of the meeting? It has proven effective to meet with your team members ahead of time. The most convenient is a meeting one half hour before the actual meeting and in front of the building where the editors will meet you. This helps plan who is going to say what and how but will also ensure all your team members are there for the actual editorial meeting. As you get in the room and meet people, try to relax, mingle (ask about the paper, the building,, the weather or whatever you feel like talking about).
When the meeting starts (usually the chief editor wills signal this), the lead person (person who made the appointment) usually starts as follows. Thank them for meeting with us, state that we really appreciate the opportunity to exchange information and present our perspective. State that what you think we should do is have a round of brief introductions and that then we have very brief areas that some of our team members will address. Team member introductions should be brief: name, what you do in life for a living, groups you volunteer with.
"Chair" then asks the first presented for 3-4 minutes. That segment would show maps (Salman Abu Sittas's map with all the Palestinian villages depopulated 1947-1949, maps of the present WB/Gaza areas in perspective, the settlement blocks, apartheid). Brief and to the point.
Presentation can include current conditions: apartheid, occupations, present reports by international human rights groups (Amnesty, HRW, PHR, UNCHR etc). Presentation on the analysis of the paper's coverage (research should have been completed ahead of time and hand outs prepared) should ideally be done by a separate individual and include remarks on the bias of the syndicated columnists (Friedman, Lewis, Thomas etc), the bias in the large providers of information (Washington Post and NY Times), Associated Press. Contrast this with better/more balanced coverage from Reuters and AFP. But also emphasize that we do see some willingness on the part of many newspapers to take a critical look at their coverage. Some changes are noticeable and we just have to work for the future and not the past. This gives them incentives to do better rather than be defensive and protective.
The Chair then sums-up, asks for feed-back and Q&A from the editors. Be very thoughtful in this section, as this is where mistakes can be made. You can do role playing before the actual meeting and anticipate questions and defensive postures from the paper's editors. Do not be too confrontational. Speak of the facts and the desire for better coverage. The past cannot be changed, the future can.
At the end of the meeting, ask if you could meet with them again in a month or two (you may also indicate that you get lots of good speakers and intellectuals visiting the state and it maybe worthwhile to have a meeting with some of those). Ask for the business cards of attendees before you leave.
Make sure they understand that you are not there simply to vent off or to let out your anger or attack the paper. You are there to present your case for better coverage.
The tone of your requests should be:
• All you want from them is to be fair
• All you are trying to help them be a better paper to their own readers
Within 24 hours, send a thank you note (preferably both via email and snail mail) and reiterate your looking forward to continued dialogue and following up on some points that may have been left at the meeting (e.g. attach information on settlement activities as a follow-up). Then follow up information via email should not be too frequent but it is good to maintain contact and become a resource to these editors.