A strong media campaign, using newspapers, radio, television and social media can reach large numbers of people with the message about poverty related issues and events. Below are some tools to help you prepare information for the media:
What is News?
Reporters and editors are concerned with informing the public of events and issues that affect their target audiences. For something to have news value, it must, in the eyes of the news media, impact your local community. Poverty issues are of natural interest to local media. The essential elements of news value are timeliness, local appeal, and interesting subject matter. Ask yourself these questions:
• What is the significance of your message and/or event to the general public in your community?
• Is the information timely?
• When news breaks about issues related to poverty, e.g., education, unemployment, social services or hunger, is there an angle related to your community or organization? Are you an expert in that area?
• How does your expertise, experience or unique service help the community?• There are several kinds of coverage: News—usually noting conflict or change; Features—usually stories of human interest or news that is not time sensitive; Editorials—usually coverage by the media that takes a stand on an issue of relevance to the general public or to a particular constituency; and Op-Eds—also opinion oriented, but generated by individual experts, pundits or opinion makers.
How to Develop a Media Distribution List
If you are concentrating your media outreach in a small local area, you should be able to develop a media list by calling or visiting the web sites of the newspapers, television and radio stations in the community and inquiring about the reporters who cover “beats” related to poverty, e.g., education, health and politics.
Be sure to check all contact names before sending information or making a call to pitch a story. Editors and reporters change “beats” frequently. To verify that you have the correct contact, simply call the media outlet and ask who is covering the poverty issue area. Remember that there are many more news outlets at your disposal than you might think. Do not overlook these important sources:
• Television stations have local news programs, editorial opinions and “talk back” opportunities, public affairs programs, one-on-one interview shows, and public affairs “specials.”
• Community cable stations can offer local news programming, community access channels, and public affairs programming.
• Public television stations provide local news as well as a diverse mix of locally produced public affairs programming.
• Radio formats include all-news stations, radio talk shows, public affairs programming, and editorial comment.• Newspapers have numerous “beat” reporters covering specialized issues for the main news section, editorial page editors, op-ed opinion pieces, letters to the editor, the business section, consumer reporters, and “style” sections offering soft news.
Guidelines for Placing Op-eds
Many newspapers provide a forum for opinions opposite the editorial page (“Op-ed”) that address issues of concern to your community. Pitch letters can be effective tools to propose an op-ed column to a national publication. When you or your organization have a point to make on a major, newsworthy issue (such as living wage), the op-ed page provides you with the chance to illustrate the value of the profession.
If you are planning to submit your op-ed to a major publication, send a pitch letter first to a handful of editors with the op-ed outline and then follow-up with a call. However, keep calls to the editor at a minimum and do not call during the end of the day when they are on deadline In a pitch letter, you should indicate the subject matter and proposed author. Although you could simply send out the op-ed piece to all the editors on your media list with a pitch letter, it is better to approach them first so you can tailor the piece to a specific publication’s needs.
Here are five general steps to follow when preparing an op-ed:
• Find opportunities – Review all publications in your region to determine which accept op-eds and which formats are preferred. Are they generally about current social issues? Are they in a pro/con format?
• Decide on a topic – In general, try to relate your topic to a current issue. Samples include the number of children facing poverty in your community or state, or an anti-poverty program that is demonstrating success.
• Approach editors – If you are planning to send your op-ed to a national paper send a pitch letter to appropriate editors outlining the proposed topic and author. If you have established a relationship with a particular editor, make a call instead of writing. If you are sending your op-ed to a local paper go ahead and prepare a draft to send.
• Prepare a draft – Determine what your paper’s guidelines are for submitting an op-ed. Your paper may have a specific format in which you have to send it in order to be considered, (e.g. length, double spaced, etc.). Op-eds can run between 350-800 words depending upon the paper. If you are preparing an op-ed for your local paper, be sure to localize your op-ed with statistics and examples of your point within your community. The byline should include the author’s current professional position. In addition, be certain to identify the author as an ENDING POVERTY: America’s Silent Spaces advocate, if appropriate..
• Submit a draft – Adhere to deadlines. If you promise an editor you will have a draft by a certain date, do so. A cover letter or a short paragraph at the end of your op-ed should be used to tell the editor exactly who you are and why you are qualified to write this op-ed. Be sure to include your full name, title, address, e-mail and phone number so that you can be contacted. Remember, an interest in reviewing an op-ed does not necessarily mean the publication will use the piece, even if it is particularly well written. You may have to adapt the op-ed to the editor’s wishes or to provide backup for points you make in the piece. If the editor ultimately declines the piece, try reworking it and begin the entire process again. Persistence is the key.
Letters to the Editor
This newspaper section is an excellent vehicle for you to express your views on the issue of poverty and educate people in the community. You may also use a letter to the editor to correct inaccurate facts, promote your issue or to praise/condemn a recent article. Write persuasively; include local statistics and personal stories to make your point. In addition, it is important to remember that a letter to the editor is a vehicle for expressing your own opinion, and that it must take a clear stance on an issue. It is important to find the newspaper’s policy for printing the letters. Most newspapers require that letters be no more than one page.