Talk to the Media
A key part of organizing for change is being able to reach people with new ideas and convince them to take action. If you invite press to your event, you should be prepared to give a brief quote or soundbite explaining why the event is important and what you hope to achieve. Below are a few tips that can help you communicate your message clearly and concisely.
Remember your audience
As always, think about who will be hearing your message, and what would most appeal to them. Generally, everyday terms and references will catch people’s attention more than political language.
Keep it short and snappy
Have a basic message that can be delivered in about 5-12 seconds, which is the length of a typical news quote. You can always add more beyond that, if time permits, but one short, well-crafted message will ensure that your point gets across in typically time crunched media opportunities. It will also help avoid the chances of a reporter using only part of a lengthy quote that misrepresents your meaning.
Example: "With the SMART Security Act we can address the root causes of deadly conflict and try to prevent atrocities before the killing has begun."
Avoid rhetoric and be specific
Make clear what kind of action needs to be taken, and by whom.
Avoid: "Congress needs to do more to promote peace."
Use: "The Friends Committee on National Legislation is calling on Congress to build a safer world through the SMART Security Act."
Use the name of the organization or group you represent
It shows that you represent many people, not just yourself. You also want to get your group’s name out there so new people can join or get more information.
Avoid: "We are here to show support for human rights."
Use: "Snowtown Quakers have joined this interfaith vigil because we want Senator Hideaway to investigate the reported abuse of detainees in Iraq."
Make a local link
How will your audience be affected by the issue you are talking about? How will they benefit from taking action?
"Congress is going to spend billions more dollars for the war in Iraq, yet right here in Snowtown we have children going to rundown, unsafe schools."
Stay on message
Pick one idea and stick with it.
Avoid: "US foreign policy is immoral and dangerous. Congress should ban sales of weapons to countries that abuse human rights, stop the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons, and cooperate with other countries."
Use: "The current U.S. policy of providing arms to human rights abusing governments is immoral and dangerous. Congress must put an end to it."
Use: "The world will not be made safer by a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons. Congress must say ‘no’ to these dangerous developments plans."
Use strong language
demand (Caution: overuse or inappropriate use sounds strident.)
Just as Friends avoid using militaristic or violent language as a way of challenging the ideas behind those words, we must avoid the words which downplay violence or injustice. For example, "military spending" is more to the point than "defense spending," which is a legislative and talking heads term. Same with terms like "nuclear device." It’s a "nuclear bomb."
Always be prepared, especially for public events
Have your sound bites ready before any event where there may be press coverage, including vigils and demonstrations.
Prepare with a test audience
Practice your sound bites with friends, coworkers, or family, and ask them to help you sharpen your message. Working with someone who is unconvinced by your message is especially helpful.
There’s no substitute for practice. No matter how well you know an issue, you need to have those words in your head and ready to go. This way you'll never miss a good opportunity, as you can jump into action any time.
What do Friends bring to media work?
Quakers bring reflection and thoughtfulness to complex topics. Media work, however, usually requires being succinct, and can feel at odds with that thoughtfulness. How can Friends do media work and avoid feeling caught in media-driven oversimplification?
- Asking questions others aren't asking , can be quite powerful. A radio listener may stop and begin to wonder, "How do my choices contribute to war?" or "Why isn't Congress talking about alleviating poverty?"
- Introduce new ideas, simply. Think of moments in your life when a new realization hit you. Most often, it wasn't a huge book or long speech that led to the change. Often it is a comment someone made, something you saw on the street, or a powerful quote from a visionary leader. Simplicity is powerful.
As with all our efforts, reaching the public through the media is an ongoing process. Let’s make the most of each opportunity to build that dialogue.