It’s critical to engage with the media to win in the court of public opinion. You may not always be the subject of a story, but if you speak up you at least have a chance to have your side included! You score a victory for your cause simply by speaking up.
How to know who to contact
Study the media (newspapers, blogs, radio, and TV are good places to start) to identify who is following this issue, as well as education and politics in your community. Create a media list of those names, and read what reporters produce in order to determine how they will cover you and your issue. Armed with this knowledge, you can identify outlets and reporters who cover things fairly. It’s just as important to identify those who aren’t sympathetic, so that you can remind them that there’s another side to the story.
Ways to to interact with the press
If you speak with the press, there are various ways your conversation can be presented:
- On the record: The information can be used with no caveats, quoting the source by name.
- Off the record: The information cannot be used for publication. Get verbal confirmation when your conversation is “off the record.”
- Background: The information can be published but only under the conditions negotiated with the source. Background would be “not for attribution,” meaning you wouldn’t be quoted by name. You can also negotiate to be quoted with a pseudonym or as a whistleblower or “parent,” something journalists are increasingly doing because they realize that parents and students fear retaliation.
How to pitch your story
The best way to pitch a story is to contact a reporter directly and tell them your story clearly, chronologically and systematically in order to convey the who, what, when, where and why of your story. It might help to write your thoughts down, so you’re organized going into this conversation. If you email them initially and don’t hear back, send them a gentle reminder with a resend of the email. Always stay polite and professional. Keep pitching your story – If one reporter isn’t interested, go to another one!