Making Your Experience Count:
TIPS FOR MEDIA ADVOCACY
This guide (click here to download a pdf) is designed to help activists and alumnae of Interfaith Peace-Builders delegations arrange interviews and editorial board meetings, pursue media for speaking events and find resources for writing opinion/editorial pieces and letters to the editor.
Advocacy with the media is one of the easiest and most effective ways individual citizens can support peace and equal rights in Palestine/Israel. Racism, structural inequities and corporate ownership of the mainstream media in North America makes it increasingly difficult to find honest and factual reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
First-hand witnesses to the situation on the ground in Israel/Palestine, such as IFPB delegates, are uniquely situated to bring an alternative voice. By telling their storied and those of the people they met on the delegation, IFPB delegates can bring to light the reality that does not often find the pages of North American newspapers or other media.
Tips for carrying out this vital task below. A list of online resources for media advocacy are also included. Click here to view these online resources.
This guide is also available as a pdf:
General Information on IFPB’s Media Work:
Interfaith Peace-Builders believes that individual citizens can be empowered to take constructive action in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East, an end to the Israeli occupation and a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A deepened personal understanding of the conflict is important, but it does not change the situation by itself. Our partner organizations in Palestine/Israel want us to have an impact on public and foreign policy. This continuing work after the delegation is the most vital component of our program in trying to reach a just, peaceable solution to the conflict.
We ask delegates to make a commitment to informing others when they return, in order to increase public awareness and advocacy in the US. The goal is to persuade others to take action, which will affect US public policy and funding as it relates to violence in the region. For additional tips see Media Activism Kit from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
Tips for Media Advocacy:
Media advocacy can take many forms. The tips below are drawn from IFPB’s own experience as well as resources compiled from experienced media consultant Peter Wirth of GW Associates and the activist organization Palestine Media Watch. More information is also available on their websites which we have included in the resource list at the end of this section.
Below, we focus on 6 elements of effective media work:
- Arranging Interviews (newspaper, radio and television)
- Arranging Editorial Board Meetings
- Arranging Media for Your Speaking Events
- Writing and Publishing Opinion/Editorial Pieces
- Writing and Publishing Letters to the Editor
- Follow-Up Calls: The Key to Effective Media Advocacy
1) Arranging Interviews
Most people don’t realize that obtaining interviews takes a lot of work. An interview with the mainstream media usually takes 3-7 calls per reporter. After your Press Release is sent out, be ready to make a series of follow-up calls to the media in your area. Remember: follow-up on the press release should be immediate.
Follow-up Calls: When you call a reporter, editor, talk show host or producer, you can assume that they will not have noticed your release. Media contacts receive hundreds of press releases every day and do not read most of them. That is why your follow-up calls are essential. Chances are, you will need to resend them the Press Release again. Specify the subject of the e-mail you are sending and send it as soon after the phone call as possible.
Messages: Many times you will not reach the media contact you are calling and will be asked to leave a voicemail message. If this is your first round of follow-up calls, it is a good idea to leave the message and re-send the release via e-mail (again, specify the subject of the e-mail in your voicemail message).
More Calls: One follow-up call will rarely be enough to land an interview. We suggest that you keep an updated contact sheet for each media contact you make. Record the date and result of every contact. Use these notes when you make the next call. Remind the media contact when the last time you spoke was and what he/she told you at that point. Keep calling until you get a definite answer – either a Yes or a No – but don’t be a nuisance.
The Interview: Once you land an interview, IFPB staff can help you develop talking points or consult with you on interview strategies. Just call us. One immediate tip: we have noticed that many North American reporters prefer to focus on delegates’ individual experiences at the expense of the facts on the ground in Israel/Palestine. You may want to pay extra attention to bringing facts and stories that illustrate what you witnessed.
Five Components of a Successful Interview:
1. You don’t need to be an expert. You don’t need to know the answer to every question. Stick to what you know and what you experienced. You are an expert in what you experienced.
2. Prepare Talking Points with the facts, information and stories you want to relay. Talking points are short factual statements. See below for more on Talking Points. You may even want to type them out to give to the reporter for their article.
3. If you need help researching Talking Points there are tons of here.
4. Reporters may focus solely on your personal involvement with the delegation. Be aware of this possibility and, if necessary, be ready to re-focus the conversation on what you saw and heard in Israel/Palestine. We generally see two types of articles written – one focuses solely on the individual, the other brings in facts and information about what is happening in Israel/Palestine.
5. Follow-up on your interview by contacting the newspaper editor to request an Editorial Board Meeting. Editorial Board meetings are the best way to influence your newspapers coverage of Israel/Palestine issues. They provide you with a one-on-one opportunity to speak with the editors.
Build a Relationship: Use your interview to build a relationship with the reporter/interviewer. To this end, you may also want to make small talk before or after the interview. Be friendly and ask the interviewer questions about their own interest in Israel/Palestine. Relationships with reporters can open up many avenues for later media activism. You can return to the reporter later for coverage of local events, a return trip to Israel/Palestine, or even other related issues. The reporter may even begin to use you as a resource in their own work. When an article is published, be sure to follow-up with the reporter to thank him/her and mention your interest in continuing the relationship.
What is a Talking Point?
A Talking Point is a short, factual statement that quickly and clearly relays an important fact or idea. Talking points should be short and focused. The best Talking Points can be explained in one - three sentences.
We suggest you come up with no more than 3-5 main Talking Points for use in your interviews. What you choose to focus on is up to you, but try to have 3-5 clear ideas to focus your interviews. This is even more important for radio or television interviews. However, for newspaper articles it is also important to give reporters short and easy quotes to use. Relay your talking point and then expand on it further in following statements. Here are some examples:
- Israel’s wall is built almost entirely on Palestinian land in the West Bank. Less than 20% of it falls on the internationally recognized border. If the wall is completed as currently planned, it will stretch more than 400 miles in length. In many places it is nearly 30 feet high, twice the height of the Berlin Wall.
- Israel receives $2.75 billion of US Military aid each year and is by far the largest recipient of US aid. In 2008 a new ten-year agreement between the United States and Israel promised $30 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel. This military aid package represents a 25% increase over the previous U.S. annual military aid appropriation. All this while the U.S. government argues that they are trying to make peace!
- Israeli society is not monolithic. There are many people who are working closely with Palestinians to end the occupation. We met many brave Israelis who are working for peace. It is important to recognize their work and raise up their voices.
-The siege of Gaza has had catastrophic humanitarian consequences. Millions of people are denied food, water, electricity and other basic necessities. The policy has resulted in 50% unemployment in Gaza and a poverty rate of 80%. We met with Israeli residents in the town of Sderot which has been hit by Palestinian mortars from Gaza. They told us that the siege on Gaza has not provided them with more security.
2) Arranging Editorial Board Meetings
In addition to direct interviews, Editorial Board meetings are a crucial aspect of an effective media strategy. An Editorial Board meeting is a closed meeting with one or more of a newspaper’s editors. It is an opportunity for you to speak directly with the people in charge of editorial policy at your local paper. It is not unheard of for an editor to write an Editorial piece following a board meeting, however, it is more likely that they will use the meeting for their own background information when making editorial decisions.
Making an Appointment: To schedule an editorial board meeting, follow the same process for an interview detailed above. Editors are even harder to reach than reporters and receive even more volume of e-mail and phone messages. Therefore, you may also want to send your request for a meeting and your Press Release to Editorial Assistants or Assistant Editors.
Preparation: Preparation is key for a successful Editorial Board meeting. Prior to the meeting, do some research to find out how specific editors cover Israel/Palestine. Look at their past editorials or talk to people who may know them or discussed the issue in the past. Your paper’s Editors may hold a variety of views on the subject. Decide what you want to focus on and lay-out talking points and facts that support your arguments. Call IFPB if you need advice or resources or want to discuss your meeting.
Content: During the meeting, focus on your experience and what you know. Editors will most likely be interested in hearing about your first-hand experience and will want to hear about conditions on the ground at this time. We recommend crafting your presentation around these considerations.
Prepare a 15-20 minute presentation, but be prepared for the editors to interrupt with questions. Editorial Boards can vary wildly – some will be content to sit quietly and take notes with limited questions, others will interject often and steer the discussion towards topics which interest them. It is important to state up-front that you are not a politician. You may not be comfortable answering certain questions and that is fine. It is perfectly acceptable to decline to answer a question that you do not know the answer to.
Leave Reading Materials: It is a good idea to leave editors with reading materials (fact sheets, important articles, maps, etc.). Ideally you should use materials that support your presentation and which you refer to during the course of your talk. Contact IFPB if you’d like advice on what resources you can bring.
Build a Relationship: Your Editorial Board Meeting is only the beginning of our work. An hour meeting is not going to change the mind of an editor or change the course of your paper’s reporting on Israel/Palestine. You should view the meeting as the beginning of a relationship. Building a relationship with your editors allows you access to them when they publish facts that are wrong or if you wish to publish an Op/Ed piece or letter in the newspaper.
At the end of the meeting, ask if you could meet with them again in 3 months or so (if you work with an activist group, you may also wish to bring any guest speakers to meet with the Editorial Board). Ask for the business cards of attendees before you leave, and supply them with your own business card.
If you have trouble getting an editorial board meeting, bring a guest: Some newspapers, especially those in large media markets will not be eager to meet with you as an individual. If that is the case, try organizing a contingent of people from your community, including faith leaders and other notable community leaders. Better yet, if you have a guest speaker visiting from Palestine or Israel, this is the perfect time to make a major push for a board meeting. Editors should jump at the chance to hear from someone from the region.
View your task as a long term one. They need to understand that you will always be here. Be persistent but don't overdo follow-up e-mails or letters. One mail every few days should be your limit. For more tips on Editorial Board Meetings click here.
3) Arranging Media for Your Events
Media contacts (particularly newspaper reporters) may be especially interested in reporting on speaking events where you or guests from Palestine/Israel speak. Therefore, additional contacts should be made to your media list prior to your presentations.
Re-write your Press Release: Draft a Press Release and include the information about your event. Include time, place, sponsors and any additional relevant information. Keep your release short and to the point.
Follow-up: As in any contacts with reporters, follow-up is key. The same call volume is needed in order to obtain media coverage for your speaking event. Contact IFPB for help here. We should be able to help make calls. Your local sponsors should also be able to work with you on this.
Return to Reporters you Worked With Previously: If a reporter did write an earlier article on your delegation, contact him/her directly when you do a speaking event. You now have a personal contact with him/her and it will be easier to raise interest a second time. That does no’t mean that you will not need to follow-up. Chances are that even your tried and true contacts will need a number of calls and e-mails before they take on the story
4) Writing and Publishing Opinion/Editorial Pieces
One of the best ways to make your voice heard in the mainstream media is to submit an Opinion/Editorial (Op/Ed) piece to your local newspaper. Media Consultant Pete Wirth defines an Op/Ed as “a written expression of an individual's or group's opinion on a matter of public interest.”
An Op/Ed should be between 600 and 900 words and present a clear argument and/or convey a particular opinion. It should be tied to a hook – generally a current event, important date in history, or contribution to a continuing debate in your newspaper or local area, etc.
Newspaper editors select Op/Ed's based on interest to readers, quality of writing, originality of thought, timeliness, and freshness of viewpoint. Additionally, consideration is given to the number of articles already published on the topic, the strength of the argument and the writer's expertise on the issue.
Getting Your Op/Ed Published: Publishing an Op/Ed can be a longer process than getting an interview or editorial board meeting. Once you write and submit a finished Op/Ed, you need to follow-up as you would a Press Release. Call the Editors of the paper until they acknowledge receipt of the piece, and give you a definite answer.
You could also use Editorial Board Meetings as a time to introduce an Op/Ed. Don’t be too pushy, remember that you are cultivating a relationship with the Editors. If your piece is rejected, ask for more information on why they chose not to run it and how you can improve your chances of having future writing published.
5) Writing and Publishing Letters to the Editor
A relatively easy way to contribute to the media discourse is by writing Letters to the Editor. Letters should be short (100-150 words), simple and usually relevant to an article or ongoing debate in the paper of publication. Send the letter to the address given in your newspaper for “Letters to the Editor” and address it to the “Letters Editor”.
Focus on ONE point and make that point at the beginning of the letter. When referring to a specific item published in the newspaper, cite that item in your opening sentence. Palestine Media Watch references several other guidelines to follow:
- Explicitly indicate that you would like the letter to be considered for publication before the main text.
- If you are asserting facts, provide references below the letter.
- Provide your full name, home address, and a phone number you can be reached. If your daytime and evening phone numbers are different, provide both.
- Avoid needlessly harsh language, but don’t be afraid to be passionate. Hysteria will not help, but don’t be afraid to express your anger, as long as you stick to a point of substance.
- Think carefully about your wording. The terminology you use is important and can either reproduce or break-down stereotypes and common assumptions.
Here are two sample letters to the editor:*
Dear letters editor:
In her article of January 4th, 2000 ("Violence has only strengthened settlers' resolve"), Naomi Morris refers to Binyamin and Talia Kahane as "two prominent settlers". While it is correct that the two slain Israelis were indeed “prominent settlers”, I found it strange that the writer failed to mention to her readers that Binyamin Kahane was in fact head of the Jewish Defense League, an organization committed to ridding Israel of all Arab presence.
Ms. Morris should trust her readers with the facts, all the facts, and only the facts, rather than suppress inconvenient bits and pieces.
[Full Name Here]
[Home Address Here]
[Daytime Phone number Here]
[Evening Phone number Here]
Dear letters editor:
Deborah Sontag's article "Should Israel Sacrifice its Hopes for Peace for Settlers?" (Nov. 15) notes that Israelis are divided on the question whether Israel should continue to maintain settler outposts planted in the West Bank and Gaza.
The article fails to explain the Israeli government's purpose in creating the so-called "settlements" in the first place. Under a program begun by Shimon Peres and his Labor government just after the 1967 war -- and expanded dramatically by Ariel Sharon and others after Likud took power in the late 1970s -- Israel sought to create a network of armed colony villages throughout the occupied territories. Its purpose was to create "facts on the ground" and thereby to prevent the creation of a fully autonomous Palestinian entity.
It should be no surprise, then, that the colonies today remain one of the greatest obstacles to a peace agreement that Palestinians could accept with dignity.
[Full Name Here]
[Home Address Here]
[Daytime Phone number Here]
[Evening Phone number Here]
* Source: Palestine Media Watch
6) Follow-Up Calls: The Key to Effective Media Advocacy
The most important tool we have in our media advocacy work is our own time and energy. To do media work and do it well, takes time and dedication. It is all about making personal connections and building relationships. Therefore, our most essential task is following up on our press releases and stories.
If we want media attention we must make follow-up calls. Obtaining an interview, placing an op/ed, or arranging an editorial board meeting may require 3-7 calls or more. If you are persistent, your story will be impossible to ignore.
Here are five things to remember about follow-up calls:
1. You are calling to make sure they got the release and to pitch your story. It is imperative that we make the calls ASAP, because this story will be done in about two weeks and our chances will be gone.
2. You may have to call three, four or even more times before you reach an actual editor or reporter.
3. You want to keep calling until your reporter/editor says “yes” or “no”.
4. After your interview, or if you don’t get an interview, ask for an editorial board meeting (see the Follow-Up Packet for a description of an editorial board meeting).
5. Have all the information in front of you – know when the editor/reporter received your press release and be ready to re-send your release immediately.
Scripts for Follow-up Calls:
Edit these scripts for your own use
You: Hello, my name is ________ and I am calling to follow-up on a press release you should have received on __________. The release details my trip to Israel/Palestine with Interfaith Peace-Builders. Did you receive the release?
Reporter/Editor: I don’t remember seeing it, can you resend it?
You: Yes, I will e-mail it to you right now. Look for it in your inbox in the next few minutes. The subject line will read “___________________________”. Please take a close look. We met with Palestinians and Israelis who offered a fresh perspective on the situation there and the prospects for peace. I would love to share my observations with you and I think your readers would be interested in hearing this perspective.
Reporter/Editor: I think I remember seeing it, but what is it about?
You: It details the trip I just returned from to Israel/Palestine. I was with a delegation that met with Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent organizers and civil society leaders. We met with Palestinians and Israelis who offered a fresh perspective on the situation there and the prospects for peace. I would love to share my observations with you and I think your readers would be interested in hearing this perspective. I will resend the release right now Look for it in your inbox in the next few minutes. The subject line will read “________________”. Please take a close look.
Editor: Yes I saw it and I think I assigned it to a reporter.
You: Can you tell me which reporter so that I can follow up with them directly? Also, would you be available for an Editorial Meeting? I would love to share my observations with you and your Editorial Board.
Editor: yes I saw it, but it is not something we will cover now.
You: OK, could I request an editorial meeting with you and your editorial board? I would like to share some of my experiences and observations of the reality on the ground in Israel and Palestine. I think you would find it interesting and helpful for your coverage of the region.
Script for Voicemail:
You: Hello, my name is ___________ and I am calling to follow-up on a press release which you should have received on ____________. The release details my trip to Israel/Palestine with an Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation. I think you and your readers would be interested in some of the observations I have of the current reality on the ground, especially as the current situation has become more unstable. I will resend the press release now. Look for it with the subject line “_________________________.” My phone number is ________________. Please call me with any questions. Again my name is ___________ and my phone number is ______________.
List of Online Resources for Media Activism:
There are a great deal of resources for your media work available online. Here are a few web sites to get you started:
The Institute for Middle East Understanding
An organization providing journalists and editors with information on Palestine and Palestinians. Their Background Briefings can be used as fact sheets for Editorial Board Meetings or articles.
WRITE! for Justice, Human Rights and International Law in Palestine
WRITE! provides a public service by monitoring the US Media and taking action to improve the way that the U.S. media reports news and information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel's military occupation of Palestinian territories, and the question of Palestine. Write seeks to promote accurate, balanced and objective reporting on the Middle East in general and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular.
The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation Media Resources
The US Campaign's media resources provide opportunities for media advocacy and education. A coalition of over 200 local and national organizations in the US, the campaign's resources are widely used and disseminated.
Peter Wirth, of GW Associates, is a media consultant with a wealth of experience in media advocacy for activists and progressive causes. Pete’s Media Guide includes resource sheets for a variety of advocacy techniques and is an essential resource and is available in full online.
Find contact information for your local media with Capwiz's online database.
PeaceVoice is an important initiative based in Portland which maintains a lengthy database and email list of editors in mainly rural communities around the countries. Peace professionals can submit their op/eds to PeaceVoice who then distributes them to their list of editors. Many PeaceVoice op/eds have run in media markets that often do not hear progressive views.