Working the Corporate Media

By Andy Mager

It is accepted wisdom among progressives that the mainstream media provides neither accurate news nor the necessary context to understand current events. We rail against the increasing conglomeration of media outlets in the hands of a few massive multinational corporations. Unfortunately, many people let this truth convince them that there is little value in trying to work with the media as part of our social change efforts. I believe that this approach is short-sighted and counterproductive.

The Peace Council has shown over the past eight months that through hard work and persistence, we can receive more and often better mainstream media coverage of our work. It is easy to complain that the media is corrupt and biased in favor of corporate power. It is more difficult to develop relationships with editors and reporters so that information about our concerns and efforts reaches many thousands of people who might otherwise believe that “everyone supports the president.”
Many journalists in the media want to provide accurate information but are constrained by their lack of knowledge, fear of making waves and a profit-driven industry. By working with them, we can help them to advocate for good coverage of the crises facing our nation and what groups like the Peace Council are doing to offer alternatives.

Putting resources into our work with the mainstream media doesn’t mean we should stop organizing advocacy campaigns, educational programs, demonstrations and nonviolent direct actions. Instead it is a valuable complement to those other components of our work. When our demonstration gets coverage on local television, radio or newspaper, the word spreads well beyond our usual circles. Over the past several months, several of our demonstrations received advance publicity. Not surprisingly, the turnout for those demonstrations was beyond our expectations.

We must simultaneously continue to develop and support alternative media, so that sources of in-depth information with a progressive orientation will continue to expand.

To learn more about working with the media and media activism, contact FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), a progressive media activist group, (212) 633-6700 or www.fair.org. For a current Central New York media contact list, see <www.peacecouncil.net/cnymedia.htm>.

The following suggestions come from over two decades of my experience working with the media.

Don’t assume they’re against us—Yes, we face an increasing problem of media ownership and control being in fewer and fewer hands. This does affect what is reported and how it is reported. However, there are many journalists who believe in getting a fair and accurate story. Give them a chance.
Do your homework!—Know who to contact and when you need to contact them to get your story covered. Know your issues and be prepared to provide clear, non-rhetorical soundbites. Remember that you are not talking to other activists, but to the general public.
Be diplomatically assertive—Know the issues and perspectives which your group wants to present and be sure those points are made—regardless of what questions are asked. Don’t evade a question, but don’t let reporters run the interview or determine your agenda.
Be persistent—Your issue probably won’t be at the top of a journalist’s agenda, so you need to be willing to contact the media more than once and follow-up with them. Follow-up phone calls on news releases are essential.
Make it easy for them—When writing press releases, making calls or at events, be succinct and to the point. Include quotes in news releases, being sure that you provide good contact information, and have background materials on hand. Remember that they have many stories to cover and are under increasing time pressure.
Be thoughtful – Choose your words carefully when talking with the media. Anything you say—no matter how casual or offhanded—may be quoted.
Make it interesting for them—While we need to be careful about creating “media events,” recognize that dramatic actions, colorful signs, theater and catchy phrases will attract press attention. Reporters need to sell the stories to their editors, and the attractiveness of the story can move it from page 22 to page 3.
Build relationships, and credibility—Prove yourself to be an accurate and reliable source of information. If you build personal connections with journalists they will be more responsive and see you as a source for future stories.
Follow up—Take the time to express thanks for a good story, and don’t hesitate to respectfully respond when you feel that you have been misquoted or the story is inaccurate.

Andy is the co-coordinator of the Peace Council. If you’re interested in participating in the Peace Council’s media work or in attending a workshop on Working with the Media in the fall, contact him at 472-5478 or <andy@peacecouncil.net>.