As a journalist, I often get calls from activist acquaintances and comrades who are holding events about important social issues and are looking for some kind of media coverage. Too often, I am unable to get approval to cover it from my bosses because the story does not seem newsworthy (or ratings worthy) enough to them.
So I am writing a few tips to help activists who are having a hard time getting their word out through the media.
1. Make the event visually interesting and different
This is the most important aspect. Every day, there are scores of press conferences held at press clubs, or seminars arranged at hotels. But news editors can only choose a tiny handful of them to cover.
Therefore you have to make your event stand out from the rest. Put on a spectacle; break a world record; dress up in costumes; play some music; do something playful and symbolic and colourful. Make sure it is not something that happens all the time (i.e. a regular protest with boring signs at the press club).
By doing something different, you will make reporters (and readers/viewers and bystanders) curious so that they ask questions about your issue.
Here are a couple of examples from different parts of the world that I like:
Bonuses Are Back Pig Party:
Santa Claus in Palestine:
Of course, you would have to take into consideration the local sensitivities and sense of humour.
2. Use a fax machine
It is the internet age, but most newsrooms in Pakistan are still in the stone age. When sending out invitations to the event to the media, do it by fax. You can send an email as a supplement, but it won’t get the same attention that a fax does for mysterious reasons.
The best time to send the fax is the evening before the actual event. If you send it any earlier they are likely to forget when the time comes around. So you could try emailing a few days in advance, and then send a fax the evening before.
You can also call or SMS a reporter or the newsroom to remind them over the phone, but make sure you are not badgering them. Just a reminder.
3. Be concise
This applies to every aspects of your event. Make sure your invitations are short and to the point, highlighting just the key details. Make sure the actual event is not long and drawn out, because most reporters don’t have the time or the attention span. So keep both the list of speakers and the speeches short.
4. Only invite high-profile guests if they are comitted to your cause
Newsrooms love events where there are famous guests, so that they can get their soundbites. This applies mostly to politicians and public office holders who are in the news for reasons other than your event.
But if you are a serious activist working on real issues, then you probably don’t want to have some loser politician come and hijack your event so they can go on about how their political party is the country’s saviour. So if you can find someone famous who is genuinely committed to your issue, then that is great. Otherwise, you don’t need them.