El Paso, TX
T or C
THE COALITION FOR GAY
AND LESBIAN RIGHTS
IN NEW MEXICO
| A Call to Action | Goals and Objectives of the Coalition |
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| Coalition Calendar | On-Line GLBT Resources | Coalition Media Guide |
THE COALITION GUIDE TO MEDIA:
Curtesy of Bob Summersgill, publisher of the New Mexico Rainbow
Exploiting the Media
Media 101: How to Construct a Basic Media Strategy
Getting your story into the Gay & Lesbian press
Tips on writing letters that get printed
Media 101: How to Construct a Basic Media Strategy
From Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
The media has tremendous power to shape societal attitudes. Media coverage-or the absence of it-can radically influence public perceptions of particular issues or groups. Traditionally, Lesbians, Gay men, bisexuals, and members of the dragitransgender communities have been largely invisible. When we were acknowledged in the news media, our existence was characterized as a social, political, or moral dilemma. When we appeared in the entertainment media we were stereotyped or used to symbolize decadence, immorality, or evil. Even today, we are most visible when we are at the center of a controversy. The recent explosion in media coverage of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, drag, and transgender communities provides us with an unprecedented opportunity for focusing media attention on our lives. However, in order to better utilize the media we must better understand it. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has written this booklet to fulfill our mission of fighting for fair, accurate, and inclusive representations of Lesbians, Gay men, and bisexuals in the media. It is designed to help individuals and organizations with little experience with the media to construct a basic communications strategy. Because we must be able to both shape coverage and respond to it, this strategy contains both proactive and reactive components. The section entitled "Getting In Touch With the Media" walks you through a step-by-step approach to establishing and maintaining relations with media outlets in your area. "When the Media Calls" teaches you to take charge of interview situations and to use them to your advantage.
Getting In Touch With Media
How To Establish and Maintain Relations with Media Professionals
What is the media?
Webster's New World Dictionary defines the media as a "means of communication that reaches the general public. " However, the media is also a means of generating capital-in short, a business. And a very hectic business, at that. It is a media outlet's responsibility is provide the community it serves with fair media coverage. And you are part of this community. However, recognizing that a media outlet is also a place of business, and addressing its specific needs, requirements, and concerns are what will get your story ideas placed.
What kind of resources do I need to deal with the media effectively?
An effective media strategy doesn't require your own office space or a large outlay of money. It does, however, require your time and creativity You'll find that it's well worth the investment.
- Set aside some time to get to know the outlet that you're approaching. Has it covered Lesbian or Gay issues before? What reporters are most likely to be receptive?
- Know what Lesbian or Gay related stories would appeal to that outlet's audience
- Be available to whomever has been assigned to cover your story, to provide them with materials and information and to give them advice on who else they can contact.
- Have access to a fax machine and a word processor to generate and to distribute your materials.
How do I get my foot in the door of a media outlet?
By always keeping what you have to say brief and to the point. Remember that media outlets are besieged by hundreds of individuals and organizations daily, each with a story they feel desperately needs to be told. The best way to get your foot in the door is by letting the outlet know that you're well-organized and well-prepared and that you'll make optimal use of the time they allot to you. It helps to put your concerns in the form of a letter, addressed to the editor-in-chief (for publications) or the news director (for television news shows).
What should this letter say?
- Explain who you are and what your organization does.
- Explain why it's important to cover the issue or event that you are pitching.
- Emphasize that you can help put a local angle on a national story. Or point out the potential for their local story getting picked up by the national media.
- Give them some basic facts and figures about your community.
- If the outlet hasn't done any coverage, explain why your community, and those who want to know more about it, represent a significant part of the outlet's readership or viewership. (In other words, why covering your concerns makes good business sense.)
- If the outlet has already done relevant stories, acknowledge that fact, thank them, and be prepared to give specific feedback. If your feedback is negative, let them know what kind of information or sources you could have provided to improve the story.
- Ask the editor-in-chief or news director to meet with you to discuss the outlet's plan for covering upcoming events or issues. Let them know that you will follow up with a phone call to arrange a time that is mutually convenient.
How do I prepare for this meeting?
By knowing the outlet backwards and forwards and practicing making a concise, confident, and professional presentation. Be familiar enough with the publication or station to come up with relevant story ideas and to suggest appropriate reporters or producers to cover them. Make sure that each idea can be reduced to a few, easily understood sentences what media professionals call a "pitch." Remember that the language you use and the perspective that you present will help shape the story in the reporter's mind, so keep this in mind when formulating pitches. Try to limit yourself to three pitches, which is as much as a person can retain during a brief meeting. Demonstrate your ability to follow through on the ideas you pitch by having the names and numbers of reliable, articulate media contacts handy. Make sure that these contacts know that their names are being used so that they'll be prepared for calls.
How do I keep all this information organized?
By putting your information into a press kit. A press kit can simply be a glossy pocket folder that includes the following:
- 1) A one-pager on your letterhead with basic information about your organization, its mission, and its recent accomplishments. (Yes, I know this information was in your cover letter, but for a media professional that may have been a few weeks, and several major stories, age So give them this info again.)
- 2) Copies of the one-page facts sheets about recent or upcoming events and issues.
- 3) The list of story ideas you're suggesting along with contact information.
- 4) A business card for the primary contact for your organization, with numbers where he or she can easily be reached
With a press kit, your presentation can consist of a quick review of the media materials it contains with brief pitches of your story ideas. The person you meet with will have the kit to refer to when he or she reviews what you discussed. And he or she can also just hand the kit to an employee for follow-up, which increases your chances of having your ideas finally appear in print.
What do I wear to meet with a media outlet?
The same thing you'd wear to a Job interview. Your appearance is what makes the first impression on a media professional, so dress in way that lets he or she know that you mean business. The same dress code applies if you are serving as a media contact at an action or event. Media professionals may gravitate towards the sensational, but they value the judgment of someone with whom they can identify. The only indication of who you are is your appearance. So look the part.
How do I follow-up on a meeting with an outlet?
By giving them at least a week to act on what you've given them. If you still haven't heard from the outlet after two weeks, call and ask whoever you met with if they've made any decision about how they're going to cover your issue or event. Reiterate why it's important to cover it, and how you can help get them the information and materials they need. Offer to send them another copy of the press kit you've given them. If there is a competing outlet that has been more responsive, mention that. If you still get no response, try contacting individual reporters who have done stories about the community, or reporters you feel might be sympathetic. Encourage them to approach their superiors with your information and materials.
What is the timeline for this media project?
It doesn't matter what your timeline is, as long as you have one and stick to it. Tasks that aren't assigned and given deadlines won't be completed, so make a realistic timetable part of your plan. You can contact the GLAAD chapter closest to you for any additional help or encouragement (a list of GLAAD chapters is enclosed in this packet). Don't forget to mail GLAAD copies of any media coverage you get as a result of your campaign! GLAAD will compile these videos and clippings and use them to encourage other individuals and groups to mount their own media projects.
When The Media Calls
Taking Charge of Interview Situations and Using Them to Your Advantage
Why do you have to take charge of an interview?
It's finally happened. An issue has broken in the media that profoundly affects your organization, or even you personally. The phone rings and it's a reporter or television producer on the other end of the line, bursting with questions about your activism and your life. The temptation is to open the floodgates, to tell them everything you've been waiting all your life to be asked. It is a temptation you must resist. The worst thing you can do in response to a question from a media professional is to simply answer it. When reporters ask you questions, they are not just asking for information, they are also shaping your answer, generally to insure that it supports a hypothesis they have already developed. It may not be a hypothesis that you share, which is not something that you want to discover after your words have been immortalized in print or on the small screen. A good interviewer begins by establishing your credibility and you should do the same.
Interview the reporter before you agree to speak.
What do I ask?
First, ask what media outlet they represent. Does it have a history of biased and unfair coverage of your community? If so, you may not want to agree to be interviewed. Ask the reporter about the focus and the slant of the piece. If he or she tells you that they are doing a piece about Lesbian or Gay parenting, that could mean a series of sympathetic portraits or it could mean an editorial asserting that Lesbians and Gay men aren't fit to adopt. Ask how long the piece is going to be, and if it's for television, whether it's going to be done live or on tape. You will need to adjust your message accordingly. Finally, consider the audience for the piece. Is it one you hope to reach? Is it one you can reach? Media professionals are always under tight deadlines, so try to respond as quickly as possible to a request for an interview. But if a reporter is unwilling to give you the time or information you need to be prepared, strongly consider not being interviewed.
Can you actually decline a media appearance?
Absolutely. If the premise of a piece is in and of itself objectionable it is unlikely that you will rise above it. For example, Lesbian and Gay organizations are often asked to comment on cases of child molestation. The implication is that there is some sort of relationship between homosexuality and child abuse. It is an implication that is reinforced by any response you make. So don't even dignify this idea with a negative response. Refuse to be interviewed on the grounds that child molestation has nothing to do with Lesbians and Gay men. Another common scenario is when you are asked to face off on-camera against a virulent homophobe. The producer will claim that this individual has been included to provide "balance." However, it is actually a ploy to sensationalize the topic. It is impossible to have an intelligent exchange with someone who has decided in advance that you represent the forces of evil, sickness, or immorality You will probably lose your temper and end up looking as irrational as your opponent. If a show is about tensions between members of your community and those who oppose you, then it is appropriate and fair that their point of view be represented. Otherwise, the presence of bigots does not "balance" the issue, it simply flames prejudices that are already too widespread.
So once I've decided to be interviewed, how do I proceed?
By not uttering a single word that you are not prepared to see in print. From the moment that someone identifies themselves as a media professional, anything you say can be used against you, whether you're in a television studio or the ladies room. So be aware. That off-the-cuff remark you made before you responded to the question may be just the quotation that the reporter was looking for, particularly if it was flippant or unflattering. This illustrates why you must always bear in mind the fundamental principal of dealing with media, which is that you are not there to answer questions, you are there to convey your message. We do not answer questions, because questions are designed to lead you in the direction that the reporter wants you to go. Instead, we respond to questions. That is to say that we address the issue that the reporter has raised, and then we steer it back to the message that we have formulated before the interview. For example, a television reporter asks you "Isn't it true that most Lesbians hate men?" You angrily respond by saying "No, of course not!" Before you know it you find yourself in an angry and defensive posture, allowing the reporter to narrow the focus of the discussion. An effective response would be to say "The prevalence of such absurd stereotypes illustrates why it is so important that Lesbians and Gay men continue to come out and tell the world the truth about our lives." In one fell swoop you have dismissed the stereotype, explained why it exists, and promoted a solution for getting rid of similar preconceptions. The next question the reporter asks will have to be more intelligent and enlightened, because that is the tone that you have set.
How do you come up with such intelligent responses on-the-spot?
You don't. You use the information you have obtained from the reporter before the interview to anticipate the questions he or she will ask and to formulate your messages. If it is your mission to make the world aware of the history of the development of patriarchal values in Western society, that's fine. But you're going to have to serve it up to your audience in bite-sized pieces called sound bites. Sound bites are ten-second quotations that distill a complicated issue or concept into one or two easily understood sentences.
A good sound bite translates your message into terms that anyone can understand and makes them relevant and accessible to the largest possible segment of your audience. For example, if the local drag bar in Pottsville has been harassed by the local police, don't say "Drag queens in Pottsville feel like we're being singled out," because the non-drag queen population of Pottsville is unlikely to see how this situation affects their lives. Instead say "No American, including us Pottsville drag queens, should be denied their freedom of expression. Not by the army. Not by the police. Not by anyone." Now you can respond to any question the reporter asks by steering it back to your larger point, which is that a threat to the liberty of the drag queens of Pottsville is a threat to the democratic freedoms of all Americans.
What are other guidelines for developing messages?
Limit the number of messages you choose. But repeat them as often as possible. It is difficult for your audience to retain more than three messages, even during an extended appearance on an hour long television show. Frankly, you've done well if your audience latches on to even one. So get your messages out in their order of importance. And keep repeating them! An audience absorbs the messages that it hears most often. Prove your point. This doesn't mean that you have to show up for an interview with charts and graphs. It means that you need some kind of information to back up your claim, When using data, neutral, third-party sources are most convincing. For example, a largely straight audience is more likely to believe information that comes from a US government study than from a Lesbian, Gay, bisexual, drag, or transgender organization. A compelling anecdote can also reinforce your point. For example, a spokesperson for a Black Lesbian organization asserts that "Homophobia is a powerful force in the Black church community." It is helpful for her to be able to back up this statement by pointing out that there are two prominent Black ministers who have gone on record as saying that they would be
willing to join forces with the Ku Klux Klan to oppose the Lesbian and Gay community.
Let them know why they should care. The wise words of our drag queen sisters from Pottsville are a prime example of how to make your audience understand how an assault upon one of us becomes an assault upon us all. Including some kind of call to action is also a deft means of conveying the importance of an issue. A shrewd second message for the drag queens of Pottsville would be to invite viewers to call their local police station and demand that police time be used to fight the escalating number of street crimes, not to harass law-abiding female impersonators
How do I keep my message from getting lost in my response?
By flagging it with phrases that indicate its importance. Beginning sentences with phrases like "The point of this project is..." or "What's most important to understand is..." will alert the reporter and your audience to your key message. The companion to flagging is "hooking." Hooking is a strategy to prompt reporters to ask questions that lead to your next message. If you've just talked about your organization's latest project, dangle a hook by saying "and that's only a small part of this year's plan." The reporter "bites" when he or she asks you for more information.
What else do I need to know about talking to reporters?
That your utility to a reporter depends on your honesty and reliability. You don't have to tell everything to a reporter, but what you do say should be truthful. If you don't have enough information to answer a question, ask for time to find it or say "I don't know." Never lie. It will destroy your credibility with the reporter and possibly the entire media outlet. Avoid saying "no comment." It creates the impression that you have something to hide. Say why you cannot respond. Explain that it would be premature to comment or that it is a matter for the courts to decide-or
even that you are not the appropriate person to ask. Don't fall into the trap of creating or repeating negative quotations. Quite often a reporter will try and feed you a negative quote. For example, he or she will say "wouldn't you say that it is outrageous that the government of Colorado intends to defend this amendment." If you walk into this trap your quote will be prefaced with their opinion. Respond to the
question, not to their attempt to frame it. Say "The government of Colorado must defend this amendment once it has been voted into law, but Lesbian and Gay community has a right to continue to protest against it." If the media professional says something that isn't true, rebut it immediately and firmly and then steer back to your positive message. For example, if the reporter says "What you people are basically doing is trying to recruit our children," say "Absolutely not. What we are doing is educating young people about the lives of all Americans, including Lesbians
and Gay men."
Finally, remember to be professional and polite in your dealings with reporters, regardless of their behavior. Style is at least as important as content in the media. A calm, friendly demeanor conveys the idea that you are reasonable and trustworthy, and prods the reporter to follow your example. Occasionally, you will encounter a reporter who persists in being obnoxious or insulting, but don't fall into the trap of arguing He or she will simply quote your most inflammatory remarks without including the comments they made to provoke them. Instead, feel free to cut the interview short by saying that you're out of time.
There are so many things to keep in mind when talking to the media. Are they really that much against us?
Talking about the pitfalls of dealing with the media sometimes creates the impression that the media is against us or "out to get" us. There remains a strong bias against Lesbian, Gay, and bisexual communities. However, matters have improved enormously in the last few years. Increasingly, the problem is that media professionals often don't have the information or contacts to report on our issues fairly, accurately, and inclusively - or that we are not prepared to address their needs. So before you criticize coverage make sure that you have done your part to facilitate its improvement. Once you put your newly acquired savvy to work, you'll be surprised to discover how much power you do have to shape the way that our lives and our issues are reflected in the media.
This is a publication of GLAAD. Permission granted to copy this information, provided that it is attributed to GLAAD
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