Responding to Problematic News Reports
• If news coverage is inaccurate or unfair, you have a right to respond. Most media will take appropriate action if such complaints are proven valid. It’s up to you to be an effective responder:
• Start at the bottom. Try calling or e-mailing the reporter directly. Often, they will appreciate the opportunity to hear what you have to say. Be non-confrontational. Remember, your goal is to educate, sensitize, and prevent a recurrence.
• Be sure to include in your conversation or letter some key messages that you would like to see in future stories. This may plant the seed for helpful future news coverage.
Writing a Letter to the Editor
• Letters to the editor are great advocacy tools. After you write letters to your elected officials, sending letters to the editor can achieve other advocacy goals because they:
• Reach a large audience.
• Are often monitored by elected officials.
• Can bring up information not addressed in a news article.
• Create an impression of widespread support for or in opposition to an issue.
What to say
• Keep letters short and on one subject. Many newspapers have a strict limit on the length of letters and have limited space to publish them. Keeping your letter brief will help assure that your important points are not cut out by the newspaper. Readers naturally gravitate toward shorter letters, as well.
• Short, heartfelt statements are often more powerful than lengthy legal arguments. Keep in mind that newspaper readers have varying levels of education and experience. Your letter must make sense to a wide range of people in order to be effective. If you have personal experience related to the issue you’re writing about, consider including it. Personal testimonies are very effective.
• If not submitting letters via e-mail, make sure your letter is legible. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you should use a typewriter or word processor if your handwriting is difficult to read.
• Send letters to weekly community newspapers, too. The smaller the newspaper’s circulation, the easier it is to get your letter printed.
• Be sure to include your contact information. Many newspapers will only print a letter to the editor after calling the author to verify his or her identity and address. Newspapers will not give out that information, and will usually only print your name and city should your letter be published.
• Make references to the newspaper. While some newspapers print general commentary, many will only print letters that refer to a specific article. Here are some examples of easy ways to refer to articles in your opening sentence:
“I was disappointed that [name of newspaper, title of article or column, date] omitted some key facts.”
“I strongly disagree with [author’s name] narrow view on [subject] [title of op-ed and date]."
"I was pleased to see your article [title of article & date] regarding [issue]."
• Get the most from your letter by replying to dissenting views. Although many newspapers limit submissions to a certain number per person, most will allow letter writers to respond to criticism of their original letter. Take the opportunity to spread your message further by submitting a short response.
Calling into a Radio Talk Show
• First, learn all you can about the show. Know the format, procedures, and program host.
• Ask yourself if the program is an opportunity or a trap. There’s no point in becoming a punching bag for a host who disagrees with your opinion or doesn’t play fair.
• Think out your message in advance, make your message concise and simple, and have counter statements prepared.
• Have notes right at hand, and don’t be reluctant to use them.
• Stay on topic. “The real issue here is....”
• Use images and analogies to involve emotions.
• Call in to support and reinforce statements that align with your position.
• When on unfriendly ground, your goal may be only to plant a seed of doubt with the audience.