Spreading the word through Internet, print, television, and radio news outlets is a great way to change minds about important issues. Having a compelling hook, pitching your story appropriately, and ensuring you respond promptly to journalists, can help your story reach a wide audience.
How and why to contact the press
If you want to pitch a story about your cause to the news media you need a hook. Two of the most common hooks are an event in the news that relates to your cause or an activism event you organize yourself.
Tying your pitch to an event in the news—local, national, or international—is probably the most effective way to get news coverage. Journalists are often looking for ways to put an issue in context and advance it past what other news outlets are reporting.
Another strategy that can be effective is staging an event. However, there are many things to keep in mind during the planning for this. Make sure that the event is at a convenient time and place for journalists to show up, ensure you have a good turnout from your team, and create strong visuals.
Many journalists prefer to receive pitches in email, as they can read them when they have enough time to digest the ideas.
Here’s an example of an email you might send to a journalist when the peg is a story that’s currently being covered in the news.
Subject: Equal Pay for Early Educators
Sue – I saw that you wrote about how the gender pay gap isn’t closing. I thought you might be interested in my story as an early educator. My colleagues and I have recently agreed to walk-off the job on Equal Pay Day to signify that we are paid 70% of what a man with similar qualifications might earn. There’s more information here [URL to a website or something that explains your action]. Please let me know if you’d like to talk more.
In your signature line, include complete contact information for yourself (with a title if you have one), and your organisation.
Who do I pitch it to?
The best bet is to go local. Look at the websites for local and neighborhood radio, TV, newspapers, and popular blogs. Send text for a public service announcement to radio stations, neighborhood newspapers, and your local news weekly.
Identify the journalists who have covered issues that are similar to your own and find their email addresses. Keep that press list and take note of who gets back to you because you'll likely use it later
Always send an email to the general “news tip” email address that most outlets include on a “contact us” webpage as well.
Send an email to a small, targeted group of journalists rather than sending your pitch to a long list of email addresses that aren’t vetted. Use BCC to send a group email to add a level of privacy, and send personal emails to journalists that are the most relevant. Keep it short; journalists are deluged with sloppy email pitches.
What happens when a journalist is interested?
If a journalist responds to your email, answer any questions promptly and clearly. If you leave journalists hanging, you are telling them you are unprofessional and your story isn’t worth following up on. The journalist may request to interview you or that you send them a press release. If so, you can find further advice here:
What happens when I get no response, or a journalist has lost interest?
If you emailed a journalist in response to news coverage and got no answer, don’t resend the email. He/she may have read it, and may not have. But you should feel free to try again when there’s a new story to respond to.
If you emailed to pitch an event you planned, you may follow up with a phone call or email reminder about 24 hours before the start time if it's for broadcast. If you call, remember to ask whoever picks up the phone if they have time for your call, and then keep it short and to the point. Example: “I emailed about an event tomorrow regarding the gender pay gap in early education. About 20 people will be attending, with posters and hand-made crafts, showing their support for the funding of professional wages. Do you need any more information?”
If journalists email you back to say some nice version of “thanks but not this time,” make a note of it. They are good journalists to email again when a new news peg comes up.
If journalists email you back to say “please don’t contact me again” or give other instructions for pitching stories, follow their directions. If you don’t, you are going straight to the trash.
In all your interactions with journalists, don’t get annoyed about not getting the response you want, and don’t spam them in frustration. Stay positive and email judiciously.
Article adapted from Electronic Frontier Alliance: Media Tips for Activists, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0.