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Making Friends

Attached is a media list of Austin. Update this every year, to find out the new contacts. Try to keep profiles of your media contacts- whether they are sympathetic or hostile, what their deadlines are, what pieces they did in the past. If you are occupying the tower, you don't want to waste a valuable phone call on some schmuck that doesn't know you.

Your goal is to be a media contact on your "issue." You can do this by letting the media know you exist and cultivating sources. For example, members of the UT Radical Action Network often get calls related to nearly anything "progressive" on campus. This can be annoying, and sometimes humorous, but it's what we want. Make a name for yourself.

Start by sending letters to your media contacts, introducing yourself and your group. Include your group's factsheet and letterhead.

Meeting Deadlines

Reporters work against deadline. If you call reporters when they are rushing to meet a deadline, they will not like you. You're story won't get in (it just can't).

The best time to call morning papers is between 9:30 and 10 am. Don't call broadcast stations after 2:00 pm if you expect to be on the 5:00 news.

At the same time, remember to return calls promptly. Not doing so can lose a good contact.

Making News

Reporters need an "angle" for a story. An angle is something new, something different, something interesting. If your group has an on-going campaign, an angle could be a recent victory or new development.

So, what makes something news?
Timeliness- Reporters want the "scoop"
Proximity- Local is always better
Prominence- Big names, big developments
Conflict- i.e. hitting the UT President with a non-dairy cream pie
Oddity- "UT administrators decide they give a shit about students."
Importance- These are "official" stories like those about the board of regents.

Media Spokespersons

    Pick someone who fits your audience or target population.

    Pick someone with experience, someone articulate

    Train people if necessary

Speaking with Reporters

1. Never, ever speak off the record. This is a complicated issue, but there is ultimately no such thing. Realize that everything you say could be used to represent your organization. Don't joke around about how it would be funny to blow up corporate establishments on campus.

2. Think of a couple of good points to make. Reporters usually start interviews with, "Why are you out here today?" Think about how you would answer that question. Try to make your point in two or three sentences (it's best not to memorize). They will follow up with more questions about what you just said. If they do this, be prepared to expand on your points.

3. Don't get bullied into giving simple, one word responses. Explain your issue how you feel is adequate. It helps to write out responses to possible questions before an interview.

4. Keep it short and simple. If the reporter asks stupid questions, keep repeating what you think is the important information. Say, "I don't think that's the issue. Here's what I think is important about our event."

5. Don't be rude or sarcastic.

6. Remember who the common viewer is. Make your point in a way that they find familiar. Even if they aren't likely to agree, make your point in a way they can comprehend.

7. If during the interview you stumble or mess up, ask to start over. They will usually go along to get a good sound bite.

News Releases

A news release is a short announcement of a newsworthy occurrence. News directors literally receive hundreds each day. If yours isn't concise and professional, it won't be read.

Writing a News Release

    Write a concise, catchy headline that summarizes the story. It should be written in the style of newspaper headline, using active verbs.

    Use the "inverted pyramid." This means putting the most important facts in the first paragraph, and supporting information in descending order, so that the least important information is last.

    The first paragraph should answer the five W's: who, what, when, where, why.

    Underline or bold the text that gives the location, time and date of the event.

    The time you tell the media should be the time you want them to show up. If the demo is at noon, tell them a little later so they don't show up to activists dawdling around and making signs.

    Never editorialize. Use quotations for opinions (quotes should be from individuals, not the whole group).

    The final paragraph should describe your group, and possibly give a historical reminder.

    Proofread! Eliminate redundancies, use short words and phrases. Simplify complex ideas.

    Remember: It's virtually impossible to correct a release once it goes out.

Formatting a News Release

1. Use 8.5 x 11 inch regular white paper
2. Your letterhead should contain your group's name and address
3. The words "news release" should be at the top of the first page. Always refer to releases as "news releases," not press releases. The same goes for "news conferences," not "press conferences."
4. List a contact person, and phone number. Make sure they are available at that number, or include daytime, evening and work numbers. Email isn't a bad idea either.
5. Type the date (it is sent out, not the date of the event) in the upper left corner.
6. "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" appears in the upper left corner above the date.
7. The headline should be centered and in capital letters. It should be about three spaces down from the heading above it.
8. The body of the page should begin a third down the page.
9. Leave wide margins for reporter's and editor's notes
10. Don't use zeroes for time (use 11 a.m. not 11:00) and don't use letters after numbered dates (August 22 not August 22nd).
11. Indent five spaces for new paragraphs.
12. Never continue a release on the back of a page. It's best to have one-page press releases. If you have to, type the word "more" at the bottom and number each additional page at the top. Include a topic headline and your organization's name.
13. Double space.
14. At the end of the release, center "-30-," "#" or "ends."

Who to Send Them To:

Send the release to all TV, radio, daily papers, wire services, minority papers and alternative media outlets. See the attached list of Austin media. Update this list each year. If you do not have a media list, go to the library and ask for the Gale Directory of Broadcast Media and Outlets and make a list from this.

When to Send Out a Release:

What do you want to accomplish? Do you want coverage before the event, or do you want media to attend as it takes place? Film screenings, meetings and fundraisers generally fall in the "before category." Mail these releases ASAP. The more notice you give the media, the better your chances of getting covered.

If you are having a demo be sure to fax, email or hand deliver news releases the day before. Try to get a copy to a reporter and an editor.

The morning of the event:

1. Call all media outlets that you sent out releases to and remind them of the event.
2. Start calling as early as 7 a.m. or 9 a.m. In some cities, you can call later.
3. Tell them who you are and what group you are with. Tell them that you are making reminder calls about your group's "demo at 1 p.m. at the State Capitol." Ask if they have any questions. If they seem clueless, ask if they received the news release. If not, re-fax.
4. If you are doing a CD, now may be the time to alert the media about the action, if you trust them. If not, just say "arrests are expected."
5. If no one answers, leave a message (include your name, group name, phone number where a contact can be reached, and why you're calling; time/place/reason for action) and keep it short.

During the event:

1. Have a list of media contacts on hand, always.
2. Call them if something unexpected occurs. They may think that's newsworthy.
3. If you haven't alerted them about a CD, now is a good time to do it. If you are doing something like a civil disobedience, or if there is important breaking news, call the news desk and let them know what is going on (cell phones are wonderful for this). Just say, "Hello, I'm calling to let you all know that students are burning down the Tower because they are tired of being oppressed. Our phone number is… We have sent a news release to the news desk."

When media arrive:

1. Introduce yourself as the media spokesperson
2. Before the interview, ask if they have spoken to your opposition. Ask what was said. Give your interview while keeping in mind what the opposition said.
3. Give out a media kit (see below). Include a business card.
4. Take their name, phone number, and name of the media outlet.

After the event:

1. After the demo, assign volunteers to get the coverage.
2. If the newspaper covers your event, but the wire services don't, call them and tell them they can get the story from the local paper.
3. Build a relationship with reporters by sending thank you notes. If the coverage wasn't great, but was decent, thank them for being fair.

Making a Media Kit

A media kit is a packet of info. to give reporters who come to your demonstration, event or news conference. Journalists are often pressed for time (and sometimes lazy) and it helps to have all your info. in one place, so they can reference it when writing. It also makes you look more professional. Media kits often include:

    A news release

    A Factsheet

    Black and white photographs (if you have them). Attach a sticky to the back that has what the photo is of, where it is, when it was taken, and who took it.

    Background/history on the issue.

    Copies of relevant documents (including fliers, leaflets)

    Biographies of key individuals and a "mug shot" photo with an identifying label on back. Don't laugh: they sometimes use these, and it helps people see that you don't look like the Unabomber (or if you do look like him, then, well, ha ha).

    Background on the organization.

    Put this all in a two-pocket folder. Put a label on the front with the group's name (and logo).

Working with Wire Services

Wire services are news-gathering agencies that sell stories to papers and radio stations (Press, Reuters). If a story gets on the wire, it goes out to all subscribing papers. This is very important, because many newspapers decide what is "newsworthy" based upon what is on the wire.

Find the number for the local AP bureau, and send the bureau manager a letter describing your group. Supply the names, addresses and telephone numbers of contact people. Offer to supply information or the local angle on whatever you campaign for.

Always give two news releases to the wire services: one for the "daybook" and one for the editor. The daybook is a listing of scheduled events for the day. Assignments editors use this to decide how to assign reporters and camera crew. Send a release to the daybook about a week before.

You may be able to get a photo on the wire. If you had a large demo, take your roll of undeveloped black and white film to the bureau and offer it to them with a news release.

Doing Radio and Television Interviews

Call the station to learn who the assignments editor is. Find out her name and the best time to call. Send a release a few days before the event. If you call to remind them, be polite and don't call late in the afternoon. You'll get coverage if the event involves conflict or visual imagery.

Offer to be the guest on talk shows. You can reach tons of people this way. KVRX (student radio at UT) is required to broadcast a designated amount of "community programming." These are talk shows on a variety of issues. Look up the broadcast schedule, and give some of the deejays a call about their show. For student activists, this is a NECESSITY. People listen to KVRX, especially people in the dorms.
Always call in to local radio shows that are discussing a topic you are interested in. This is free media, and you can reach thousands of people.

If you are bringing a guest speaker or "expert" to campus, call radio and TV stations and offer interviews. Contact the stations several weeks in advance. Give a bio of their credentials, and list what they'd like to discuss. Give a list of people for "the other side" that they would be willing to debate.

Once you get booked on a show, listen and watch to prepare. Do the following:

    Study the issue.

    Practice being interviewed. Tape yourself.

    Anticipate difficult questions and plan your answers.

    Memorize good anecdotes and facts.

    Have a friend ask hostile, aggressive questions to prepare you.

    Decide on five main points you want to make. Memorize a fact or an example for each one.

    Try to make these five points even if you aren't asked the right questions. Don't feel limited to answering the question they ask. Practice saying, "the real question here is…" and "that relates to a larger issues, which is…"

    If you're doing a TV show, dress carefully. No black, white or bright red. Wear plain solids: blue and green photograph well. Don't fidget or touch your face.

    Make your point in 20 seconds or less. TV news shows look for sound bites- statements that can plug into a 60-second story.

    Speak slowly and carefully (without being too slow) and give yourself time to think before you answer.

    Don't say anything you wouldn't want edited out and aired separately.

    Don't worry about repeating yourself, but don't ramble.

    If the reporter is hostile, don't raise your voice or get flustered. Stay calm, and concentrate on making your five points. The reporter isn't your audience!

    Talk directly to the INTERVIEWER not the audience or camera. If you steal side glances at the camera, you'll look nervous or shifty.

Public Service Announcements

PSAs are 10- to-60-second notices that radio and TV stations are required to air (to balance advertisements, and present balanced coverage of issues). They are free to nonprofit and community groups. Campus radio and television stations are often thrilled to receive PSAs from campus groups.

The four standard lengths for PSAs are 10 seconds (25 to 30 words), 20 seconds (45-50 words), 30 seconds (60 to 75 words) and 60 seconds (120 to 150 words).

Here's an example:
20 seconds:
More people live off research today than benefit from it. The traditional use of animals in experimentation must be replaced. Animals are not "tools for research." Their use is costly, unethical, inefficient and old-fashioned. Sophisticated, non-animal methods are available. Help us support their use. Students Against Cruelty to Animals. Visit

Stations also air meeting announcements for a community calendar.

Send several copies of your PSA with a typed, double-spaced cover letter to the public service director of the station. Explain the purpose of your organization and your activities, and state why the station should use the PSA.

On the top left side, type the beginning date, the "kill date," and the length of the announcement in seconds and words.

Find out the deadline for PSA's- it may be two or three weeks in advance. Make a follow-up call to confirm they received it.

Other Resources

How to Get Free Press, by Toni Delacorte, Avon, New York, 1981
Grassroots Journalism: A Practical Manual, by Eesha Williams
News for Change: An Advocate's Guide to Working with Media, by Lawrence Wallack
We the Media: A Citizen's Guide to Fighting for Media Democracy, by Don Hazen

Other Tips

    Get to know your student media PERSONALLY. Go into the Daily Texan and meet the editor. What would it take to get her support?

    Ask for a regular column, or radio show, or TV show. Write regular letters to the editor.

    Find out who assigns the stories and talk to them.

    Deliver press releases in person.

Special thanks to Ernest and Bob for media advice.


Dec. 15, 2000
Will Potter
Representative, Students Against Cruelty to Animals
(512) 453-3841,

Beagle released from research facility.

AUSTIN- Student activists have successfully negotiated the release and adoption of Stampy, a Beagle housed at the UT Animal Resources Center, and forced a private corporation to end their contract with the University.

Cedra, an Austin corporation, has paid the UT center to house and kill 29 Beagles over 4 years for their organs. Cedra then made these organs into cell cultures, and sold them for considerable profit. Stampy, the last of the Beagles, was scheduled to die by the new year.

But because of the work of Students Against Cruelty to Animals, Cedra will release Stampy at a loss of profit, and UT officials have agreed.

"This is a major victory for the animals and for UT students," said Will Potter, a UT junior and SACA representative. "Not only have we saved Stampy's life, but we showed the University that we will not accept killing in our name."

Members of SACA visited the Beagles regularly throughout the semester, developing a personal relationship with the dogs.

Because of SACA's campaign, Student Government overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on UT administrators to save Stampy, and encourage alternatives to animal research.

The UT Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee will vote this month on SACA's proposal to ban the use of dogs for all research purposes at the University.