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(DV) Senner: Localizing National Issues







Localizing National Issues
by Madis Senner
November 29, 2005

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They say all politics is local. Local and regional news dominate media coverage in communities across the country. Because of this a lot of national issues which progressives are passionate about, such as the War with Iraq and human rights, get little local media coverage. As a consequence many national issues fail to get the critical mass necessary to bring about change.

How then do activists make national news relevant in their local community?

This is a timely and critical question for a variety of reasons: first, support is diminishing for the Iraq Occupation, President Bush and Conservative policies. Secondly, bloggers and the Internet have altered how news is made and how it is reported. It is an opportune time for Progressives to make hay.

Make it local.

Activists need to make national issues local issues by giving them a local flavor. This can be done by adding a local face or personal story to a national issue or by showing the effect of a national issue on your local community.

Many national issues fail to gain broad appeal because they seem inconsequential to the lives of many in communities across the country. The story has to gain lots of momentum before it begins to resonate beyond the beltway. Think, will the local Kansas City TV stations sports broadcast talk about how the NY Yankees are doing? Usually not, but they will talk about the Yankees if there is a local connection to their hometown Royals–a pending trade with the Yanks, a upcoming series, or a local resident on the team, etc.

It is all about marketing.

A little work such as a press release or a phone call to local media can go a long way to getting local coverage of an issue. You can provide the media with a local news peg/angle for a national issue -- a contact, a story, statement, image, etc. Knowing the needs and preferences of your local media will help.

It is essential to keep a pulse of the national news and issues. When news is breaking or gaining momentum, such as we saw with Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, Texas this summer, there is an excellent opportunity to drive the anti-war story home. You need to be prepared and ready to move quickly.

Think beyond traditional activist actions such as a demonstration with signs and banners to create an image for the media. Carrying signs can be effective, but should be used as a last resort. You can come across as complaining all the time. Signs are about outrage.

The more creative and innovative you are in providing the media with novel news angles and new images, the greater your chances for coverage are. If you do the same thing all the time and have the same faces all the time you will become boring and predictable. You also begin to influence the story by turning it from the war, to "Oh, there is that protester again." The media will begin to typecast you like a character actor who can only play one role and all this means less coverage. Remember you are trying to spin news, not make it.

Be persistent, not overbearing. Be prepared for your share of rejection and don’t let your ego get in the way. Even if your ideas are rejected, you will be influencing local news by getting the newsrooms to read your press release.

Understand that you are at the mercy of competing events/news, time and staff availability. Often a follow-up phone call will help, or at least make sure your release has been read.

Developing a personal relationship with local media people is helpful. Remember that you are trying to help the local media person by being a reliable informational source. You are making their job easier.

Localizing Tips

The following are some ways to help make the national news the local news in your area:

-- Have a well known local celebrity comment about an issue.or show their relationship to the issue. For example, Etan Thomas, former Syracuse (local) college basketball player, turned NBA star, spoke at the September 24, 2005 anti-war rally in Washington. Democracy Now broadcast his speech. On September 26th I sent out a press release with a copy of the speech and a link to Democracy Now and pointed out the local connection. This resulted in two op-eds and several letters to the editor in the local paper as well as several news stories on local TV and radio about the War, Etan and the rally. Several radio stations told me that they would have been interested in interviewing Etan if I had been able to contact him. This story reverberated because Etan was an eloquent speaker, a national figure, and he had been a local person.

Local Residents involved/affected -- The press is always keen to report on local people involved in national issues. A press release with the names and numbers of local activists traveling to join Cindy Sheehan in Crawford in the summer of 2005 got lots of positive media coverage. In fact, several waves of supporters traveled there and each one got some coverage. One local activist that went to Crawford, exchanged phone numbers with the press and attempted to be their roving reporter on the scene. Note that this was a human interest story, not a sign carrying story.

Consequences to the local community -- Conveying the consequences of breaking international/national news to your local community turns the story into a local story. For example, detailing how Washington budget cuts are hurting the local area is news. It is also about community. You can humanize the story by providing a contact for someone affected by the cuts.

Talking heads -- Have people available to speak about an issue. Send a press release out when news breaks with comments from local experts, for example, "Professor so and so calls the indictment of Scooter Libby a major blow to the President." Be careful to bring in fresh faces and people, not to be same old, same old. Establish a contact list with people and issues, preferably something beyond what the media has and update and change it regularly.

For example, when the Washington Post article broke about the Black Sites where foreign prisons were detained and tortured, I sent out a press release with comments and contact information from a local religious leader who is passionate about the issue. This resulted in his being interviewed on talk radio.

Develop a story -- Once you have a local resident involved in a national issue, try to keep the person in the limelight by making it a human interest story. Let that person talk about how they feel and how they are coping and dealing with the issue. For example, I attempted to get people coming back from Crawford interviewed and let them tell their personal stories and how it affected their lives.

Confront/Conflict -- When national news breaks contrary to your perspective, issue a statement or get someone to make a comment about the issue that is favorable to your view. This gives the media the opportunity to go more in depth about an issue by presenting the other side. It is also a way of creating conflict and tension, which always sells. It is critical to be judicious about this strategy and to carefully think out all the repercussions to avoid a negative effect.

Use talk radio, community papers and niche publications -- Talk radio and community papers are looking for content and generally have fewer reporters and more space. This means you might have a better chance to emphasize your point. You will also be getting the attention of local mainstream news people who read community papers.

For example, people coming back from Crawford could have been interviewed by working different niche media. If the person had a Catholic connection, you would pitch them to the regional Diocesan newspaper. If they were a union member, you would contact the local union newspaper. If they were a student you would contact the editor that covers schools.

Statements -- Issue a statement, send out a press release with the backing of some organization in response to some news development. This will help you frame the issue and get the media to be aware of your ideas and possibly be influenced. It also provides organizations an opportunity to define themselves by stating heir beliefs. This can be a more difficult method to get coverage, but even if you don’t get coverage your press release will gain exposure with the media and such actions often have a cumulative effect.

Local Blog–On Progressive National Issues -- If bloggers have been successful at influencing national media then a local blog focusing on the impact of national issues on local communities should get the eyeballs of the local media and concerned citizens.

Examining national issues with a local lens is a valuable tool to helping them resonate in local communities. Providing local media with fresh images and creative news pegs beyond traditional activist actions such as sign carrying demonstrations will increase media exposure. Since this is not labor intensive nor does it require many people, it allows activists more time for other actions.

Enormous communications and technological changes are dramatically transforming how news is being gathered, reported and distributed. Activists must learn to adapt and take advantage of these changes so that they can maximize their efforts. A deep schism exists between what cutting edge bloggers have been able to accomplish nationally and what is being done locally. Bridging this schism is our opportunity to drive home the progressive agenda.

If you are not familiar with working with the press I suggest reading Pete Wirth’s "Dancing with the Devil":

Madis Senner, CPA, is an ex global money manager turned faith-based activist. His causes include supporting a Muslim doctor, Dr. Rafil Dhafir, ( convicted of violating the Iraqi sanctions and protesting the Federal Reserve (  He can be reached at