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