Independent Living Institute www.independentliving.org


Media Information

Disability Awareness in Action
Resource Kit No. 1



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Download the Media Information Kit as a PDF file (60 KB)


8. Press Releases

 

Who, What, Where, When Why?

A press release must always answer these five questions, preferably in the first one or two paragraphs.

Remember, local press and radio receive many press releases each week - yours must stand out. It must be immediate, interesting and intelligible. You must also make clear why the story is of interest to a particular audience. The release must be brief, getting quickly to the heart of the news story or event, provide all the relevant facts, and give the necessary contact to follow up.

If you check radio listings, you may be able to find the producer or other person in charge of a programme. For local papers, address the release to a specialist reporter if you can find a relevant one; if not, to the editor.

The Pyramid

To write a press release, think of an upsidedown pyramid. The broadest part is at the top, and this is where all the most important information goes. At the bottom are extra facts, which if never printed or broadcast won't mean readers or listeners miss what is essential. Editors often start cutting stories from the last paragraph.

If your first two or three paragraphs contain all the most relevant information, and the following paragraphs add more and more supplementary information, your release is more likely to be used whatever space or airtime the editor or producer has available. Remember, make it easy for people.

Hard News Releases

Hard news press releases announce a specific piece of news. Most often, they are written in a way that will allow the printing or broadcasting of the content as it is written, or in a way that can be easily edited by journalists. A hard news press release may also stimulate media people to research the subject and produce an in-depth story on an issue-related event or subject.

You might use a hard news release to announce cutbacks or increases in budgets, reactions to changes in laws relevant to disability, expression of outrage at lack of action on key issues, launching of programmes or projects, the special honours or achievements of group members.

Soft News Release

Soft news releases are intended as teasers, containing enough information to stimulate journalists or producers of TV or radio shows to write a feature story or conduct an interview.

The feature news release doesn't aim to provide all the information. It outlines the issue, gives examples of people who might be suitable for interviews, and describes what personal or unusual stories they might have to tell.

Invitation Release

These are not intended for publication or broadcast. They are intended as invitations to the media to attend certain events, such as a press conference. Your aim is to interest editors, so that, after reading the release, they will assign a reporter to attend, and ultimately to write or conduct interviews for print or broadcast on the subject announced at the actual press conference.

Action Ideas

Keep a copy.

At the end of the release, type -30- or five asterisks (*). This is to let journalists know that they have reached the end.

Follow Up

Make follow-up phone calls. Check receipt of the press release. Be brief and specific. Busy reporters and editors won't have a lot of time to spend on the phone. State your name and organisation and the subject of the release.

If your release is used, send a note to thank the relevant editor, reporter or producer. You have now established a contact with that person and it may well be possible to encourage them to publicise a future event.

 

[Sample press release layout]

 

Press Release

6 October 1992

 

Press Contact - [First Name, Last Name, Phone Number]

Readers'/Listeners' Contact - [First Name, Last Name, Phone Number]

Disabled People "Speak Up" About Their Lives

 

On the 12th of October, disabled people in [your area] will join others around the world to speak up about what their lives are like.

At the same time, at the United Nations in New York, Disability Awareness in Action, a one-year international public education campaign, is presenting a collection of statements made by disabled people from all over the world. These include letters, poems, diaries, pictures, photos and cartoons, in every language, including braille and sign.

[Name of your organisation] is holding a public reading of statements written by local people as part of this international event. Disabled people will be telling the stories of their lives; letting non-disabled people know about the difficulties caused by inaccessible buildings and transport, segregated education, poor employment prospects and poverty.

[You might include details of some of the letters you have collected, putting the emphasis on the physical and social barriers which prevent the full participation of disabled people in society.]

The presentation to the United Nations is to mark the end of the UN Decade of Disabled Persons (1983-1992); to assess what has been achieved and to plan for a Society For All by the Year 2000.

Please come along to the "Speak Up" at [venue] on [date] at [time].

For Further Information, Contact:

[Name

Address

Tel.]



9. Press Conferences

 

Timing

Press conferences should be held at times convenient for press deadlines because reporters will try to report the news on the same day as the conference, or for next day's newspaper. The best time of day is usually about 10 am or 10.30 am on weekdays, the earlier in the week the better. Remember that TV reporters need time to process and edit film, usually to meet a 6 pm news deadline.

Try to make sure that your conference doesn't conflict with other major news stories. If you can, call a friendly editor and find out what else is scheduled for the date you have in mind.

Invitations

Send out an invitation press release, announcing the press conference, giving the who, what, where, when and why of the conference. Give an indication of what the subject will be, but don't give everything away. You want to encourage the media to come along to find out the full story at the conference itself.

If possible, your conference press release should hit journalists' desks a week to ten days in advance of the date fixed for the conference. Two or three days before the event, call to ask if the invitation has been received and whether a reporter will be assigned to attend. Busy editorial offices receive many press releases, so telephoning will jog people's memories. Make a note of the names of anyone indicating interest, as this will give you an idea of how many people to expect. You can then make sure that you have enough press packs.

Press Packs

In addition to the initial press release, you might want to prepare written information to hand out at the press conference itself. This might include brief biographies of the speakers; copies of research studies, the results of which are to be revealed at the conference; details of grants received, with the name of the funding organisation.

Location

Choose a place that's convenient for all media, with good parking facilities. Sometimes what you are announcing will determine the site. If you announce the opening of a new centre, for example, you should hold the conference there.

A large, simple room is all you need - perhaps a school room or a room in a community centre or church hall. If there is a parking fee charged by the owners of the site, try to arrange for media to be admitted free of charge by showing a press card or invitation.

If the room is inside a large building, arrange for signs pointing the way to the conference. Check that TV crews, carrying camera, lighting and other equipment, can find their way to it easily. Check that the room has good lighting, a neutral decor, and isn't next door to a noisy event on the day of your conference.

Make sure the room and building are accessible to disabled people. If possible, provide an induction loop and sign language interpreters.

Equipment

Check that there are enough electrical outlets to let TV crews plug in extra lighting equipment, if they need to.

If the press conference is small, normal speaking voices will be enough. For a public meeting or event where you expect larger numbers of people, it's sensible to provide a microphone. Some places, such as hotels, may provide amplification equipment. Otherwise, you may be able to rent or borrow them.

Speakers usually have either a stand-up microphone or sit at a table with a microphone in front of them. For conferences featuring a panel, or more than one speaker, more than one microphone may be needed.

If possible, have your speakers arrive early enough to speak into the microphones and test their voices out for sound level. This will give you a chance to check the equipment for interference before the press conference begins.

Visuals

Your group may have supporting photographs, graphics or posters available to depict the theme or goal of your organisation. If so, it's helpful to set these visual elements up, either behind the speaker or in a separate area where post-conference interviews can be conducted by reporters. Visual elements appearing in the background of any coverage can add enormous impact to the words you choose to convey your message and will attract TV people to the conference.

Rehearsal

Depending on the news or story, try to anticipate what questions will be asked by the media. Help your speaker to plan the factual content of appropriate answers. Things will go much more smoothly if there is time for a practice question and answer session before the conference.

On the Day

When members of the media arrive, they should be given copies of any back-up materials. It may also be helpful to give them a list of the names of people speaking and any people or organisations mentioned during the conference, so that print journalists can ensure correct spellings.

Give tags with names, titles and the name of your organisation to speakers and other representatives, or put a name sign in front of them if they are seated at a table. Make the writing as large as possible.

It's normally the task of the person who has taken responsibility for contacting the media to introduce the speaker. Keep this brief and factual. Provide the names and titles of the speakers and a brief summary of the reason for the press conference.

The speaker usually begins by reading from a prepared statement, giving the facts and implications of the news being announced. If you are speaking, try to keep your voice as natural as possible. Speak clearly, slightly slower than normal and, if you make a mistake, begin the sentence again.

Questions

After the prepared section of the press conference, ask for questions from members of the media. This part of the conference can take up to about half an hour You need formally to bring it to an end when questions seem to be slowing down. Some reporters may then want an opportunity for a brief one-to-one interview with speakers. It is usual to allow TV the first opportunity, followed by radio people and finally by print reporters.



10. Events

 

Though conferences, workshops, seminars and public meetings are intended more for group members and the public, the media should be encouraged to come along, and to report on the subjects discussed, decisions reached or new findings announced. In this way, you can continue and broaden the debate begun at these events, and gain publicity for your organisation and the issues that concern it.

MediaAction Ideas
Press Passes

On registration or arrival, members of the media should be given identification tags with "Press" written on them, and their name and publication or company.

Welcome

Someone from your organisation should greet the media, offering whatever help may be required and providing background material and information.

Press Tables

Reserve special seats or a press table where reporters can see and hear easily. You could reserve front row seats or set up a press table on one side of the platform.

Press Room

If the event lasts a full day or longer, members of the media will appreciate having a room to themselves. This will give them a quiet place where they can look at their notes or study the programme and other background materials. Extra copies of texts of speeches, programmes and research papers should be available in the press room. Try to make sure that there are telephones nearby. You could make coffee and light snacks available as well.

Afterwards

It might be worthwhile to issue a press release after the event. If you are writing a release after a conference, seminar, workshop or meeting, remember that the release isn't being written to describe the conference or meeting in the order of what happened there.


11 Interviews

 

Approach

 

Your aim is to interest an editor, reporter, researcher or producer in a story that you (or someone associated with your organisation) knows a lot about.

In an interview, you have the chance to put your point of view on an issue, make that issue known to readers, listeners or viewers and gain publicity for your organisation. Interviews usually set up a degree of tension between the interviewer and the person being interviewed. Audiences like this tension; are more alert as they listen to what is essentially a conversation with a structure and an aim.

Study the print media and get to know the bylines and subjects covered by specialist writers, columnists, and special sections of publications. Think about radio and television programmes for your area. What programmes are interview shows, community or public affairs-related programmes, issue-related shows? What audience is the show aimed at? Learn to distinguish national programmes from those that originate locally. In most cases, you will want to aim for the latter.

You can approach media people by post, telephone or in person. In all cases, have a letter or press release outlining the story idea written in advance.

For a print interview, you can approach an editor in the hope that he or she will assign a reporter to develop the story. Or you can approach a reporter, who may in turn propose the idea to the editor and ask to be assigned to research and write it. If you've already made a contact, this may be the best approach. For broadcast, the Producer of a particular programme is usually the person to approach. If you're not sure, phone the station and ask.

You might prefer to telephone and present your idea briefly, then offer to send written material. Or you can send written material and follow it up with a phone call. When you do, try asking for an appointment to discuss the idea in person.

Ask if print reporters or broadcast researchers want to conduct interviews by telephone and be prepared to provide them with the phone numbers of people willing to be interviewed. Alternatively, offer to bring interviewees to a location of the reporter's or researcher's choice - after making sure that it is accessible.

Prepare

If you don't want to be interviewed yourself, choose someone who will enjoy the process and can relax. In broadcasts, hesitation creates "dead air" - a few seconds silence which sounds like forever.

For radio or TV, choose someone who can deal with the subject concisely in a two-minute interview, or expand on the topic if needed. Two minutes may not sound like much, but a lot can by conveyed in a very short time by broadcast.

During a print or radio interview, when you aren't being seen by the public, it can sometimes be useful to note facts, figures and information on small, file-size cards that can be held in one hand and glanced at from time to time.

The best way to ensure that an interview goes well is to be well-prepared. Whether you are being interviewed by a print reporter or a broadcaster, the most important thing to do is to guess which questions that are likely to be asked and to plan possible answers. This isn't as difficult as it sounds. Although you've got to be prepared for anything, on the whole, interviewers will ask the obvious questions, though they may do so in interesting ways.

Use your knowledge of your organisation and its activities to pinpoint areas of interest and controversy. Write them down and beside them add possible answers.

Only prepare answers in a general way, however, so you can be flexible if things don't come up in exactly the way you thought they would. You want your answers to sound spontaneous, not pre-written to a formula. You can prepare some quotable quotes or catchy phrases to sum up your theme. If you can say something in one or two sentences, that is snappy and succinct, yet sounds sincere, it will be remembered. These are called "soundbites" and are becoming increasingly popular with people who appear frequently in the media.

On Air

Studios vary from small, enclosed rooms with microphones on tables or hanging from overhead, to large halls for studio audiences. Before the interview, you'll be asked to speak a few phrases into the microphone to allow technical staff to take a reading of your voice levels and make any necessary adjustments to equipment.

On most occasions, the interviewer will discuss the scope of the interview before the broadcast: the areas to be covered, although not the exact questions; the duration of the interview; the context, format and time of day of the programme.

Listen to the questions carefully and answer calmly and deliberately. If you know ahead of time that there is a particular piece of information or message you want to convey, and the questions don't let you do so, try to redirect a question or phrase your answer so that you can include what you want to say.

Be aware that the interviewer may put questions to you that are highly critical of your views and aims. Try not to get annoyed. These may not even be his or her own views. Remember that it is the interviewer's job to put obvious criticisms to you and to allow you the chance to answer them. Recognising the existence of an opposite view will make you appear more human and more credible. Professionalism, personal experience and a sense of humour always come over well.

Ideally, the interviewer won't ask questions that require a simple yes or no answer. You want to get beyond this to your argument or to the most important facts.

Action Ideas

continue...12. Printing, Circulation and Distribution


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