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WORKING WITH THE MEDIA

The media works to inform. Communicating with a broad range and large number of Canadians, the media has the power to influence both the public and policymakers. Media coverage gives exposure to your issue, while hot media topics can quickly become part of the government's agenda.

Preparation and timeliness are the keys to successful media relations.

Preparation means:

  • Researching the issue
  • Developing a set of points you wish to communicate
  • Following the news for changes in policy and for opportunities to respond
  • Having background information ready to distribute
  • Presenting yourself an information resource
  • Thinking carefully before you speak/write

Timeliness means:

  • Making sure your news is current and newsworthy
  • Respecting reporter/submission deadlines
  • Responding quickly to phone calls and emails

There are a number of ways for you to make contact with the media. Three of the most effective methods are letters to the editor, op-ed columns, and press releases.

Write a letter to the editor

Writing a letter to the editor is an easy way to get your voice in print media. The editorial section of most newspapers is widely read, making a published letter a very effective means of spreading a message. (See the Toolbox section for a letter to the editor template).

Tips:

  • Keep it current. If you're writing in response to an article/editorial, be sure to be quick to get it in the mail. If you're not writing a rebuttal, give your letter a more up-to-the-minute feel by linking your ideas to currently debated legislation, the Speech from the Throne, recently publicized reports, the newly released federal budget, or upcoming holidays and events.

  • Keep it concise. No more than 300 words. A succinct letter is less likely to be edited by the paper, so more likely to say exactly what you mean. Get a friend to help edit and proofread.

  • Keep it community. Whether it's distributed across the country or within your neighbourhood, you want your letter to resonate with its readers. Remind your audience about how archives affect them -- their lives, their family, their community's culture. Finally, let them know what actions they can take to help.

Write an op-ed

An Op-Ed (Opposite-Editorial) column, in contrast with an Editorial, is an opinion piece signed and submitted by someone who is not part of the paper's personnel. Op-Eds are generally printed on the page opposite to the editorials, hence their name.

Unlike letters to the editor, an op-ed is generally expected to provide an expert opinion on the topic it presents. While in large papers they are usually the realm of CEOs and directors of organizations, any professional title you can use that suggests authority on the issue will lend weight to your arguments.

Tips:

  • Stay focused. Choose one, specific topic to write about.

  • Stick with the facts. Information is the commodity an editor is after. While a philosophical or academic essay, for example, may rely heavily on rhetoric to communicate an idea, newspaper writing emphasizes factual information.

  • Edit and proofread. Pay attention to grammar and spelling. Get a friend or colleague to read over your op-ed before it's submitted.

  • Call first. Submission guidelines vary from paper to paper. Generally the column is between 600 and 800 words and can be submitted by email, however it may be worthwhile to contact the editor before writing your column.

Click here for more tips to writing an op-ed column by a newspaper editor.

Write a press release

A press release is written to alert the media to a story and convince them that it's newsworthy.
(See Toolbox section for a press release template)

Tips:

  • Make sure your story really is newsworthy. Establish yourself as a reliable source by thinking like a journalist - will this story interest the audience?

  • Always write in the third person. Remember that that most news stories aim to be objective reports. With the exception of quotes from sources, a press release should be written entirely in the third person.

  • Be brief. Keep most paragraphs to between three and five concise sentences. The release itself should be between half a page and two pages, with one page being the ideal length.

  • Follow the format. Your press release needs to look like a press release or it won't be picked up.

  • Grab their attention with a good headline. The headline should be catchy and summarize the content of the release in 6-8 words.

  • Begin with a bang. Remember that newspaper writing calls for information to be organized like an inverted pyramid: the most important information at the beginning, the less important details towards the end. The beginning of the article is what's most likely to be read.

  • The first paragraph should briefly recount the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your story.

  • Subsequent paragraphs should supply the details and support the information given in the headline and first paragraph.

  • The last paragraph should briefly profile your organization.

  • Edit and proofread. Pay attention to grammar and spelling. Get a friend or colleague to read over your op-ed before it's submitted.

  • Remember: a good press release could be published as sent. While reporters are used to weaving releases into articles, regional and community papers often simply print as is, keeping you in control of your message.

Have you made contact with the media? The Canadian Council of Archives wants to hear about it! Send a copy of your letter to the editor, op-ed, or press release to:

The Canadian Council of Archives
130 Albert Street
Room 501
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5G4
Telephone: (613) 565-1222
Fax: (613) 565-5445
Email: cnichols@archivescanada.ca


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