Get a foot in the door

I work a lot with with activists in south and eastern Africa, talking about how they can use the media to publicise their work, and get their information and views out to a broader audience.

One of the common complaints people make is that it’s very difficult to get an article into the media. And by that, they usually mean national newspapers, and then the government-owned radio and TV stations.

The papers in many countries tend to be dominated by reports of political infighting on the one hand, and sport on the other, with little space for serious coverage of social issues.

The government-owned broadcast media are generally not open to running reports critical of government action or policy.

But once people put a bit of thought into the various types and range of media that really do exist in a country, and think a bit more creatively about story approaches, the situation always starts to look a lot more hopeful.

It’s a good idea to sit down and start to list all the media outlets you can think of. And think beyond just the major newspapers, radio and TV channels. Think about local papers, specialist papers, niche publications, magazines, consumer magazines, retail club magazines, specialist magazines, professional journals, church and club newsletters, community radio stations, private stations, music stations. Then there are websites and blogs and news feeds. Suddenly, there seem to be a lot more possibilities.

Then start to get creative. For example, a police communications officer might think of approaching a horse lovers magazine to do a feature on mounted urban patrols. Or a cycling magazine to write about police officers who patrol on bikes. A car magazine might be interested in looking at how the police get to remote villages across difficult terrain. And so on.

Even government-owned media can often be persuaded to run stories they normally wouldn’t, if you frame the issue cleverly. No government is monolithic, and it is possible to frame a critical report in a way that makes it seem you’re doing government a favour. For example, instead of saying, “government is still failing to live up to its commitment to spend 15% of the budget on health”, say, “the government has been brave in committing to spend 15% on health, but it seems to be struggling to find ways to make that commitment a reality. We think our research could provide government with some pointers on how this could be achieved…”

The thing is to keep thinking creatively and to keep trying. It’s not so much about getting one big bang, as about having a constant stream of publicity, all over the place. And media coverage leads to more media coverage. The thing is, to get a foot in the door.

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