|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 20||June 12, 1997|
One of the reasons the Internet is such a powerful tool for organizing and advocacy is that it provides an unfiltered means of communication. Whether the issue is air pollution or overpopulation, human rights or union fights, cyberspace is a forum in which activists can communicate their concerns directly to the cyber-public. But Internet outreach is best regarded as a supplement to, not a substitute for, outreach through the media.
Media advocacy remains a powerful way for activists to draw attention to a cause, influence decisions by public agencies and elected officials, or put pressure on a private corporation to change its ways. Activists who use the media effectively have an advantage over those who don't. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to get the media's attention.
The good news is that the Internet has generated a whole new sub-category of media, from flashy Web-based newspapers and magazines to simple electronic newsletters. This means there are more potential outlets to carry your message.
And with E-mail, it's much easier -- and far less costly -- to send press releases to reporters and editors. This is the case whether they work for a cyberspace publication, or a traditional media outlet.
If you already have a media list, ask the reporters on your list for their E-mail addresses. If they have E-mail, chances are they'll be willing to give you the address.
If you're just developing a media list, start by checking the Web sites of the media outlets you want to reach. There are a number of Web sites with media directories. Three that are fairly comprehensive are:
Once you're compiled an E-mail media list, it's easy to distribute press releases and media advisories at virtually no cost. Whether your community of interest is local, national, or international, online distribution of press releases can be effective.
While list software like Majordomo is helpful, it's not essential. With simple-to-use E-mail software like Eudora and Pegasus, you can create a "media" nickname in the mailbox directory. Since the nickname can include multiple E-mail addresses, one "media" nickname is all you'll need to send E-mail to all the reporters and editors you want to reach.
Remember to type the "media" nickname in the "bcc" field of the message header, rather than in the "to" or "cc" field. That way, the press release will be distributed simultaneously to multiple recipients without disclosing any of the recipients' E-mail addresses.
Yes, this is a type of spam. But in my experience, very few reporters complain about receiving unsolicited E-mail press releases. Of course, it's important to send the press release to the right reporter or editor. Someone assigned to the education beat is not going to appreciate receiving a press release about a rally to save the Redwoods.
Getting your press release to the right reporters is just the first step in effective media advocacy. The release itself must be timely, compelling, and concisely written. But that's another subject, which I'll address in another issue of NetAction Notes.
One aspect of media advocacy that is often overlooked by activists is talk radio. In addition to a number of syndicated national talk radio programs, many communities have local call-in shows focused on public affairs. These programs offer activists an excellent opportunity to shape public opinion on a wide range of issues.
Chris Roth has compiled a Tool Kit for activists who want to participate in radio and television talk show discussions about free speech. Chris publishes the First Amendment Update, an electronic newsletter that focuses on issues of free speech, artist's rights, and the separation of church and state.
In a recent issue of the First Amendment Update, Chris published an Action Kit of tips for talking to the media. Although the media contact information in the Tool Kit is specific to Wisconsin, where Chris is located, the Tool Kit is an excellent model for activists in other communities. And the tips for talking to the media are applicable anywhere.
The First Amendment Update is available only by E-mail, but Chris gave permission to NetAction to post the Tool Kit to the NetAction Web site. You will find it at: http://www.netaction.org/action-kit.html.
In the Tool Kit, Chris has taken the rhetoric of the political right and turned it around. For example, he recommends that First Amendment advocates use words like "snooping," "intolerant," and "extremist" to describe those who favor censorship, while associating support for the First Amendment with words such as "freedom," "liberties," and "Founding Fathers."
To subscribe to the First Amendment Update and receive the Action Kits,
send an e-mail message to:
IN the body of the message write:
(Please use your actual first and last name; not your e-mail address.)
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an advocacy tool that the media frequently uses, but activists often overlook. FOIA requests to government agencies can turn up all sorts of interesting documents, but patience is required because there are often long delays before documents requested under FOIA rules are provided by government agencies.
Activists interested in filing FOIA requests may find it useful to subscribe to FOI-L, an E-mail list that was started as a service to the National Freedom of Information Coalition. NFOIC is an alliance of nonprofit state FOI and First Amendment organizations, and academic centers working on First Amendment-related issues.
FOI-L list moderator Barbara C. Fought recently provided subscribers with a list of FOIA-related Web sites. Here are a few of those sites:
To subscribe to FOI-L, send an email message to:
In the body of the message, type:
NetAction Notes is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology policy issues.
To subscribe to NetAction Notes, send a message to:
The body of the message should state:
To unsubscribe at any time, send a message to: . The body of the message should state:
For more information contact NetAction by phone at (415) 215-9392, by E-mail at, visit the NetAction Web site or write to: NetAction * P.O. Box 6739* Santa Barbara, CA 93160
Copyright 1996-2003 by NetAction. All rights reserved. Material may be reposted or reproduced for non-commercial use provided NetAction is cited as the source.