Communicating Through the Media

The media doesn't merely record public and political concerns-it plays a major role in shaping the political agenda and influencing public opinion. Members of Congress may determine their position on a controversial issue based upon media coverage. Public officials look to news to determine what issues are hot and which side seems to be winning. The power of the local press can be even greater than that of the national media.

Write a letter to the editor or op-ed article. Educate the public. Most local newspapers welcome well-written opinion pieces on matters affecting their readership. The media uses op-eds from members of the community to inform and educate their audiences. You can send an op-ed to all available media outlets in your community, including daily and weekly newspapers, university/medical school newsletters, and volunteer or service-oriented publications.

Or write a letter to the editor responding to an issue that's already been raised in the paper. These letters are regularly read by decision-makers and are more consistently read by all readers than either editorial or op-ed pieces.

Contact AAA for assistance in drafting or placing your article or letter.

Giving an interview. Here are a few tips to help you through an interview:

  • Approach the interview as an opportunity to state your positive messages. Decide the key points you'd like to see printed or aired and make these points often.
  • Use language to "bridge" back to your key messages, such as "While I know public sentiment is high on this issue, the reality is (your primary message)."
  • As much as you can, try to maintain control over the direction in which the interview is going.
  • Do not joke-unless you don't mind seeing what you say in print.
  • Say nothing off the record unless you have a longstanding and trusting relationship with the reporter. The golden rule is to assume that everything you say to a reporter will end up in print, on television, or on the radio.
  • Tell the truth.
  • If you don't know the answer, acknowledge it and offer to follow-up with a response.
  • Give them what they need: quotable phrases. Describe a few personal experiences.
  • Repeat your message.

Handling hostility. Recent demonstrations and incidents of violence have raised new concerns about animal rights groups' opposition to animal-based research. You could be a target simply because you are a biomedical scientist working with animals. Be prepared for media inquiries on such issues. Many of the inquiries may be negative and involve situations in which you were not involved. Contact AAA for assistance in responding. Refer to the AAA Newsletter for articles on proactive strategies for dealing with animal rights incidents-March 2001 (page 3) and June 2001 (page 4).

 
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