Media Tools

The following are examples of tools you can use to attract media attention for your agency, for victim issues specifically or in general:

  • News/media releases;
  • News conferences/media events;
  • Letters to the editor;
  • Op-eds;
  • Blogs and other social media;
  • Meetings with editorial boards;
  • Public service announcements.

News release

A news release is a short, one page (two pages maximum) description of the news you want the media to cover. It can be the release of a report, the start of a new project, the results of research, etc.

Journalists or editors see many releases everyday and have to decide which ones they will cover. Here are some tips to ensure your news releases get attention:

  • Make sure the release has an interesting title and first paragraph that will catch the attention of the editor;
  • It should be informative – answer who, what, where, why and when;
  • The release should be short and to the point so that it can be read quickly;
  • Use active, definitive language as opposed to passive, tentative language;
  • Include a quote from your spokesperson that a print journalist could take directly from the release for a news story;
  • Write the release like a news story – use the third person, not the first person, make it factual, emphasize the elements that a journalist would include in his/her story.

Here are practical tips for preparing the release:

  • The release should be printed on your letterhead;
  • Send it out a couple of days in advance (if possible) and then early in the morning (before 9:00am) on the day of, so assignment editors see if before they decide what everyone will be working on;
  • Avoid issuing the release on a day when something else big is happening, such as a contentious city council meeting;
  • You can pay to have a news release sent out on the “wire” but this can be very expensive depending on whether you want it sent regionally or internationally and in both official languages. If you have a list of local journalists or outlets, it may be cheaper to fax or email the release;
  • Follow-up the release with phone calls to the assignment editors or reporters that you have relationships with. Even if they are not able to cover the story, they may try to make sure another reporter will.

News releases should be used sparingly and reserved for the kind of story you want various media outlets to cover (as opposed to a human interest story you want a specific journalist to report on). The opening paragraph is the most important part of the release next to the title. If the journalist is not interested after reading this paragraph, he/she may not read any further. Include the most important facts. For example, a new report done by the Victim Office confirms what victim service providers have been saying for years: victims of crime are not reporting their victimization to the police. While many say that the crime was not serious enough, the report raises disturbing questions about why victims of serious crimes, such as sexual assault, are not calling the police.

The second paragraph should contain more context and detail about the story, in this case the report. Some statistics, trends and numbers will give the journalist some background information. Focus on the most interesting or surprising facts.

The third paragraph should contain a quote from your spokesperson (or this can go earlier). The quote should be a paragraph on its own. Again, this quote should be something the journalist can use in his or her story. It should be a strong statement. Jon Smith, the Executive Director of the Victim Office, said, “Insert short, relevant quote.”

The last paragraph should summarize the issue and/or provide specifics about an event (if there is one) or how to get a copy of a report (if there is one). Ideally, the 4th paragraph is the last one although that may not always be possible. You should avoid putting too much information in the release.

The following example of a news release may help service providers with the format and content of their own:

Sample News Release

News Release

For Immediate Release
Date: April 16, 2008
Contact: Heidi Illingworth, Executive Director, Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime

Phone: 613-233-7614 or 613-762-9499

VICTIMS TO ASK PUBLIC SAFETY MINISTER TO END LEGISLATED TWO-YEAR PAROLE REVIEW FOR MURDERERS

Ottawa – The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime (CRCVC) will join the families of murder victims today in calling for the end of the legislated two-year parole review for killers when a petition is tabled in the House of Commons. Ms. Terri Prioriello and John, Sally and Carolyn Gardner will also meet with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day at 12:10 pm, to ask the government to amend the Criminal Code of Canada and Corrections and Conditional Release Act, to stipulate that convicted murderers should only have parole hearings every five years after reaching their parole eligibility dates.

Sheryl Gardner was a 20-year-old aspiring model working in Toronto when Ralph Ernest Power, then 28, ended her life. Power impersonated a telephone repairman and arrived at Gardner’s apartment to fix her phone. Once inside he hit Gardner with a hammer and, when she began convulsing, he hit her 15 more times, bludgeoning her to death. Days later, Power attacked another woman who escaped. When he was arrested, police found files on 15 other women he had been stalking. At the time of the killing he was on parole for an arson sentence. He was convicted in 1981 for Sheryl’s murder.

In 1982, David Dobson sexually assaulted, tortured and brutally murdered 16-year old Darlene (Dolly) Prioriello. After the murder, he taunted detectives and called the victim’s family. In a letter to the police, Dobson vowed to kill again on the anniversary of Darlene’s murder. Dobson tried to plead guilty to second-degree murder, but the Crown rejected his attempts and pushed for a first-degree murder conviction. On April 11, 1983, Dobson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for 25 years.

Both Ralph Power and David Dobson have reached their Full Parole eligibility dates. The victims’ families feel overwhelmed with anxiety and horror knowing that they will face the burden of a hearing every two years, regardless of whether the offender has made positive progress or not.

A petition has been circulated across Canada and gathered almost 5000 signatures. Mr. Gord Brown, MP for Leeds-Grenville, will present the signed petitions in the House of Commons today, which falls in the middle of National Victims of Crime Awareness Week.

Following their meeting with Minister Day, the families will meet with Mr. Steve Sullivan, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, to express their anguish and ask him to consider making a recommendation to government to end the legislated two-year parole review for killers.

News conferences

A news conference is an event intended to attract significant media to report on your story, report, etc. News conferences should be used even more sparingly than news releases. News conferences, like news releases, should be about hard news. The story must be timely and interesting to a wide audience.

The event should include a spokesperson for your agency and other experts who can offer different perspectives. In the story above, you may have the Executive Director, the author of the report and a recognized academic. Avoid having too many spokespeople as it may dilute your specific message. Choosing the right people allows you to focus the message and ensure the journalists focus on what you think it the most important.

Remarks should be short and focused. This allows more time for the reporters to ask questions. Television journalists may also want to do interviews with a spokesperson after the event.

You should give each reporter a media package with a copy of the news release, bios of the speakers, information about your agency and a copy of the report, fact sheets or backgrounder as appropriate.

Location is critical. Some cities have official news conference facilities that are free for agencies to use. Or, if there is a location that relates to your announcement, then you may hold it there. For example, if you are announcing a new centre for children, then it makes sense to have it there. Normally, you will have to do it indoors. If you can arrange to work with a politician, you may be able to use facilities in the legislature or city hall. This makes it easy for journalists as they can often watch the event from their offices.

The news conference should be held in the late morning (to give assignment editors time to assign a reporter and let him/her get to your event) or early afternoon (to allow a reporter time to prepare the story and get comments from others without rushing to meet the deadline). Fridays should be avoided.

You should send a media advisory out several days before the event and be sure to follow up with a call or email the day before or morning of the event.

Make sure to monitor the media to see how much media you received, the kinds of media you received (for example, print, TV, radio), whether the coverage reflected your intended message, etc. While other events occurring in your community at the same time will impact the coverage, analysis will help you identify what worked well and/or did not work well. It will also help you decide if this kind of event is worth your time and effort in the future.

News conferences take time to organize and plan. You have to arrange schedules, pre-plan to make sure (as best you can) nothing else it happening on that day, arrange for a room that is equipped with microphones, etc. Here is a quick to do list:

  • Pick a date for the event;
  • Choose a venue;
  • Arrange for speakers;
  • Prepare a media release;
  • Send out media advisory several days before the event;
  • Prepare a media package;
  • Make calls or send email day before or morning of the event;
  • Send out media release the morning of the event;
  • Monitor the media;

Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor are a very easy, low-cost way of getting your message into the newspaper. They will not have the same effect as a front page news story but can be effective.

A letter to the editor is usually done in response to a story that has appeared in the news paper. Your letter may support the article or the issue that was raised in the article or it may be critical of the story. If you are critical, be balanced, objective and factual. If you are too critical, the paper may not use your letter.

You should not write too many letters to the editor as they will not print letters from the same person too often. Letters to the editor are usually short; some newspaper may have rules on submissions.

The following is an example of a Letter to the Editor, written by Heidi Illingworth, Executive Director of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, which ran in the Toronto Star in June 2008:

Dear Editor:

We believe the “Crime and Punishment” series has failed to highlight the impact of serious violent crime on innocent Canadians. In 2003, crime in Canada cost an estimated $70 billion, a majority of which, $47 billion or 67%, was borne by the victims. Victim costs include the value of damaged or stolen property, pain and suffering, loss of income and productivity, and health services.

Working with families impacted by homicide and other serious, violent crimes on a daily basis, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime sees the clear need to reduce violent victimization in Canada. We strongly support crime prevention strategies and social development programs.

That being said, it is also our strong belief that public safety must be the main focus of the Canadian criminal justice system. We cannot continue to allow a small number of repeat, violent and dangerous offenders to cause such a disproportionate amount of crime and harm.

In responding to crime, we feel the government focus must be: enforcement, prevention and treatment. There is and will always be a need for prisons and incarceration, especially for serious, violent offenders. For those offenders deemed an acceptable risk to return to the community; we support treatment, training and ongoing support to make their reintegration successful.

Our Centre will continue to support legislation like the Tackling Violent Crime Act because it is a piece of legislation that may help to keep a few more persistent offenders who are dangerous off the streets. The safety of the public must come first. We will also continue to advocate for bringing a better balance to the justice system; one that better recognizes the harm done to victims, as well as holding offenders accountable for their actions.

Op-eds

Op-ed stands for “opposite the editorial.” It is basically an essay in which you state your opinion on a given subject. Consider yourself a guest columnist for the newspaper. You do not have to be objective in this piece but your intention should be to argue a certain position to readers.

Op-eds are a little more labour intensive than letters to the editor and can be very effective. They give you agency credibility and it allows you do deliver your message without it being filtered by a reporter. Op-eds may be very timely when a government has made an announcement that you have an informed opinion on or some research has been released that you can give more in-depth perspective than the media coverage has provided.

You should contact the opinion page editor before preparing the piece to make sure they are interested. This may save you some work if they are not able to use it or interested. This is like pitching a story – you will need to explain who you are (unless you already have a relationship), why your perspective is important, what you can add to the public’s understanding of this issue, etc.

An op-ed is like a combination of a news story and an essay. You want to make sure people actually read it so the title has to be catchy enough to attract their attention. Your first paragraph is the most important because most people will decide if they are going to read on after reading the first paragraph. It can be effective to begin with a provocative or controversial statement or a question that relates to the news item that you are writing about. “Does the government care about victims?” or “Why has the government neglected victims?” or “City council cares more about potholes than sexual assault victims.”

An op-ed is different from a letter to the editor because you are an expert on the topic. Anyone can write a letter to the editor and newspapers like it when their readers share their views. An op-ed is done by someone with specific knowledge so you should feel free to share that knowledge. Concrete examples are effective and research and/or statistics help support your arguments.

Most importantly, your op-ed must be well written. You may have the best arguments in the world but if you cannot communicate them in an effective and interesting way, no editor will use your piece. Op-eds are usually between 600 and 800 words but you should check with the editor of the paper you are submitting it to.

Once the op-ed has run, you should email it to your contacts in radio or TV media. They may be interested in doing follow-up interviews on your piece. Radio talk shows are a good opportunities for these kind of interviews. They have to fill hours of air time everyday and get people to call in and respond. A strong, clear position on an issue (for or against) that people care about is the kind of thing that makes people pick up the phone and call the radio host.

The following is an example of an op-ed, written by Steve Sullivan, which ran in the Hill Times in July 2010:

TRAFFICKING VICTIMS NEED PRIME MINISTER’S LEADERSHIP

The Prime Minister’s maternal health initiative has not been without controversy, but he managed to shine the spotlight on an important problem. And because of him, Canadians are talking about something most probably had not thought about before. In spite of the lingering questions, he raised awareness of the issue and kudos to him for that.

There are other issues that could benefit from his attention, like human trafficking. Three years ago, Parliament called upon the federal government to develop a national strategy to combat human trafficking, but Canada still does not have a plan. Reports of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and Justice and Human Rights made important recommendations on the need for the federal government to help develop and implement rehabilitative programs for victims of this hideous form of sexual exploitation. And still there is no plan.

A recent UN Report said that criminal groups make billions of dollars every year trafficking over 2 million people, the majority of whom are women and girls subjected to rape, violence, imprisonment and other forms of abuse. Women are trafficked into Canada from Asian countries and the former Soviet Union. Once they get here, their travel documents are taken. Every aspect of their lives is controlled. They are far away from their families and they do not speak the language. Their lives do not belong to them.

To their credit, the Conservative Government created special temporary residency permits for victims of trafficking that provide legal immigration status to victims, allowing them access to health-care benefits and trauma counselling and the ability to apply for a work permit. Yet there have been cases of children, suspected of being trafficking victims, being locked up in Immigration Detention Centres because there was no other place for them to go.

This is not just an international problem – Canadian victims are trafficked within Canada from city to city every day. A new RCMP report calls these the forgotten children and outlines how they are being exploited within and across provincial borders. Young Aboriginal girls are particularly vulnerable to this kind of exploitation.

And while we may not see young men as victims of this kind of exploitation, they are. Research done by Dr. Sue Mcintyre suggests that young males get into the sex trade at a younger age than girls and stay in the trade longer than girls.

While the Government has been largely absent on this issue, MPs have been busy, most notable, Tory MP Joy Smith. She introduced a bill to increase penalties for trafficking of children and because of her commitment and passion, it became law last week. Congratulations to Smith for her dedication, but tougher sentences won’t mean much if Canada doesn’t get its act together to develop a national strategy to coordinate law enforcement efforts. The US State Department Trafficking in Persons 2010 Report called upon Canada to “strengthen coordination among national and provincial governments on law enforcement and victim services.”

There are champions doing great work across the country. Honouring the Spirit of Our Little Sisters is a safe house in Winnipeg for Aboriginal girls who are at risk of sexual exploitation, but they only have 6 beds. The Toronto Police Service has created a Special Victims Unit that focuses on violence against sex trade workers, but it may be the only one of its kind in Canada. Peel Regional Police launched a program designed to help sex trafficking victims escape their exploiters for good.

Whether it is a woman brought into Canada from the former Soviet Union and locked in a hotel room forced to service man after man, or a young Aboriginal girl who falls for the charms of a young man who turns out to be a pimp or a teenage boy who exchanges sex for a hot meal and a safe place to sleep, we cannot turn our backs any longer. This is not about consent. This is not about choice. It is sexual exploitation and it must stop.

It’s too easy for us to ignore these victims. We feel secure because we don’t see our children in them. Be careful about thinking there are not kids from “good” homes living this life. These kids don’t run to the streets…they are too often running from an abusive home.

And does it matter anyway? They’re kids; they’re victims. Whether from a foreign land, a northern reserve or the house down the block, they are victims of the worst kind of exploitation imaginable. If they do not fit our image of what a “victim” looks like, that’s our problem, not theirs.

The Prime Minister committed over a billion dollars to the maternal health initiative in a time of economic uncertainty and staggering deficits. He used Canada’s reputation in the world to get other countries to commit billions more.

Canada needs a national strategy to find, support and heal these women and children. It will cost money but we cannot afford to ignore them any longer.

All that is required it your attention and leadership, Mr. Harper.

Blogs/Facebook/Twitter/Newsletters/Websites

The Internet has revolutionized how the media reports the news. Newspapers no longer wait for the morning edition – they can post stories on their websites at any time of the day. People can watch news on television. Reporters may “tweet” live from trials or public hearings.

The internet has also increased the ordinary person’s ability to post “news” or opinions on blogs or Facebook pages or through Twitter. Organizational newsletters, which used to be very time consuming and expensive to print off and mail can now be sent out to thousands of people through email. While a comprehensive review of each one of these tools is beyond this guide, we will look at the potential benefits of each:

  • Blogs – are weblogs and can be like your own personal op-ed page. They are very easy to set up and design. You may use them to post articles you or your agency have written, responses to news stories or opinion pieces. You may post as often as you like. People can subscribe to your blog (for free);
  • Facebook – Billions of people around the world are on Facebook and more and more agencies/organizations are setting up their own pages. Accounts are easy to set up and can contain information about your agency. People can join your agency’s group or “like” you and recommend your page to others. There are serious privacy concerns with Facebook (personal information should be guarded) and having a page where you allow people to post comments can be cumbersome to manage. FB pages are less “news” and more about profile;
  • Twitter – like Facebook, Twitter was originally used mainly by individuals to keep friends/followers updated about what they were doing throughout the day. Agencies now “Tweet” about what they are doing or about an important news event that have just taken place. Tweets are short – less than 140 characters and people have to “follow you” to read your Tweets. It is free to open an account and when an issue is very popular it can be tracked through trending (people re-tweet other people’s comments). Twitter can be linked to an agency’s Facebook account which makes it more efficient to manage both mediums;
  • Websites – almost every agency has a webpage now that has information about its organization. The Internet is an easy way for people to find out about services. Most websites have basic information about the agency, such as mandate, services, contact information, etc. Some websites have information about victim issues including any publications the agency has or speeches staff have given;
  • Newsletters – in the age of the Internet, electronic newsletters are easy to send out to thousands of people at the same time. E-newsletters are great ways of keeping people informed about the work your agency is doing, about important research that is being done, interesting cases or news stories, legislative action by government, etc.

All of these new tools can be effective but they require people to register or to know about you. Word of mouth is very important and people who are not online will not be able to access these methods of communication.

Meetings with editorial boards

Meetings with editorial boards can be an effective way to raise awareness about your agency, the issues you are working on or an important initiative you are working on. If you are able to set it up, you are able to meet with several key people at your local newspaper including the editors and some reporters. This helps you develop personal relationships and provide detailed background information on issues that reactive story focused interviews do not. These meetings can raise your credibility and increase the chances that you will be looked upon as an expert in the field.

You can request an editorial board meeting at any time but you should have something relevant or timely to talk about. If you work with children, and there have been lots of articles about child abuse, you may be able to provide context and background information to the paper. If you work with a crisis hotline and there have been lots of high-profile suicides in your area, it is a good opportunity to raise awareness about your services and to provide tips to families and loved ones who may be concerned about members of their families.

You should avoid approaching the editorial board if your agency has been criticized or you are defending a position. Editorial meetings should be proactive opportunities to enhance your profile, not to complain about negative media attention.

To inquire about a meeting, you should contact the paper’s editorial page editor and request a meeting. You should tell them why you want to meet, what issues you want to discuss and how long you would like to meet for, including the time your presentation will take. Before making contact, you should do some research (if you have not already) about how the paper has covered your work or your issues in the recent past.

While you want this to be a positive experience, you should expect that you will be asked difficult and challenging questions. The paper is not your personal advertisement – they will challenge any positions you take, play devil’s advocate, present opinions of others in your field who may disagree with you. These are all the things that reporters do on a regular basis and you should not take them as a bad sign, but you should be prepared. How you answer these questions will impact the coverage you receive. If you appear too defensive or cannot answer the questions, they will know it.

Public Service Announcements

Public Service Announcements, or PSAs, are brief “commercials” about an agency or an event. They can be done for radio or television and can be useful to raise awareness about your service so people know where to turn to for help. Radio stations and public television stations may run PSAs for free. They usually run for 15-30 seconds.

You can include a 1-800 number for people to call or a website for them to visit, or can have the media outlet link back to your website. PSAs can be time consuming to plan, write, create, etc. They should sound professional and can be expensive to tape.

Every agency will have to determine if the time, effort and expense is worth it. If they are successful, you agency may receive a large number of phone calls, not all of them from people who fit your mandate.

The following examples of PSAs are provided by the Policy Centre for Victim Issues for National Victims of Crime Awareness Week – www.victimsweek.gc.ca

15 seconds:

Every victim of crime matters.

There are laws and programs to help victims of crime rebuild their lives.

April 18 to 24 is National Victims of Crime Awareness Week.

Call (insert local organization and phone number) for more information.

30 seconds:

April 18 to 24 is National Victims of Crime Awareness Week. Every Victim Matters.

Who do you turn to if you or a family member is a victim of crime?

There are laws, policies and programs to help victims of crime to rebuild their lives and to have their voices heard at every stage in the criminal justice process.

Spousal abuse, child exploitation, homicide, impaired driving, identity theft. These crimes change the lives of thousands of Canadians every day. Individuals, families and communities can all be victims of crime.

For more information call (insert name of local organization and phone number).

60 seconds:

You think it can’t happen to you. And then it does. Who do you turn to? If you or a family member is a victim of crime, support and services are just a phone call away.

If you are a victim of crime, you are not alone.

April 18 to 24 2010 is the fifth annual National Victims of Crime Awareness Week.

There are programs to help victims of crime rebuild their lives and have their voices heard at every stage in the criminal justice process.

Across the country, thousands of people every year seek help from victim services offices. Dedicated professionals and volunteers work with victims of crime and their families to show that every victim truly does matter.

Services for victims of crime are available right here in (insert name of community or region). Call (insert local phone number) or visit (insert web address).

For more information on National Victims of Crime Awareness Week, visit www.victimsweek.gc.ca