An animal activists' handbook
7. the MEDIA
How can we get into the Press, Radio and TV?
IT'S EASY when you know how. Here's how....
A story in an animal rights or vegetarian magazine will be read by a few thousand people who are already on the side of the animals. But a story in your local paper could reach almost everyone in your area, including the many thousands who are ready to do something for animals but don't even know that your group exists to help them.
WHAT THE MEDIA WANT
The media - press, radio and tv - shapes public opinion. But they only print what they want to, or what the government and their advertisers allow. Once you know what are their criteria for using or rejecting stories, you can make sure that you feed them just the right materials to maximise your chance of reaching the public.
Picking a Media Stunt
To get a story in the local media you will need to have a local angle. Children and animals are very popular with editors. Newspapers love photos. A TV story needs to be very photogenic. It may not be politically correct, but if your group contains someone who fits the media stereotype of cute, you may as well make use of it. So a children's protest with balloons and people in animal costumes has a good chance of making the front page. Whereas a talk to adults with slides in a church hall will probably be buried.
A protest march has a great chance of being covered, particularly if you do crazy stunts like dressing up as giant vegetables, or if the subject of your protest is a controversial local issue. Unfortunately it's also true that marches are more likely to be covered nationally if there are arrests, as we've seen with live exports protests. The national media there were initially more interested in violence and confrontation than in the animals. If during a march a few people sit down outside McDonald's and get arrested, there will almost certainly be a mention in the news unless a huge story breaks elsewhere, but you may not get a permit for the same demo next year.
Local papers are always looking for good local stories, so if you do it right it shouldn't be too hard to get coverage for some of your group's activities. The emphasis must be on local stories or national stories with a local slant. Make use of local supporters so you can quote a genuinely local spokesperson. Remember, local papers tend to avoid shock, horror stories. Humour always works well.
In Britain, weekly local papers are often published around Wednesday, so if you want to guarantee newspaper coverage, you'll need to send a press release to them about two weeks before your planned event. You can send it directly to the news editor, the editor, or better still ring up and ask if any of the journalists are vegetarian and make sure they get copies too.
Press releases all have a similar basic structure. They should be very short, enticing and contain enough information to get their interest so that they'll phone to interview you and get a story. At the top must be the title of the event or an eye-catching heading. In the first sentence say what your event is. Follow with a brief description, no longer than two sentences, of what the event is about. Include some quotes from members of your group, for example "Fred Billings from AAA says the battery cage is the cruellest method of keeping birds...." Try to think of some punchy soundbites - quotations that will make the article fun or compelling to read. At the end, give contact details for the public and a contact name and phone number where the journalist can reach the press co-ordinator of the event.
Make sure your press release is double spaced and printed in black ink. You can post press releases but it's much better to fax them to the news desk. Sometimes press releases in the post are binned before they reach the relevant person.
The national press are generally not interested in animal rights news and events and you'll need the help of professional journalists to get into these papers because they always have far more stories than they can print. Some national animal rights charities have experienced journalists writing their press releases and know the style that will appeal to each of the big papers. The success rate of getting into these papers is not as high as for locals, but the impact can be enormous when over a million people see even a very short piece. They will often run a story on a special event such as National Vegetarian Week, especially if celebrity quotes and pictures are available. At such times, you can get a local angle on this by linking up with the national organisation and getting your name put on the press releases that they will send to all the press, including your local papers.
The local papers will ask you why you became a vegetarian, what your family think, what do you buy and how do you cook it, and what people can do to follow in your footsteps. If you have a local event running at the same time, such as a cookery demonstration, there's a good chance they'll send a photographer too.
If your paper has a 'What's On' section, send them details of all your meetings and planned events. Even if they don't use everything you send, they'll remember you. Next time a story breaks about animals, they may phone you up for your expert comments. This applies to radio and TV too.
For example, stories about Animal Liberation Front actions are usually ignored because the papers have been asked by the police not to print them as "they encourage more of the same". But if they do decide to print a story on, for example, an arson attack on a meat distributor, and ask for your comments to contrast with those of the owner, you can safely say something like: "Our group is completely law-abiding and we would never condone illegal activities. But let me explain why these people feel that the meat industry is evil and why they did this. Two million animals are killed every day in Britain for food that isn't even healthy. Many of them are fully conscious when slaughtered. Their entire lives were spent indoors in factory farms in cramped conditions, and they are fed hormones and pumped full of drugs to try to cure all the diseases that such overcrowding and stress causes."
Never forget that over issues such as this they are not looking for truth or objectivity. They are looking to "do a job" on you. Think carefully about what you intend to say and do not be drawn into saying something which can be misinterpreted. Never say anything "off the record" to a journalist.
If some dairy lorries have been torched: "We have no involvement in any illegal action, but let me explain WHY we also feel that the dairy industry is evil. I think everyone would agree that veal crates should be banned, but the fact is that they are the direct result of people drinking milk. Unless a cow has a calf, she won't produce milk, and then there's the problem of what to do with all the surplus calves. It's only when people stop drinking milk and start drinking soya milk, which is much healthier anyway, that the horrific veal industry will disappear."
If a fur shop has been targeted, you could say: "Our group campaigns using legal methods such as leafleting and demonstrations against the fur trade because we feel that it's totally sick that in the 1990's, some people are still walking around in coats made from wild animals which have either been kept in tiny cages all their lives and then gassed or strangled, or caught in gruesome 'leg-hold' traps which cause a slow, agonising death.
"Decades of campaigning have almost got rid of the fur trade in this country, but there are still some shops selling fur and we can understand why a few people feel driven to try and put them out of business for good."
GETTING ON THE RADIO
As well as writing to the local papers, send press releases to your local radio stations. They also are always looking for stories with a local angle - you! If you have a good knowledge of all the issues, then offer to go on the radio for a phone-in or discussion about going vegetarian. You can talk about your own story, reaction of family and friends, what to say to schoolmates or workmates, what you eat and how to cook it. You could even take some food into the studio.
Going on radio is very exciting and not too scary because it's just you and a presenter in the studio. It's okay if you "fluff" your lines a bit at first. They may simply arrange to interview you on the phone, in which case they'll call you a few minutes before going on air. You'll be able to hear the program down the line and the presenter will bring you in to have your say.
Preparation is vital! The leaflets and guides produced by national organizations contain good answers to all the standard questions that have been tried and tested. We strongly recommend that you get all the Viva! guides, Animal Aid fact sheets, and Vegan Society leaflets and get to know them well, and the other factsheets recommended in the Resources sections. Being interviewed is like taking an oral exam in animal rights - easy but only if you're well prepared. Memorise the points in these and your own leaflets so that you're ready for anything. As before any exam, read through the day before and practice your key points.
Always ask who else is to be interviewed, the format of the programme, how your contribution will be used and what the focus of the programme is to be. Always have three important points you want to communicate and try to get them in.
Use the presenter's questions to say what you want to say, don't allow them to control the agenda and don't allow them to push you onto the defensive. The moment you do that, you've lost it. If in doubt, listen to a politician being interviewed to learn how it's really done!
If you know that there will be a devious representative of the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) or the National Farmers' Union (NFU) on the same program, then you really must know what you're talking about. Make sure you're up to date on the issues for discussion. Be ready with answers to all their standard lines (or is it lies?) about protein, iron, meat being necessary as part of a balanced diet, calcium, B12, vegetarians being short of things, "We have the highest standards in Europe" and the usual drivel these public relations experts excrete. If you prepare throughly, you can have them for breakfast every time.
Before going up against MLC types, practise taking turns with a friend interviewing each other, increasing the speed and intensity. If they say something you don't know the answer to, do what they do all the time, just ignore it and make one of your points. Keep talking and get as many points in as you can. After the broadcast, people won't remember that you lost a couple of points, but they will remember the new information you gave them about factory farming, nutrition and health, and they may try their local health food shop or get more info from you.
Always finish by telling them what they can do for animals and where to get more information and advice.
Finally, be ready for the trick question at the end like "Well that's fascinating, but tell me, what do you think of people committing acts of violence in the cause of animal rights?" Or, "So you're saying that your aim is to put all our livestock farmers out of business?" which can come as a nasty surprise. Unless of course you've done your homework!
Don't miss out your local TV stations. Your hit rate with them will be lower, but the coverage will be brilliant. Local TV often pick up a story which has appeared in the papers. Again, before going on TV, practise what you'll say by getting a friend to test you hard and then swapping roles.
Ask the same questions as you would for radio. Local TV will almost certainly pre-record a lot of material, re-shoot anything they're not happy with and edit it to just a short piece with the best bits. There's really nothing to be afraid of and it is brilliant seeing your group on the News. However, their aim is often to make you look radical or threatening so protect yourself. If it's a documentary, again ask all the questions about editorial focus, who else is appearing, how your contributions will be used - and get the answers in writing!
Finally, when you do get into the media, some people might accuse you of being more interested in promoting yourself than in promoting animal rights. The truth is that in the process of publicising the facts about animal cruelty, it is inevitable that people will be seen in the media and those watching will remember those who turned them on to animal rights.
Remember, preaching to the converted won't change much. Preaching to the convertible will - and the best way to reach the 90% of people who aren't even vegetarian yet is through the mainstream media.
Go for it!
Campaign Against Cruelty An Animal Activists Handbook
available for £4.99 (plus p&p) from Vegetarian Guides, or order it from all good book shops.