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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

An Activists Guide to Using Local Media

I am a media tart. I've been a media tart for nearly twenty years. It's nothing to be proud of. 

However I do try to use my egotism for good rather than evil, and so that we can share the guilt and you can be a media tart too I have written this guide.

It doesn't matter if your campaign is local, national or international in its scope, this is how you use the press. Mainly I'm thinking about local print media, but the same rules apply to local radio and online news.

Local papers have absolutely no interest in press releases sent to them by big, national campaigning groups. If it looks like it was written in London it will go straight in the bin. 

If you want to use local media properly you have to actually write the release yourself. This shouldn't be a problem, unless you've spent so long actually working for a big, London based NGO you've forgotten how to actually be you.

Why use local media?

To get your message across and help your campaign, obviously. But also because 97% of our national print media is owned by six billionaires who control the news agenda.

Another very practical because people need to see a story several times before they take notice. If people read about your campaign in the national media and then see you out and about on the streets, reading the local rag could be the magical third time that actually makes them take notice.

The Press Release

Okay, so here we go. What do you actually write.

Usually you will send the Press Release out as an email. Don't put it in an attachment, put the title in your subject line and the press release in the main text.

Aim something like this;


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Monday 1st January 2016

CONTACT Joe Bloggs 12345 67891011


Your headline should simply be factual, identifying you group, the issue and/or type of event and clearly stating that it is a local event. If you are part of a well known national organisation then make sure you give them a name check, but also state you are the local branch, not a bunch of visiting chuggers. 

It's not your job here to make it into a witty headline, so you're best just sticking to the facts. 

Your press release itself should be in three parts.

Start with a one or two sentence paragraph in which you describe your event in a bit more detail, stating clearly where and when it will be and what it look like. Make sure anything that will make the event visually interesting is mentioned; will there be costumes, activities, the local MP attending etc? This is what the press want to know and if this paragraph doesn't catch their attention the odds are they won't even read the rest of the press release.

The next paragraph, or at most two paragraphs, describes why you are doing this. Keep this brief, very brief. What is the issue and what is the target. Give just enough information to link the target with the campaign but no more. The papers will generally speaking have almost no interest in the ins and outs of the issue. However if your local action links to a broader national campaign that has been in the news make sure you point this out if it is not immediately apparent.

Finally you come to the last bit: the quote by a local campaigner. This is the most important part of the press release as it is most likely the bit that will actually get printed. Forget the dry, legalistic language of a typical big NGOs press office, this is you speaking and you need to make it interesting.

Here's how you do that: 

The Golden Rules 

Outrage is in 

What's the first thing you need to do when campaiging? Create a scandal. 

What you are campaiging against is probably is awful, but lots of things are awful. What we need to do is create a scandal. A scandal is something awful that could and should have been prevented.

Don't just say fracking is bad, for example, say:

 "It is disappointing, but not surprising, to find that in the same week that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for a low carbon future, the government acts as a cheer leader for the fossil fuel dinosaurs of the oil and gas industry"

Punchy, poynant and personal

The three Ps of doing press.

Make your point as simply as you can but don't pull your punches and make it personal if possible. Something like:

"When the Arctic Sunrise set sail the campaign was about saving the Arctic, but very quickly it became about freeing our friends...(It is) now more vital than ever to save the Arctic from oil exploration and the earth from Climate Change.”

Only better, hopefully.

The fourth P is positive. 

Don't present a problem unless you can not only propose a solution, but a solution that is also something worth doing in itself. By demonstrating the gap between the world we have and the world we could have, you create more outrage.

How about Instead of a few hundred jobs in fracking, the north-west could have 100,000 in wind and solar power, in making our houses warmer and getting our public transport working.”

The Golden Rules of Local Media 

All the above apply to local media too, but there are three more rules you also need to remember.

This is a local story for local people

Your local paper will only print local stories, so your event absolutely must happen in the local area.

Also, you must also be a local person. If you're 'not from round here' find someone who is and name them in the quote instead.

If possible you also need to talk about issues that local people care about. That, unfortunately, doesn't usually include the end the Arctic ice cap or even the world. Instead they want to know about jobs, house prices and the safety of their children. Try to mention one of these in passing.

Finally you really need to try to make some connection between the big issue you're campaigning on and wherever it is you live. This could be tricky, but try. How will the problem affect your town? How will the solution benefit your town? Has anything like this ever happened there? It may end up sounding really corny, but do at least try. Terrible lines I've used in the past include:

"Whether it's floods in Woolley Bridge or famine in Afghanistan, you can't ignore the effects of a changing climate".

"Glossop was at the forefront of the first Industrial Revolution and we can be at the heart of the Green Industrial Revolution".  

It's all about you

Hopefully after reading about you people will take an interest in your campaign, but that is not where they are starting from. However they will be interested in why you are interested in the issue.

Remind them that you are an ordinary person just like them. You can mention where you live, where you work, whether you have children, what you like about the local area and so on, and then tell them why this issue important for you and how you found out about it. 

By doing it this way you are indirectly showing them why it is also important for them.

Get the Picture

A picture tells a thousand words, and more importantly it makes people read the article.

If you are publicising an event that has already happened then make sure you include a picture that will point well, preferably one with your happy, smiling faces front and centre and everyone posed in an aesthetically pleasing manner; handing out leaflets, waving placards or whatever.

If your event hasn't happened yet then try to describe it in a way that will make the local paper want to send someone out to photograph it. Tell them about your costumes, props etc. And if no snapper shows up don't worry, take your own picture and email it to the paper. 

That's a lot of things to remember, and to be honest you'll be hard pressed to do more than two of them in one press release, but if you manage it you'll have a great quote the press will want to use. 

Here's some of mine that worked.

Barton Moss is the latest skirmish in a global insurgency against what is the last stand of the fossil fuel dinosaurs. France and Bulgaria have already said no. Fracking is unnecessary, unwanted and unsafe and we call on the people of Britain to come to Manchester to say that we don’t want it here.”

The campaign at Barton Moss last winter appears to have driven the frackers out of Greater Manchester and there is no sign of them coming back soon. Now is the time to start looking for alternative ways of keeping the lights whilst getting the first city of the industrial revolution back to work."

Like so much of what is best about Glossop, these tunnels are the legacy of the forward thinking and sound engineering of our Victorian ancestors.Like so much of what is best about Glossop, these tunnels are the legacy of the forward thinking and sound engineering of our Victorian ancestors." 

After football, it is music that puts Manchester on the world map, and after the fantastic turnout for our march of Sunday, Manchester is also on the map for being at the heart of the global resistance against fracking."

Setting the Tone

You probably care a lot about the issue your campaigning on, but for the person writing the article about you it's just another day at the office. Don't take it personally if they don't run the story, or butcher your realease when they write it up. Try to find out what it is they really wanted and to help them out next time.
A bit of humour can also make the life of a jobbing hack a bit more tolerable, so don't be afraid of a little joke. We never got the press to print the line "The camp Cliff Richard has been penetrated by the Sheriff's men" but it gave the journalists a laugh reading it. They are people too. Try to make their jobs interesting for them.

Danger Areas

Athough not as in hoc to corporate interests as the big players, your local newspaper still needs advertisers to make it pay and contacts to give it good stories. As a result they will generally not want to publish stoires critical of local businesses, local government or the police.

You can get partly round this by following the advice about staying positive, but otherwise you'll just have to work around the problem and not tackle some issues head on

Journalists also don't like having to do extra work. Putting in facts they have to check or criticising people who they have to give a right of reply to makes it more likely they'll just take the easy way out and bin your story. 


Aim to get your Press Release to the paper at least a week before the deadline. If you don't know when this is ask, but usually papers go to the printers at least 36 hours before they appear on the shelves. 

If you miss the deadline you could try a phone call to get someone to turn up, but that's a long shot. Best not to miss it in the first place.

The Follow Up
Take a good photo at the event and send a follow up press release afterwards. This can be quite brief, but try to include some anecdotes about the people who attended and what they said to you.

If you don't get published don't worry. At least by contacting the press you told them that you exist and that you do stuff. Maybe next time the issue will have risen a bit more in the public consciousness and they'll take an interests. Maybe next time it will be a slow news day and you'll get covered. Don't give up.

If you are printed great. It's worth thanking the journalist concerned and asking what sort of story they'd like next. It can't do any harm. You also need to share the story on your own social media, linking to the report. It's your story, share it.

Another thing you can do though is get someone to write a letter to the paper about the story. With luck this will get printed next week and you'll have a second bite of the cherry so to speak. 

If you are really lucky some Outraged of Tunbridge Wells type will write in complainign about you, which means you can write back the week after complaining about them. Letters editors have one of the most thankless jobs in the press, usually dealing with people droning on about potholes and wheelie bins, so a decent spat over an interesting issue is what they pray for. Keep it polite, but in a letter you can let your true feelings show in the way you can't in a press release. 

And here's one I prepared earlier:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Saturday 24th October 2015 13:30

CONTACT Martin Porter xxxxx xxxxxx


Campaigners from Glossop called on their local MP to save the Peak District National Park from fracking. Fifteen campaigners gathered for a photograph this morning, in very wet weather, on the edge of the National Park in Glossop (picture).

Controversial plans which could allow fracking for shale gas under National Parks and Sights of Special Scientific Interest are to be discussed by a parliamentary committee on Tuesday 27th October. If enough MPs object there could be a vote in the House of Commons a few days later.

Greenpeace campaigners in Glossop, Derbyshire, are calling on their local MP Andrew Bingham to vote against the plans. Campaigners oppose fracking because of fears of water and air pollution, the dangers of increased lorry traffic on narrow country roads, the noise and visual impact and because shale gas is a fossil fuel which will contribute to Climate Change.

Spokesperson Martin Porter, who was part of the campaign against drilling at Barton Moss in Salford two years ago as well as this year’s successful campaign to get Lancashire County Council to oppose fracking, said:

It is unbelievable that less than six weeks before the most important conference on Climate Change ever, not only is the government pressing ahead with plans for a new fossil fuel, but they want to allow drilling under our most beautiful countryside.

“Fracking under the National Park would mean rigs in Glossop and Chapel-en-le-Frith to get at the shale gas. 83 years ago my grandfather, Claude Porter, took part in the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass which led to the creation of the National Park. If anyone tried to frack under the Peak District there could be a second mass trespass to save it.”


Photograph by Daniel Porter. Free to use.

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