From time to time, you may have an opportunity to take your message to the media – through either talk radio, local network affiliates, newspaper publications, or other outlets. In those instances, you become an ambassador for the issues you care about to your community and, quite possibly, one of the only local voices on that issue.
Don’t freak out.
Most local and state-level media outlets aren’t heavily slanted either left or right and are just looking to cover an issue from a local perspective. If you have an opportunity to speak on a local issue once, media outlets will likely seek your input regularly.
I sometimes have an opportunity to speak with national and international media outlets about right-of-center grassroots organizing and channeling protest movements into successful legislative action. Here are three things I’ve learned in my interaction with the media:
1. Do Your Research. When asked to speak to the press about a given topic, spend 30 minutes to an hour (or more) doing research on the issue. Search out previous coverage on the issue; look for studies and other research from favorable think tanks; and even see what the other side has published on the issue. Seek to understand all sides of the issue in an effort to communicate the issue in a nuanced way.
By being knowledgeable on a given issue, media outlets will seek out your input time and time again. You can position yourself as an expert on local issues by providing thoughtful commentary on the issues of the day. Outlets like State Policy Network and LearnLiberty provide comprehensive, easy-to-understand research on local, state, and even federal issues.
2. Stay On Message. Despite what you might think, local press isn’t necessarily out to misrepresent your views and values. Most reporters are working on multiple stories at once, and it’s sometimes easy for them to confuse, forget, or conflate details. That’s why it’s critically important to stay on message.
When I’m being interviewed, I constantly remind myself: “Answer the question you wish you’d been asked.” If a reporter starts a question from a premise which you do not agree, answer the question from your perspective. By thoroughly researching the issue, you can boil answers down into short, easy-to-understand responses. Consider that you may only have between five and 20 seconds to respond to a question. “Going into the weeds” on a given issue will force the reporter to truncate or edit your response, possibly losing meaning or misrepresenting your views.
3. Be Accessible. When reporters reach out to you for interview opportunities, respond in a quickly and timely manner. If you can’t speak on an issue, try to connect the reporter with someone who can communicate about the issue. By becoming a resource for a reporter, that reporter will continually reach out.
Reporters will sometimes ask you to go “on background” on a given issue, or they will ask you “off the record” questions. My personal policy is to never tell a reporter something I would not want them to publish, so take into consideration and be thoughtful about how you communicate with reporters.
I encourage you to seek out opportunities to engage with local media outlets to take your message to a broader audience. It could be as simple as calling into talk radio or writing a letter to the editor, but it could evolve into regular interviews with network affiliates or newspaper publications.
You have a tremendous opportunity to spread your message in your own community, and I hope you will capitalize on those opportunities.