Work with the Media

There is truth to the saying, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” There is a great deal of public interest in the issue of eminent domain abuse and it is essential for any organization or activist group fighting for their neighborhood to create a media strategy that involves the following components.

Prepare talking points or “SOCOs”

Before talking to the media, it is important that you and your citizens group hone your message to journalists. You should know exactly what you want reporters to write about your situation—and tailor your ideas into talking points or, as we call them, SOCOs (Strategic Over-riding Communications Objectives). These are more than sound bites. SOCOs are prepared statements you deliver with punch and passion that advance the themes you wish to convey. Crafting these messages together and before communicating with the media ensures that you are consistent and effective in getting your point across. And, you may find that this is an effective way to put your thoughts into words when writing letters to the editor, op-eds, media advisories and press releases. Make sure that your SOCOs focus on just one or two main issues about your battle to keep your home or business.

Read an example letter to the editor

Write letters to the editor

After any story about which you think you might have something relevant to say, you can write a letter to the editor. The best letters are short, typically around 150 words, making one or two points in clear, attention-getting language.

Read an example op-ed

Write op-eds

An op-ed is a longer piece, published opposite the editorial page of a newspaper. It can range from 400 to 800 words, depending on the newspaper. You can make about three points in an op-ed. It needs a snappy introduction, colorful language (but don’t be shrill), and simple points. Although an attorney’s op-ed can focus on the law, a layperson’s op-ed should focus on the injustice of what is happening. You want the op-ed to be about what you know and have experienced personally. That makes it much more engaging for the reader. To submit an op-ed, call the paper’s editorial page editor and ask what the rules are for submission, how long the piece can be, and to whom you should submit it. Op-eds are typically exclusive to one paper, so if your piece hasn’t run (it can take up to two weeks, so be patient), contact the paper again and withdraw the piece. You are then free to take your op-ed to another paper.

Place an ad

An advertisement can be a great way to increase the visibility of organized opposition to eminent domain. It can bring new people into your coalition, tell people their property is in danger, and also increase media interest. It can also help bring a large number of people to a crucial public hearing.

Read an example press release

Issue a press release

Your group should issue press releases to comment on significant events or call for specific action. A press release reads like a news story. The headline needs to demand the attention of the editor in just a few words. It should be catchy, informative and well-written. In the opening paragraph, introduce the who, what, where, when, why and how; in other words, summarize the news you are reporting with a “hook” that an editor is likely to determine is newsworthy. Often, a hook can be as simple as “At last night’s city council meeting, the demonstrated the flaws in the city’s ‘blight’ study.” Throughout the body of the press release, add details and insert quotations from your group where appropriate. Be sure to include contact information of your spokesperson for media contacts.

Read an example media advisory

Issue a media advisory

At least 24 hours before any event that you hold, you should issue a media advisory. It should be no longer than one page and should contain the following information: (1) date, time and location of the event—surprisingly, many press releases or media advisories accidentally omit one of these key pieces of information; (2) a short description of the issue, including what government agency is doing the condemnation, who will benefit and who will lose; (3) a short description of the event and who the speakers will be, if any; and (4) a contact number for questions. The release/advisory should go out to all local media. You can usually find fax numbers and email addresses online, but try to do some research so that you’re sending the information to the person who actually covers these sorts of events or assigns coverage.

Contact your local paper

Newspapers are almost always interested in the issue of condemnation of property for the benefit of other private parties. Try to find an interested reporter with whom you have a good relationship. Focus on essential facts—too many side issues will just get reporters confused. Going off on tangents is one of the most common mistakes people make with reporters. You should pick a few good spokespeople to talk to the media. Your spokespeople should be folks whose home and/or business is being condemned. When you first call a reporter, be sensitive to the fact that he might be on a deadline to complete another story. If he is, ask if there is a better time to call back. (Typically, the worst time to call a reporter is late in the day.) Make sure when you first talk to a reporter that you describe the situation in just a few sentences. For example, “I live in Anytown, USA. The City is talking about taking my home so that someone can put a shopping mall here. The City won’t even tell us what is happening. I’ve lived here for 20 years and I don’t want to move for a shopping mall.”

Make a press packet

Your press packet, which you can hand out at rallies and press conferences, will be a set of documents that you send to the media whenever you want to introduce someone to the issue. The point of a press packet is to give enough information for someone to be able to write a story based on what you have given them or at least be able to write most of the story, with a little bit of follow-up.