Newspapers in your area can influence policymakers and your community. Building a relationship with reporters and the editorial board of your local newspapers can help change or amplify their coverage of an issue you care about.
Do your homework
Research several newspapers in your area to determine how likely they are to cover your issue. See if editorials, letters to the editor, and op-eds on your topic have already been printed, and to make sure that the coverage you’re looking for is locally written. Some newspaper chains, such as Gannett, provide editorials, national policy, and international news for local affiliates. If you want to work with a newspaper that doesn’t write their own editorials, you may want to tailor your request; ask them to publish your op-ed or write a local news story about your group.
Make sure that you can explain why this issue is important to the newspaper’s readers and why an editorial should be written supporting your view.
Before contacting the newspaper, research your topic with an eye to arguments from other sides. Make sure that you can explain why this issue is important to the newspaper’s readers and why an editorial should be written supporting your view. This particular method of making your voice heard requires more organization than a letter to the editor or op-ed, but will allow you to cultivate a relationship with your local newspaper, could lead to further content from the newspaper on this issue, and will likely have a greater influence on policymakers and the newspaper’s readership.
Identify a goal
Depending on how friendly the newspaper you select is to your issue, you may choose a different level of “ask” to start with. In order from easiest to hardest:
Publish a LTE under your own name or under a community member’s name that is likely to have extra weight. (submit online, follow up by phone)
Publish your own op-ed or another community member’s op-ed (submit by e-mail, follow up by phone)
Write an article about your group’s work (in person)
Write an editorial in support of your position (in person)
Build a relationship
Getting someone on the phone is a critical step. Often you may need to call and follow up several times before hearing back. You’re more likely to catch a reporter in the office in the morning. Make sure to be very brief because reporters and editors are often working on tight deadlines.
On the phone, have a conversation about the issue and your recent work. Make sure to tell them your story and why this matters to you.
The paper will often list contact information for a specific op-ed editor to e-mail. You can send draft text of an op-ed, then follow up with a phone call after two weeks.
Local Articles and Editorials
For an article about your group, you could contact the reporter working on the policy area you’re concerned with. If their policy work is outsourced, you could highlight your group’s local presence and seek out the local feature reporters.
Editorial board meetings
If possible, bring experts such as academics or local community leaders. Keep the group small- about two or three people. A newspaper is likely to ask you substantive questions about the issue; you may need to do more research to be ready for their questions if an expert isn’t available.
Make an editorial board meeting request
Once you have your attendee list, e-mail a request to the editorial board meeting with the names and affiliations of your participants, your ask, and suggest several different windows of time that the entire group would be available for such a visit.
Depending on how informative the newspaper’s website is, you may need to call the newspaper to find out how to contact the editorial board, and what the best way is to get in touch.
After you send in your request, you will likely need to follow up with another phone call.
Prepare an editorial packet
You should leave materials with the board to provide background information. Depending on the issue, the materials may vary. Make sure to include:
Cover letter: Describe your perspective on the issue at hand, as well as credentials of the people in the meeting. Make an ask.
Press coverage: Highlight press clippings from the state on this issue, including any of your letters to the editor the newspaper has published. Positive coverage from the newspaper on your issue is also helpful.
Validators: Include or excerpt past op-eds or publications from the experts in your meeting.
Contact list (Optional): Provide names, phone numbers, email addresses, and a brief description of 2-3 people the newspaper may want to interview on the topic, including experts. Make sure to ask the contacts in advance.
Hold the meeting
An editorial board meeting is quite similar to a lobby visit.
An editorial board meeting is quite similar to a lobby visit. Thank the newspaper for a past action, make your ask, respond to questions, and follow up. If the newspaper is going with your idea, they may use the meeting to get more information from you and the experts on the issue. If they’re less responsive, feel free to make a secondary ask to publish an op-ed or more letters to the editor.
Ask the best way to follow up and when they will be able to take action. If they don’t specify a timeframe, get back in touch within a week of the meeting. Make sure to thank them for their time even if they decide not to publish anything right now. Over time, it may also be helpful to maintain the relationship by periodically passing along relevant resources to the issue. You can continue to increase your credibility and make them more likely to agree to your ask in the future.
Spread the word!
Whether it’s an LTE, op-ed, or editorial which is published, make sure to spread the word once the newspaper is published. The more attention the piece receives (often evaluated by the number of clicks generated), the more likely it is to get the interest of the editorial board, policymakers and the wider public. Spread the word by:
Telling FCNL! We love to know about LTEs published by our network. Send to email@example.com
Send it to the congressional staffers of the members of Congress you are trying to influence. If you don’t know the names of these congressional staffers, you can look them up at fcnl.org/congress, and use the email format: firstname.lastname@example.org for House staffers & email@example.com for Senate staffers. In addition to sending it to the legislative staff, send it to the press secretary/communications director for your member of Congress’ office.
Post on social media channels, and be sure to tag the newspaper and your members of Congress
Send it out to local listserves, family and friends