EnGaging the media: influencing the editorial page

The editorial page is one of the most important sections of the newspaper. Influencing or responding to editorial opinion is key to any effective campaign. You generally will find editors interested in your viewpoint, even if they disagree with it. And editorial writers are always looking for ideas and facts. By providing your editorial writers with information on your issue, you are helping them do their jobs.

Editorials educate readers on important topics of the day, shape public attitudes, can make or break electoral candidates, and affect key policy decision makers at the local, state, and national level. Lawmakers are especially sensitive to editorial opinion published in their district’s newspapers. Editorials which highlight wildlife causes, such as promoting legislation to prohibit poisoning wildlife, encouraging residents to take steps to prevent conflicts with wildlife, or educating readers about the cruelty of trapping, are valuable resources in our fight to protect animals.

As part of any successful media strategy for your campaign, getting editorials published that support your position should be a priority. Once a paper has editorialized on a subject, good or bad, it’s difficult to reverse that opinion. Therefore, it makes sense to get the kind of editorial you want early in the campaign.

Large papers have an editorial “board.” Each of the two or more editorial writers on the board may develop specialties or a group of topics he or she writes about. Find out which editorial writer covers the issue you are interested in. Most local papers, however, have only one editorial writer. Regardless of whether you are dealing with a number of writers or just one, editorial writers generally have two charges: to lead or reflect opinion on local or state issues and to add to the body of opinion on national and international issues. So whether you want to discuss a local issue or a global one, your editorial writer should be interested in your point of view. Meeting with your editorial writer or board may be easier than you think. Here are a few tips for making your editorial meeting a success:

*When you call for an appointment, let the secretary know who will attend and what you wish to discuss

*If you don’t go by yourself, keep your group small. There are a number of ways you can put together a group: have several members of your local wildlife protection group attend; invite a few community leaders from other organizations who share your viewpoint; or ask individuals who can speak to a specific facet of the issue, i.e. educators, scientists, religious leaders, etc.

*Meet among yourselves first to decide who will say what. As in a meeting with an elected official, you should decide who will be the spokesperson for the group and make sure you introduce all the members.

*Make your case early in the meeting, and then let the editorial writer ask questions. Remember, the purpose of the meeting is to provide the writer with information about your issue so he or she will write an editorial from your point of view.

*Take materials – including factsheets, supporting documents, photographs, even video – with you to the meeting. It’s likely the writer will want to ponder some of the material later, as well as gather information from the other side.

*Never stretch the facts or speculate on points you are not sure of. Just as with hard news reporters and elected officials, your credibility is your most precious asset. Guard against false statements, even made innocently. It’s better to say, “I don’t know” then follow up later with the answer.

*Be sure to leave the names and telephone numbers of your group in case the paper has questions later.

*When the meeting is over, let the editorial writer know you think the issue is an important one and worthy of an editorial from the newspaper.

*Follow up with a letter thanking the editorial writer for the meeting. Add any information you promised and offer again to make yourself or members of your group available for additional information.

If you can get a positive editorial on your issue, you’ve accomplished a great deal. If it really makes the case for your cause, photocopy it and add it to your portfolio of media clippings. Send it with a cover letter to elected officials. Use it to recruit other groups to your issue of coalition.

The Op-Ed (opposite the editorial page)
Op-eds are a great way to have your say in a format that allows more detail than a letter to the editor. If your paper editorializes on a subject and you disagree with that opinion, ask for space to publish an alternative view. Op-eds are usually no longer than 750 words.

You need to have a good grasp of the issue before you write an op-ed. You can expect the paper to exercise considerable editorial control, not only on length, but on style and to some extent on content. They’ll have definite deadlines for you to submit your op-ed. Be sure to follow their guidelines.

Sometimes, national organizations such as Big Wildlife can provide you with sample op-eds on an issue you’re working on. You may also want to “ghost write” an op-ed piece for someone in your community who has significant stature. For example, you might ghost write an op-ed about the cruelty of trapping and ask a religious leader to submit it under his or her name. Some readers may be more open to an opinion expressed by someone who is not affiliated with an wildlife group.

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