Engaging with the media
How to get our voices heard in the public arena
Opportunities for NGOs to engage with the media
Idasa as a case study
Idasa is an African democracy institute committed to building democratic
societies in Africa.
Idasa is an independent public interest organization committed to promoting
sustainable democracy based on active citizenship, democratic institutions
and social justice.
Idasa comprises nine programmes:
1. Community and Citizen Empowerment Programme (CCEP)
2. Economic Governance Programme (EGP)
3. Governance and AIDS Programme (GAP)
4. Initiative for Leadership and Democracy in Africa (Ileda)
5. Political Information and Monitoring Service (PIMS)
6. Political Governance Programme (PGP)
7. Safety and Security Programme (SSP)
8. Southern African Migration Project (SAMP)
Media@idasa is responsible for managing the organisation’s
It does this through four areas of work:
1) The Publishing Department, which provides a comprehensive publishing
service to the organisation, producing a range of print media, including
books, promotional material, banners, flyers, posters, reports, academic
papers, occasional papers, newsletters and magazines for all of Idasa’s
2) E-Communications, which is responsible for ensuring the exchange of
electronic information between the different programmes within Idasa,
maintaining the website and producing various electronic external
newsletters on Idasa’s work.
3) Democracy Radio, which is responsible for disseminating information
through the medium of radio. This project is currently working on a youth
development programme to bring together young people from different
community groups to produce radio dramas that deal with issues and themes
relevant to their daily lives.
4) Media for Democracy Training.
Our business is communication.
Our job is to communicate what Idasa is, what Idasa does and what Idasa
says to the world at large.
We promote Idasa’s profile - not just for the sake of it - but to participate in
the public debate, to encourage dialogue and discussion, and above all to
We believe that media - information - is essential to any democracy.
We understand democracy to be a citizen-centred political system, where
participation by active citizens in decision-making ensures the kind of
governance we want, and that addresses social justice, peoples’ needs and
Democracy is premised on active citizenship, and active, participative,
assertive citizens need to be educated and fully informed and engaged. That
is where media comes in – it is a tool to supply citizens with the information
they need to be critical, questioning, demand accountability and
transparency, and make their voices heard, the kind of citizens that learn
and exchange ideas, that demand and ask questions, and that enter into
Idasa’s Communication Strategy
Idasa’s communications strategy comprises two tools:
1) The Buddy System
This is a team of three people in our department who are mandated to
contact a network of staff members - each one has been allocated a few
strategic contacts - to find out what they are doing, where they are working,
who they are working with, who are their partners and funders, the aims and
objectives of their projects, and the obstacles and difficulties they face as
well as the achievements and lessons learned.
All this information needs to be shared with other people working in the
arena of democracy facilitation.
2) The Electronic Whiteboard
This is a “storage bin” for all the information the team of Buddies collects.
Idasa’s Media Strategy
CCEP Insert drawing GAP whiteboard
EGP of elec iLEDA PGP PIMS SSP SAMP
Electronic White Board
Newspapers, Radio, TV, Internet
Outlets to be used to engage with the media:
Radio - an announcements or programme, or an interview
opinion pieces/feature articles
secondary sources of information – pamphlets, books, articles, adverts,
banners, flyers, newsletters, policy briefs
press conferences, briefing, press breakfast/lunch
Electronic or social media
The importance of an effective contact list
Your most critical tool in media engagement is your media contact list.
There are two types of media contact list – use both simultaneously:
The two different types of contact lists can be compared to
a) fishing by casting the net as wide as it can go and
b) fishing strategically, with a carefully baited hook cast into carefully
Press Tip Journalist Press Research Other
Releases Offs ideas Releases media
Journalist Specialist writers
The flow of news
News Story (gate keeping Sub-Editors – layout - proofing
When you communicate with the media, your information, which is so
important to you, becomes one fish in a huge pool of information. Your news
has to compete with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of other pieces of
information being constantly supplied from diverse news sources. Therefore
it has to stand out and grab the editor’s attention in order to be selected for
publishing or broadcast.
Critical to the success of this is CONTACTS.
How to write a press release
What a press release is not –
A press release is not an advert
A press release is not a news, tv or radio story (don’t use too much detail)
A press release in not an in-depth article
It is RAW MATERIAL that you want newspapers, tv or radio to use in
an article or feature.
Aim - A press release is written for the purpose of promotion,
to get the media to report your particular message
It’s worth finding out about your targeted medium:
Language and style
Three things to remember when writing a successful press release:
1) Assume the journalists are lazy: do their work for them.
2) It must be newsworthy: the critical word here is “new”. The subject
matter must be topical and relevant. It usually needs a news angle, a peg to
hang the story on.
3) Above all be: Accurate. Reliable. Trustworthy. Don’t exaggerate. Resist
the temptation to blow up your work. Dramatic claims destroy your
credibility. Your reputation is on the line. Your contacts need to know that a
press release from you is reliable, trustworthy, accurate. The success of your
future press releases depends on ensuring your credibility and preserving
What to Remember When Writing a Press Release
1) Writing style
- You must report in the “third person”, be a reporter and report on yourself
or your work.
- Be accurate, don’t exaggerate.
-make sure your grammar and spelling is correct, especially if you cite
names. Errors in spelling and grammar will lower the credibility of your
press release and make the editor sceptical and less likely to use it.
- keep it short, leave out adjectives, descriptions and elaborations unless
they really are necessary. Don’t waste words, don’t try to write beautifully,
it’s not going to be used as is.
2) Length – keep it short, but not too short, not less than 250 words. Ideal
length is one or two pages. Longer, and they will be put off. Less, and it
3) Appearance – Formatting your press release is just as important as
- Make it neat.
- Do not use all upper case letters or exclamation marks to try to attract
attention. That looks frivolous. Don’t use a fancy font; if they have to
struggle to read it, it will be ignored. Just use 12 pt, Times Roman, with
spaces between paragraphs. Don’t add formatting or decoration.
- make it identifiable as yours. Use your logo
4). Distribute your release by email or fax
- make sure you have an accurate and up-to-date contact list
- Bear deadlines in mind
- use the subject line of an email or the cover sheet of a fax to grab the
- use formatting sparingly
-put the release in the body of the e-mail, not as an attachment.
The Format of a Press Release
1. Put the organisation logo at the top
2. Below that include the date. Without this you can cause confusion..
3. If the press release is for immediate release, write "FOR IMMEDIATE
RELEASE" in caps under the date. If the release is embargoed, put
"EMBARGOED UNTIL..." with the date you want the story released. A
release with no embargo date is presumed to be for immediate release. Make
sure there is no doubt about when you permit the release of this information.
It is useful to send a press release ahead of time to give journalists time to
follow up and write the story. Some radio reports or newspaper pages are
produced ahead of deadline eg the inside pages. Take advantage of this –
you will get more space and greater accuracy and detail.
4. Under the date write PRESS RELEASE, in uppercase and centred.
This is unlikely to be used as is in the newspaper. But you need it to grab the
editor’s attention. Make it short, punchy, to the point. Resist the desire to
make bold claims in the headline – it must be credible, reliable and
How to write a headline: Simply don’t try. It’s going to be changed anyway.
Just note down the gist of your argument as briefly as possible.
Try and include a verb – otherwise it’s known as a label, which is non-
Eg – Local NGO calls for commission of inquiry into government
spending on education
6. Paragraph One
To ensure your press release is selected by the editor begin with a strong
introductory paragraph to hook him or her. Try to include the “Five W's” -
(W)ho, (W)hat, (W)hen, (W)here and (W)hy. Summarise the news release in
the first paragraph, including your main conclusion. Remember, the editor
may not read any further.
7. Subsequent paragraphs
- Help the journalist by saying who your organisation is (that way you have
more chance of it being reported correctly) and giving background
- include quotes, but be sure the quotes are accurate, that the person you are
quoting knows what you will be using the quotes for, and that their name
(correctly spelled) and their title or designation is included.
8. Contact information
At the end of your press release rule a line and then add a paragraph giving
contact details so journalists can follow up the story.
Make sure these details are accurate and the person whose name you are
giving knows about this and is available and prepared to give comment.
Think carefully about whose contact details to include. Remember they
become the public face of your organisation. Use this as an opportunity to
project the profile of the organisation and ensure it is consistent with your
Contact details must include:
o The organisation’s name and description
o The name and designation of the person who can be contacted
o Their telephone and fax numbers with proper country/city codes
and extension numbers
o Their cell phone number
o Their times of availability, if possible
o Their e-mail ddresses
It’s also useful to add your web address. That encourages journalists to find
out more about your organisation; which may lead to further stories.
9. The convention is to end a press release with ### or ENDS.
Always remember that newsrooms are busy places. Journalists are
overworked and underpaid. If you can make life easier for them, you're more
likely to get coverage. If you write a press release that's close to the way the
editor will actually publish it, with minimal editing, the correct style and
accurate and reliable information, he or she is more likely to use it. Don’t
make it tempting for an editor to simply move on to the next press release.
If you see your press release in the newspaper with few changes, then you
will know you have succeeded in writing an effective press release.
How to write a newspaper article
Always start with the five w’s - who, what, when, where, and why.
All the important information must be in the opening paragraph because
most people do not read an entire newspaper article all the way through and
if it is too long it is often simply cut from the bottom.
Write your article in the shape of a triangle
Who, What, When, Why, How
-Assume nothing – your reader can easily discard information, but don’t
leave him or her with unanswered questions.
- Guess nothing – check and recheck your facts.
- Use quotes – they make your article more personable and give it a human
quality - but use them accurately.
- Add background information
- Remember a newspaper article is usually cut from the bottom up. So put
the least important information at the end.
- Colourful, descriptive language is inappropriate. Newspapers will not
waste space on adjectives and descriptions. It won’t make your writing or
broadcasting boring or dull; on the contrary, the best writing is sparse,
efficient, punchy. Every word must count.
-Your writing must be in the active tense. Avoid exaggeration and
hyperbole. Keep your sentences short and simple. There should be no more
than three sentences per paragraph.
- Remember the difference between reporting and comment. A report is
factual and supposed to be neutral and unbiased (and is normally written by
journalists), while a feature article or interview is the place for opinions and
arguments (and is usually written by an outside or specialist writer – or the
editor in the editorial which is clearly distinct from the news).
If you want to get something into the newspaper or onto the air it needs to be
NEWSWORTHY, ie about a current news story or event. To convince an
editor to use your piece, you usually need a news angle to peg it on. Don’t
let this constrain you too much. If you can’t think of an obvious or
immediate angle for your piece be imaginative. Release it on the day of a
relevant anniversary, or get comment from someone currently in the news,
or write it up as a campaign or a call for action. Remember when you phone
or email the editor to convince them to use your piece, they will only take it
if it is current and topical. They are in the business of news – they publish or
broadcast that which is NEW.
Newspaper copy editors are considered the newspaper's last line of defence.
Typically, copy editing involves correcting spelling, punctuation, grammar,
ensuring that the copy adheres to the publisher's house style and adding
headlines and standardized headers, footers, etc.
The copy editor is expected to ensure that the text flows, that it is sensible,
fair and accurate, and that it will provoke no legal problems for the
The "Six Cs" summarise the copy editor's job: making the copy (i)clear,
(ii)correct, (iii)concise, (iv)comprehensible, (v)consistent and (vi)cutting it
to size, that is making it say what it means and mean what it says.
This is normally left to the professionals. It’s a skill that is learned and
honed over time. It also requires a certain personality type! An editor has to
be obsessive-compulsive to a degree. The editor has to fuss over the small
Don’t try to edit your own work – it’s virtually impossible. You can’t easily
chop the limbs off your own offspring, and you can’t easily see its faults or
gaps. It is difficult for you to know what the reader doesn’t know, because
you are steeped in the subject matter.
There is a thin line between editing and re-writing. Editing is not writing
something the way you would like it to be written, or as you would have
written it. You can introduce errors that way and misinterpret what the writer
is trying to say. Really good editing is invisible, improve the copy in a way
that the writer cannot identify.
Hand your writing over to someone who knows how to edit. That said, it’s
useful to know how to make copy changes in case you need to. Below is a
standard, universal list of symbols that copyeditors use the world over – use
them and a typesetter or editor will know exactly what it is you want.
Insert An Insert Space
Insert Brackets Paragraph
Capitalize No Paragraph
Close Up Parentheses
Insert Comma Question Mark
Delete And Semicolon
Insert STET (Let It
The last symbol -- STET -- is the writer's friend. It means to leave the
material as the writer intended it and ignore the copyeditor's changes. You
will be surprised how often you need to use this.
Producing a newsletter
Ask yourself three questions:
– why do you want to produce a newsletter?
- who is it for? - this determines, language, style, length, subjects covered,
even the type of font used.
- how are you going to distribute it?
Use the model of the newsroom – it’s worked for years all over the world.
Twelve steps to producing a newsletter:
1. Start with a news meeting, to compile a list of things you want to cover.
2. Compile a news diary – and determine who can write or follow up each
-Commission the work, and give a clear brief, even saying how many words
it must be.
-If you are going to pay the writer, establish the rate up front.
-You may have to provide background information and further direction in
the writing process.
-Remember to establish deadlines.
3. Decide on and track down illustrations – photos, drawings, etc.
-You may have to commission an artist or photographer.
4. Work out a flat plan – this is a plan of page layout.
-Based on how many words fit into a column, or a page or a cm of type,
decide what articles will go where and mark this on the page plan.
-It’s very important to choose your lead story very carefully.
-Pay attention also to what goes on the back page – often newsletters are left
lying around face down.
-Also decide which illustrations go where.
-Remember the old adage: a picture tells 1000 words. It’s worth spending
money to get a good photo from a professional photographer.
5. Draw up your budget.
-You may want to get funding from selling advertising.
-You may opt to produce only electronically or online – this is a much
-If you do decide to print, now is the time to get quotes from about three
different printers. You can argue with your printer, and barter a better price.
You need to tell them the size of your page, how many pages, whether you
are printing in black and white or colour, how many copies you plan to print
and what kind of paper you want to use. Discuss deadlines with them – alert
them if you need it by a certain date and ask them how long they need to
6. When the articles have been written content edit them - read them
carefully for accuracy and to check they have complied with the brief.
-You have the right to ask authors to rework parts or even all of their
7. Now send the copy for professional copy editing.
-Resist the temptation to send it for copy editing before you are quite sure it
is finished. It does not save time, but usually takes longer, creates confusion
and runs the risk of error.
-The copy editor also writes the headings and captions.
8. You can lay out your newsletter in-house, using layout programmes in
word. However, if you can afford it, have the layout done professionally.
-You will also need to design your masthead and a page template for future
9. You will then get the proofs – in PDF or printed out. Proofing your
newsletter is the most important stage of all. You spot errors that you don’t
see on screen.
-Remember to print out a PDF and read the printed proof.
-Using copyeditors’ symbols, or your own, carefully and clearly write
correction on the proofs. These then go back to the typesetter.
10. Check your typesetter’s corrections. Make a last check to see you have
complied with your organisation’s requirements (eg must the logo be on the
front or back) and the legal requirements (eg are you required by law to
publish your name, address or other details, and are you required to have an
ISBN or ISSN which you normally get from the national library).
11). Your typesetter then sends a print-ready file by email or on disc or other
means to the printers for printing.
12). You get one last chance to check the publication – the printer should
give you printer’s proofs to sign off.
-Correct only inaccuracies and glaring errors; to introduce changes at this
stage is expensive and time-consuming.