Communities can make use of the mass media (newspapers, radio, TV. internet) to publicize their own information, opinions and concerns to a large audience, and to influence people in power. This may be achieved by approaching journalists with ideas for them to feature, or by producing material for them to broadcast or print.
Advantages of Using Existing Mass Media
- Mass media reaches very large audiences and is therefore an efficient means by which community views and opinions can be widely publicized.
- It can be inexpensive for the community if the media companies wish to feature their story.
How to use Existing Mass Media
When approaching media companies to feature your community story, be very clear about what opinions or issues you want publicized. Be aware that professional journalists might misunderstand the issues or dramatize or exaggerate the story.
- Consider using a press release. This is a means by which to alert the media of an event or experience which you would like publicized. It should be a concise and informative written description of the issue. A press release can be sent out to several media organizations at once; some may choose to follow-up with media coverage.
- Writing to Newspapers. Local newspapers are often pleased to be invited to report on interesting issues or events, and will often send their own reporters to write the story. Newspapers will also accept letters for consideration for inclusion in their letters pages.
- Radio (and TV). Radio stations are keen to get feedback from their listeners and local or community stations are often actively looking for content to broadcast and are likely to welcome community contributions. To be featured by larger broadcasting organizations you will have to secure their interest in your idea. You can do this by submitting a written idea or ideas recorded on a cassette tape.
A tape does not have to be broadcast quality but you should prepare the tape carefully, either working from a script or to a prepared structure. Include interviews with relevant people if appropriate. The aim is to spark an interest in the listener at the station so that they will want to find out more.
- Address correspondence to the relevant person by name (you will need to find this out in advance) and include your contact details.
- Use a catchy title, put the most relevant information first and limit the length (one or two pages of text or two minutes of audio tape).
- The question prompts; What? Why? Who? When? Where? and How? May be used to help you structure your ideas.
Constraints of Using Existing Mass Media
Mass media professionals, such as reporters, and editors can misinterpret or manipulate the opinions and facts being expressed by community members. The resulting broadcast or article may misrepresent the views of the community to a greater or lesser extent. Take care to make sure that the media company has the correct information and will represent it accurately.
Real Life Story: Story of the Picos gets national coverage
When the Chief Executive Officer of Practical Action East Africa made a field visit to a successful small scale (or Pico) hydropower project in Kenyaâ€™s Central Province, Practical Action invited a reporter from a national newspaper along to cover the story.
The reporter from the Daily Nation agreed to accompany the visitors and to write an article about the project and the local people. All that Practical Action had to do to secure this national press coverage was to make the reporterâ€™s travel and accommodation arrangements prior to the visit.
The article was subsequently published in the newspaper, and soon after the article appeared, numerous inquires about the project were received by Practical Action East Africa. Some inquiries focused on how the project could be replicated in other areas. These came mainly from communities that had a desire to access electricity and were living close to rivers.
An interesting request was also received from a local journalist John Njoroge. John had read about the hydro projects in the newspaper article and wanted to write a more detailed article for an international magazine; Appropriate Technology. â€˜I read with a lot of interest the story on small scale hydro-electricity generation and have now visited the project sites. I am now writing a story on these projects for the Appropriate Technology Magazine based in UK’.
As a result of the national coverage therefore, the project went on to reach an international audience.
source: practicalaction.org, photo from istockphoto.com