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Attracting media coverage

Last edited: January 03, 2012

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Reporters need to be interested in the campaign and understand its message to cover it in a supportive manner. Queries from the press should be responded to quickly and accurately. Fact sheets, reports and any relevant new information should be shared with media contacts, but it is important not to divulge any information that is not intended for publication. In violence against women and girls cases in particular, it is essential to maintain the survivors’ anonymity and avoid naming the person or providing any identifying characteristics. These precautionary measures are important to maintain confidentiality and the woman’s safety.

Original, new information attracts journalists’ attention – to find out what is new or ‘newsworthy’ to the journalists targeted, it is important to get to know them and their work, specifically the ‘desks’ or areas that they cover, e.g. news, city, health, etc. Knowing which specific areas of focus are covered by which journalists helps to make it easier to approach them about your campaign issues or pitch them a story angle or interview to support your campaign. For example, a story idea about the services a new shelter provides to victims of abuse may not appeal to a news desk reporter as he/she may not consider it newsworthy, but it might appeal to a city desk reporter looking to cover stories about city-related events.


Nicole Kidman, a famous movie actress, is the spokesperson of UN Women’s “Say No – Unite to End Violence against Women” initiative, a social mobilization platform that is part of the UN Secretary General’s UNite to End Violence Against Women global campaign. Her celebrity has helped capture wide attention from the media, and the public-at-large. Using a celebrity spokesperson can be an effective way to attract media coverage and bring a message across to an audience that would not pro-actively be interested in or seek information on VAW.

See the video.

Visit the Say No-UNiTE video channel.

Issues to note when dealing with journalists:

  • News journalists tend to be interested in newsworthy stories, such as shocking news, colorful events and well-known personalities. Some media like “exclusives”, i.e. stories that are published exclusively by one media outlet. The attention of news journalists may be caught by staging eye-catching stunts or arts performances on the occasion of public events, or by engaging a celebrity to publicly support the campaign.
  • Current affairs journalists can discuss the issue more in-depth, provided they find it interesting. Reading their earlier work helps to identify “their” main topics so you can relate your campaign issues to these topics.
  • Include reporters from other areas of work (i.e. not just news or current affairs journalists), as the issue of VAW can also be interesting for them, depending on the story angle and how the story is pitched to them. For example, health reporters may be interested to cover a VAW story from a public health perspective.
  • Hard vs. soft news – hard news tends to be news that is ‘of-the-moment’ and ‘event-driven’, that is reported on immediately, and that gives a factual representation of information rather than offers an opinion or advice. Timeliness is not as much a factor for soft news, which also tends to be more ‘human-interest’-related, and can offer more of a background and analysis of the topic. For example, war and crime are considered hard news, while health and education topics are often considered soft news.   
  • It may be necessary to educate the media, especially if key journalists persistently present the campaign issue in a counterproductive way, e.g. by reinforcing negative gender stereotypes and violating women’s dignity in sensationalist stories or graphic depictions of violence,
  • Be careful not to divulge any information that you do not wish to see published, even if your comments are supposed to be ‘off-the-record’ (i.e. not part of the recorded interview/conversation and therefore off-limits for publication). This is especially important with regards to confidential information related to VAW survivors or services. For example, a story about a human trafficking ring may be interesting to a reporter, but he may insist on using the names of victims to make his story more credible – this could have very serious consequences for the safety of victims if the information is made public.
  • Make sure you have all facts and figures about your campaign at your fingertips when approaching journalists with possible story angles or ideas. This includes contact information for spokespeople or potential interviewees. As journalists typically work under very tight deadlines, they often need information very quickly. In many cases, media coverage could be lost because key information was not available on time.
  • A media database is an indispensable tool. Although it can be time-consuming to create a good list of media contacts, it is critical so as to be able to engage with the media in a timely way. Update the contact information of different media outlets and journalists regularly as this can change quite frequently.


Practical Tips

The Global Aids Alliance offers the following advice on generating earned media (adapted):

First, research the media in your area, becoming familiar with all the news outlets (TV, radio, print, and online). Once you have become acquainted with the news outlets, focus on specific reporters and editors. Pay attention to what topics each one covers (known as a “beat”), and familiarize yourself with their beats. Create a database or list of media outlets and key contacts that you can refer to. Always be sure you are approaching the right reporter.

Other key things to note when you are compiling your media database are:

  • News cycle patterns. Familiarize yourself with media deadlines, so that you can plan your events and press releases accordingly. 
  • Key local activists. Keep up-to-date contact information for local sources that reporters can interview in the context of stories related to your issue(s). 
  • Press contact information. Be sure to have e-mail and fax numbers for your target reporters. A good press release doesn’t do any good if you can’t get it out.

Your relationship with your local press can greatly impact the level of coverage you get, so:

Introduce yourself. Schedule a time with a reporter to introduce yourself and your cause. Keep the meeting brief and to the point. Be prepared to answer questions they may have for you.

Leave materials. Prepare a press kit (find guidance in the section on press kits), so the reporter will have all the materials s/he will need to write a compelling story. Keep it brief and clear, and highlight the main points so that the journalist can easily use your materials.

“Spin” your issue appropriately. You may need to alter your approach to each journalist according to his or her particular beat or the type of publication. One media outlet may be interested in the story from a “hard news” perspective, or the newsworthiness of a particular event, while another may be more interested in a political, science, or human interest angle.

Be friendly with reporters but remember who they are. No matter what anyone says there is no such thing as "off-the-record." Always stick to your message, stay consistent and do not be swayed.