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Working With the Media

Self Advocacy - Self Advocacy Skills Think of the media as a tool. Getting media coverage can help you draw attention to specific issues regarding learning disabilities, educate the public, and put policymakers on the spot by drawing attention to their actions. The media wields a lot of power in society today, but behind all the newsprint and sound waves, reporters are people like you who want to share good stories with the public. With a good angle and the right timing, you can bring a lot of attention to the needs and rights of children with learning disabilities.

Working with the media can take a few different forms

  • Writing letters to the editor
  • Writing op-ed pieces
  • Approaching editorial boards
  • Calling a radio show
  • Preparing press releases

Keep these basic principles in mind when working with your local newspaper, radio station or even a television program

  • Know exactly what it is you want to say and how to say it.

    Be concise, and keep your message to two or three strong points that you can express in a few different ways.
  • Find our who's in charge when you contact any media outlet or specific reporter.

    Be sure you find out who is in charge of education and/or disability issues, and get that person's direct phone number, fax number and email address.
  • Use the simplest, plainest language possible.

    Reporters may or may not know as much as you do about learning disabilities, but your words are for the public the reporter is reaching, whom you should assume are not at all familiar with the issues you are discussing. On the other hand, don't be condescending, either.
  • Familiarize yourself thoroughly with any newspaper, radio show or television program you'll be communicating with.

    Be sure that you understand the style and general angle of the outlet, and that you are familiar with the work of any particular editor, reporter or producer with whom you might be in contact. This way you'll know how to approach them or, perhaps to push back when he or she writes or says something you disagree with. Frequently, you will find that reporters are drawn to the issue of learning disabilities because of some personal connection, such as a child or relative who has LD. Use those kind of connections to your advantage"you can build a relationship by offering yourself as a resource.
  • Never assume that anything is "off the record."

    It's a reporter's job to take what you say and turn it into a story that sells papers. The only way you can make sure they are telling your story is by sticking to it. Don't throw in little commentaries, even if you think you're just lightening up the conversation, unless you are prepared to see them in print.
  • "No comment" is a comment.

    It doesn't imply that you don't know; it implies you know, but don't want to talk about it because it might undermine your point.
  • It's okay to say, "I don't know."

    The best thing to say is, "I don't know, but I can get back to you on that." Then, find out quickly, and contact the reporter promptly.
  • Don't let a reporter get to you.

    It's a reporter's job to ask questions and sometimes even play devil's advocate. Always remain polite, calm and collected, and make sure you stay on topic.
  • Don't let reporters put words in your mouth.

    It's dangerous to agree with a statement they make for you (i.e., "So would you say that"). The quotes should come from you, not them. If you're not sure he or she got it right, it's okay to ask a reporter to read back what you just said.
  • Prepare.

    Preparation is the best way to ensure that you come away from any one-on-one situation having clearly and effectively communicated your message.
  • Be courteous.

    Always thank the person with whom you are dealing, and follow up to make sure your messages are being used.
  • Letters to the Editor

    The letters section is always one of the most popular sections of any paper or magazine. This section is an easy way for you to let policymakers know your opinions and to educate readers about issues that concern you. Letters can be used to correct or respond to the facts in an article, to praise or criticize opinions expressed in the publication or to simply bring attention to the issue you want to address.

    Study the publication you're writing to before you begin. Know the name of the appropriate editor to write to, and become familiar with the format that published letters take. Some newspapers have written guidelines for their letters. Following these guidelines closely is the best chance you have of getting published.