Dan Rather posted something recently about calling newsrooms when we see that the press is normalizing Trump. I wondered if that was truly the most effective route to reach out to the media in this situation, and so I asked a friend who works at a well respected news outlet. They gave me some very interesting advice.
Reaching Out to the Media
1. Calling the newsroom is indeed effective, especially when you really want to get the media outlet’s attention - such as when you are mad that a tv network is broadcasting a Trump rally in its entirety without any real-time fact checking, for example.
2. Letters to the editor are great if they actually get published, but if you want to get the attention of the journalist writing the article you take issue with, rather than speak to the newspaper-reading public, contact that journalist directly. Look at the byline, and email or even tweet them. As long as you are respectful, many journalists will start thinking about your feedback. They may consider it before writing their next piece. Letters to the editor go to a completely different part of the news outlet’s office, and may never be seen by the journalist you are trying to reach.
3. Start from the assumption that the journalist you are writing to is a decent human being who would like to be thought of as representing the news accurately. If he or she is writing for a news outlets that you consume regularly, he or she is not your enemy. You have to remember that this journalist’s entire training has been to ask the following question before publishing an article: Is this fair and balanced? But in the Trump era, things have changed. Journalists are now having a debate amongst themselves about how to report on the new administration. For example, traditionally journalists were trained to write this headline: Trump Claims That 3 Million People Voted Illegally. But some news outlets recently used this headline: Trump FALSELY Claims That 3 Million People Voted Illegally. This is a new way of reporting, and journalists are just beginning to think about it. Journalistic training says don’t editorialize claims, just report them.
4. Please also remember that the media has been under attack for their role in Trump’s rise. Many journalists, especially in the news outlets that you probably consume regularly, are horrified that they could have had a role in this themselves. So remember to be gentle and to appeal to their better nature. Remember also that a lot of crazy people write them all the time, so don’t let them think that you’re one of those people. A potentially persuasive argument could be to tell the journalist, “This article does not accurately represent the situation,” rather than “I’m against Trump and you need to placate me.”
5. If you are contacting the journalist because you are an expert in an issue or have particular insight from your own experience into that issue, make sure you note that and be ready to provide resources to help correct this journalist’s inaccurate impressions. Consider also including names and numbers of regular people who are affected who wouldn’t mind speaking to a reporter (get their permission first). Sometimes news moves so fast that reporters struggle to get real people in there to counter what the other side is saying.
6. Just like when you advocate with your elected officials, if you are connected to a larger organization, such as a school, a union, a church, or a community organization, this will go further in convincing the journalist that you are influential in your community.
7. What about journalists who work for media like Fox News? This advice is not about them. They are bought and paid for, and unfortunately probably not worth your time.
8. Whom to contact:
Try to get your messages to the assignment editor, news director, asst news director or executive producer for local tv news; to a section editor or another editor for a newspaper; to the executive producer for a network newscast and possibly also to a story editor for a newsmagazine like 60 Minutes.
Most of your local newsrooms are run by small staffs with readily accessible editors and publishers. If a staff reporter has written something you would like to see corrected factually or with other perspectives, you can call or email that writer directly. If you choose to email, you can CC the editor and publisher to make sure that conversation is being held across the newsroom.
If you have an issue with a story or segment in your local outlet that came from a larger media organization, such as the Associated Press which will either run credited to that source or without a byline entirely, let your local reporters and editors know. Respectfully and concisely tell them why it doesn’t work for your area and how any missing information/perspectives impact your region, specifically, and they will work to localize that coverage in the future.
Work the chain professionally and politely, and reserve the right to pull at the top as a last resort, if the editors and publishers aren’t listening to your concerns, and/or if the error is truly egregious. In that case, if you feel the coverage is extemely bad (full broadcast of a rally with zero reporting, etc), you note the advertisers for the tv or radio newscast and let the station manager and assistant station manager know that you will be contacting them as well to express your concerns.