Here's something I've noticed.
The more I like the work of a particular reporter, the more I freaking hate pitching them stories for the first time.
That's because journalists are often suspicious of random people who call them with an agenda -- they want to know WHY you think something is an issue, why a campaign actually solves it, where you're getting the money for the campaign, how you know the people that you're working with.
They want to know about power.
Being super attuned to power, is deeply necessary (and lots of the times talking to journalists helps me see flaws in my plan or campaign).
But getting as many people as possible up to date on your campaign is a time and energy consuming process.
If you knew that they would end up writing your story, that suspicion is TOTALLY worth it -- but you're competing not only with your own time limitations, but the time limitations of the reporter, their editor, and the priorities and audience size of that publication. There's no guarantee that your story will go anywhere -- no matter how much time you put into crafting it.
Here's something else: local news is in a deep funding crisis.
In Chicago, there are tons of new news outlets trying to figure out how to provide ethical, useful local news coverage -- AND how to generate the revenue needed to make that coverage happen in a sustainable way.
For many news outlets, it looks something like this: 1. Build an audience, (numbers and people you want to reach), (Audience) 2. Refine your platform so it best serves that audience, (Medium) 3. Track the impact of your stories on your audience, (How to Track) 4. Write more stories. (Message)
Chalkbeat and City Bureau* are cool examples of how this model can work: creating newsrooms focused on values allows social justice and transparency to be front and center. It also allows for deeper thinking about how to train people in storytelling/reporting who don't usually get that training/support.
This model sounds exactly like campaign communications.
Forget editors and reporters, build your own audience and channel!
Make your own news!
I steered away from this model mostly because I kept working with people who didn't want to build their own newsroom: they just wanted to win their freaking campaign. Training/supporting organizers and members in winning with communications made more sense.
But if local media is in crisis, and we're thinking about strategy and capacity like in the triangle I sent last week, then organizing groups need to build our own newsrooms.
If local media is building trust/a sense of identity to reach people, we have to take advantage of the trust/sense of identity that (hopefully) we're already cultivating with our membership and as part of our campaigns.
If local media is writing stories that people really need, and generating tools, we need to be making way more media that meet the needs of the people we work with.
If local media is training and supporting people in storytelling who usually get left out of those opportunities, then we BETTER be doing the same thing in our campaigns/organizations.
As local media emulates organizing groups, organizing groups should emulate local media too.
We have to take time to make quality media, and not always be in rapid response mode.
We have to think about audiences we might never meet in person, but who want to know what the hell a witness slip is/how a zoning board works/how to challenge a parking ticket.
We have to actually figure out the best way to reach the people we want to reach and be realistic about the fact that local media, community spaces, and large, untargeted channels are dying, and that as organizing groups, we should also fight back against that fragmentation.
And... it's okay to spend less time pitching.
-- Last week Radical Communicators' did a discussion about Tracking Narrative Shift that was super heartening -- a ton of people are thinking deeply about how stories that movements/organizers tell are getting co-opted to maintain the status quo (if that's how you ended up on this email, hi!). The slides are above - let me know what you think!
-- Finally, a lot of groups are already doing this "newsroom building" type of communications -- if that's you, let me know what's working for you,especially if you would be down to do a quick Q&A of some kind.
** I think this is where we have an advantage over nonprofit newsrooms: we can ask members where they get their news, but we can also just ask them to check their email this week, and know that because they care about the campaign/it matters, it's probably worth it.