Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thinking like an editor

How do peace and justice activists use local media to promote their campaign goals?

First, it's crucial to develop our own peace media, and most peace and justice groups have that done. Social networking, list serves, websites, email lists, and even old fashioned phone trees are normal organizing practice. We know how to whip ourselves fairly well, and we need to spend organizing time doing that. Part of the internal movement communication is issue education, part is logistically informative, and part is motivational. But what about recruitment?

Interesting and enlivening others who may have some value affinity but have not be involved is a challenge. Bringing them to events, encouraging them to participate in online groups, and activating them in campaigns is not easy. It means using local media, including mainstream newspapers and radio. To succeed in that, start learning to think like an editor of a mainstream local paper or mainstream local radio station.

Media intervention assumes that publishers and journalists, especially at the local media level, can disregard the interest of their specific audiences, but communication theory suggests that this assumption is unnatural and economically impossible” (Gilboa, 2009, p. 470).

Who are the "specific audiences"? Generally, two categories, each with subgroups.

First, readers and listeners. The editor is thinking of two groupings. One, the middle. How can the content of the media interest the most consumers (readers and listeners)? They like lively communication, not too angry, not weak, but engaging. They like sympathetic stories but not cloying sentimentality. They don't care much for jargon. Two, those who will be offended by partisan messaging. The editor needs to be able to handle that and each editor has a different tolerance level. Learn it and respect it.

Second, money bosses. The owners have an agenda and each editor needs to account for that. If your message is outside that box you will be rejected. Learning those boundaries is also important. This category also includes advertisers, each of which has its own relationship to the media outlet in question. If you can appreciate these you stand a stronger chance for success.

Is all this possible? Of course, and much of it is experimental. You try and you are rejected. Call. Ask. Listen. You'll learn as much from the subtext of your relationship to an editor as you will from the spoken information. Each editor has simultaneous and conflicting pressures.

Happily, one of them is for content. If you get good at framing and composing your content, you win. You earn the trust of each editor and you maintain it for ongoing local mainstream media access. This doesn't mean you have to blunt or dumb down your message, but it does mean that you have to be the best message composer you can be operating using nonviolent communication, coupled with gentle personalism in your relational work with editors.

Gilboa, Eytan. (2009). Media and conflict resolution. In Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.). The Sage handbook of conflict resolution. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p.p. 455-474.

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