“Write a letter to the media? Me? Why me?”
There are 101 excuses for not writing or calling the media when you see unfair, biased or inaccurate news coverage on Ethiopia: “I dont know enough”; “Oh, I’m too busy”; “The mainstream media doesn’t care about Ethiopia anyway.”
It makes a difference!
Communicating with journalists makes a difference. It does not have to be perfect. Even a one-sentence, handwritten note to a reporter can be helpful. If media outlets get letters from a dozen people raising the same issue, they will most likely publish one of them. So even if your letter doesn’t get into print, it will help another one with a similar point of view get published. Surveys of newspaper readers show that the letters page is among the most closely read parts of the paper. Its also the page policy-makers look to as a barometer of public opinion.
What to do to maximize the chance of getting your letter published.
- When you write to journalists, be factual, not rhetorical. Do not personally attack them; that’s more likely to convince them that they are in the right. Address them in the language that most journalists are trained to understand. Call on them to be responsible, professional, balanced and inclusive of diverse sources and viewpoints.
- Make one point (or at most two) in your letter or fax. State the point clearly, ideally in the first sentence.
- Make your letter timely. If you are not addressing a specific article, editorial or letter that recently appeared in the paper you are writing to, then try to tie the issue you want to write about to a recent event.
- Familiarize yourself with the coverage and editorial position of the paper to which you are writing. Refute or support specific statements, address relevant facts that are ignored, but do avoid blanket attacks on the media in general or the newspaper in particular.
- You also must include your contact information: name, signature, address and phone number. Usually, newspapers do not publish more than name and, if applicable, organization. The address and phone number are needed for the media outlet to be able to get in touch with you (for example to let you know that your letter has been selected for publication). However, you can also make it explicit to the outlet which part of your information you want kept private.
- Support your facts. If the topic you address is relatively unknown to the newspaper, as may be the case for specific details concerning political developments in Ethiopia, consider sending documentation (preferably from international sources) along with your letter. But don’t overload the editors with too much information.
- Keep your letter brief! Generally, roughly two short paragraphs are ideal. Whenever possible, type it rather than submitting a hand-written letter.
- Encourage others to write letters as well. This will show that other individuals in the community are concerned about the issue, increasing the odds that one of the letters on the same issue will make it into the paper.
- Monitor the paper for your letter. If your letter has not appeared within a week or two, follow up with a call to the editorial department of the newspaper.
If you would like, please send a copy of your letters (published and unpublished) to EACA. We are interested to see great media activism in the Ethiopian community!
*Adapted with permission from FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting)