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Generate media coverage to influence environmental policy

By Shomik Ghosh |
Green public opinion in your area and influence environmental policy decisions by spreading the good green news through op-eds, letters to the editor, media interviews, and more.
Elected officials and everyday citizens alike rely on radio, newspapers, magazines, and online news sources to keep them abreast of the important issues of the day. Working with the media allows you to educate and influence thousands of people throughout your local media market — as well as your elected officials — on the environmental issues that concern you. By alerting the media to pressing environmental issues, you can raise awareness, influence what issues are considered news, and encourage pro-environment policy decisions.

How to generate media coverage to influence environmental policy

Blogs: Tracking by the leading blog index, Technorati, revealed that more than 6,700 blogs were tagged with the key term "environment" in April 2008.[1] Contributing to this online medium is an approachable way to raise awareness and urge adoption of the environmental policies you support. When you find a blog discussing environmental issues, join in the discussion by posting a comment to say what action you'd like to see on the issue. Traditionally, blogs have been seen as vehicles to affect political issues because they can serve to refocus media attention and reframe policy debates. But a 2006 study conducted by George Washington University found that blogs may actually influence legislators more directly than previously thought.[2] The study found that nine out of 10 congressional offices read and refer to blogs, with senior communications staffers being the heaviest blog readers.[3] Write a letter to the editor: Letters to the editor (LTE) are widely read sections of the newspaper, providing a unique opportunity for you to reach many of your neighbors with your comments on the environmental policies of your local, state, or federal government, and to increase the visibility of environmental issues in the news. Elected officials also rely on reading LTEs to get a feel for constituents' opinions.[4] Even if you don't get published the first time you send in a LTE, keep at it. Remember that newspapers can be hard-pressed to find space to print every letter they receive: The North Carlina News and Observer, for instance, published only about one-third of the 13,000 letters they received in 2005.[5] But the more letters a newspaper receives on a particular issue, the more likely they are to cover that issue in the future.[6]
  • LTEs are written about one specific issue, often in response to an article that was recently published or an issue that has recently been in the news. Reference the issue or article you are responding to in the body of the letter. Any way that you can help connect your letter to the news of the day increases the chances that your letter will be published.
  • Choose what media outlet you'll be using. Once you decide which newspaper, magazine, or other medium you'll be using, clarify who the audience for that publication is and cater your language to that demographic. Be sure to check your chosen publication's specific rules for LTE's re: article length, formatting, submission guidelines, etc.
  • Keep your LTE short — no more than 250 words. You'll want to be clear and to the point.
  • Rely on facts and supporting evidence to make your argument.
  • Include your personal contact information: Name, address, phone number, and signature. Be creative. Try to give your letter a unique hook or angle to make it stand out from the massive numbers of letters that media outlets receive.[4]
Write an op-ed: Op-eds — opinion pieces in a newspaper named for their position opposite the editorial page — provide a venue for you to voice your opinion or get the word out about information that may not be included in a newspaper's articles. They are generally longer and more in-depth than letters to the editor, but can be more difficult to get published.
  • Develop an overall message: the one thing you want readers to get out of your piece. Use this opportunity to state firmly what tangible solutions you support in response to existing problems.
  • Keep the info timely and your research up-to-date, and use plenty of examples and personal experiences to illustrate and support your point.
  • Open with something catchy that will grab the reader and make them want to read more. Then, state clearly and obviously what your message is (get to the point asap!).
  • Cite statistics and facts throughout.
  • Wrap up your piece with a strong conclusion that again states your clear and concise message.
  • Add a bio to include your name, title, and affiliations.
  • Send a cover letter to the editor when you send in your piece explaining who you are and why you can be considered an authority on the issue for the purposes of the op-ed.
  • Focus on the local. Use your op-ed to illustrate to readers how this particular environmental issue and your proposed solution impact your community.[7]
Give an interview. Radio interviews allow you to reach many people in your community, especially if you are able to get a time slot during the early morning and late afternoon commuting times.
  • Check out the radio programs on your local stations, and try to find one with a host who would be supportive of your issue.
  • Before you call the station to pitch the interview, research and practice. Most producers and hosts will determine if you would be a good interview based on this phone call, so be sure to have a well-researched and rehearsed pitch ready.
  • Once you get an interview scheduled, find out the details. Ask if the interview will be live or taped, if callers will be accepted to ask you questions, how long the interview will last, if it will take place over the phone or at the station, and if there will be other guests on the show with you.[8]
Television interviews can also be an effective way to generate media attention. The rules are generally the same, but you'll need to be more cognizant of the visual elements related to your interview. Want to grow your green media influence? If you're feeling extra media-motivated, try making your own news. Start a campaign to address an environmental concern in your area, organize a green event, such as a local waterway clean up or a donation drive, or publicize a green volunteer event. Then kick things off by sending out a press release and hosting a news conference. Media coverage of such an event can garner a lot of attention and support for critical environmental issues in your neighborhood and beyond.

Generating media coverage to influence environmental policy helps you go green because…

  • The media helps inform the public on issues and policy proposals, while also helping to shape the debate around such issues. By being involved with the media, you can help frame the debate on the environmental issues you care about, and help educate and motivate your neighbors on the issues.
  • Elected officials refer to op-eds and letters to the editor to get a sense of constituents' opinions on the issues.
Footnotes
  1. BusinessWeek - Blogspotting: With 15.5 Million Active Blogs, New Technorati Data Shows that Blogging Growth Seems to be Peaking
  2. Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University - Understanding the Political Influence of Blogs: A Study of the Growing Importance of the Blogosphere in the U.S. Congress Page 4
  3. Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University - Understanding the Political Influence of Blogs: A Study of the Growing Importance of the Blogosphere in the U.S. Congress Page 16
  4. Citizens for Global Solutions - Complete Activist Toolkit Page 7
  5. The News & Observer - Do letters reflect ‰Û÷regular' opinion?
  6. WWF - Your Tips and Toolkit: A better letter to the editor
  7. Citizens for Global Solutions - Complete Activist Toolkit Page 8
  8. Citizens for Global Solutions - Complete Activist Toolkit Page 9
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