A guide for direct action participants
If you are part of a direct action you may be approached by journalists. Whatever the goal of your action, you have some sort of message for the public. Your main target may be the government or a company but your second target is ALWAYS the public. Journalists are a stand-in for the public, whether we like it or not. Therefore, it is very important to know how to get your message across to journalists.
Before your action consider these things:
Do you want all participants to talk to journalists or will you politely redirect journalists to your organizer?
What is the most important goal of your action? What do you want? Make sure you can say it easily in one or two sentences.
What is your message for the public? Remember that when you talk to journalists, you are also talking to average, uninformed people listening to or reading a news report. Some of them will actually want to know your message and support you. Treat them kindly.
When journalists approach you, try to figure out what kind of press they are. There are three types of press:
Friendly press: Those who already agree with you or share your values, even if they don’t know who you or your organization is specifically. They will help you if they reasonably can.
Hostile press: Those who have already set their minds against you and your values or which view your organization negatively for political, financial or other reasons. They will use whatever they can against you, including your silence or dismissal.
Uncommitted press: Those who have not openly taken a side for or against you and which may either be indecisive or trying to appear objective. There are no objective people. We all have sub-conscious assumptions and values. Uncommitted press will usually try to listen to your message, but they owe you nothing and they are often most interested in controversy and shocking details.
How to talk to the different types of press in order to get your message across to the public and to your specific targets through the media:
These journalists may happily publish your message and even specific information like your demands or the date and location of your next public event. It is important to be concise and clear. Keep your details in order and have your main message in written form to give to them. You cannot assume they know when the big action day is, no matter how much you have publicized it.
You don’t need to pander to them, but don’t take them for granted either. If you have time, you can give them interviews and even include some of your personal feelings.
It is better to avoid talking about organizational problems or internal conflicts. Uninformed people are always your audience and if you portray your organization as disorganized, it takes credibility away from your justification for disruptive direct actions. Finally, note that some hostile press might pretend to be friendly press in order to make satirical reports about you.
There are different types of hostile press. They may politically disagree. Their owners or major advertisers may be financially against your goals. They may be frightened and conservative with a lot of false assumptions about you. It is easy to think you should not talk to hostile press at all. However, it is important to remember that if they have come out publicly to talk to you they will probably publish or broadcast something from your action. And ultimately when you speak to them, you are speaking to their audience.\
If you react angrily to a rude and offensive journalist, thousands of people watching the video of your reaction will feel that you are angry at them or disrespect them. So, don’t engage too much with hostile press. They will use just about anything they can against you. Give your two-sentence statement of what you want and then a one sentence message for the public. Repeat it if they ask you for more. Be polite but firm.
These journalists may have false assumptions about you, your organization or your cause gained from those who are hostile toward you or simply from information confusion. If they state something incorrectly or show an incorrect assumption, resist the temptation to give a frustrated or irritable response, even if you have heard it many times.
Remember that uncommitted press may know very little about your goals or message. They may jump to false conclusions without meaning to. They will often be looking for what is most shocking and outrageous. You can use that to your advantage at times with creative actions, but it can also hurt you if what they get stuck on is some trash that fell out of your bag.
Be ready to state what you want clearly in two sentences. Add a one sentence message to the public if you can. Avoid talking about organizational problems or disagreements within your movement. If asked about another faction that is pursuing the same goals as you, it is best to be vaguely supportive and avoid criticizing other groups, beyond stating your clear differences, such as, “We are non-violent. They may have similar goals but because they do not abide by non-violence, they are not part of our movement.”
Uncommitted press thrive on controversy and they will often look for controversy within your movement, which can be very harmful to your outreach and your message to the public. If asked to give personal feelings, you can state your emotions. “I’m sad.” “I’m very worried.” “I’m so angry!” Psychology tells us that if ordinary people hear you state your emotions starting with the word “I” they will be naturally empathetic. It is much more difficult when you have to accuse someone who is doing harm. It is good to start it with “I,” such as “I am angry that….” or “I am sad that our prime minister won’t do anything about this crisis.”
Look at the camera, rather than the interviewer when possible. Avoid using words you wouldn’t want a six-year-old you loved hearing. And enunciate, particularly in crowds!