The twelfth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the role of the media in civil resistance. The media can be a powerful force in supporting the principles of a nonviolent struggle. At the same time, the media can also frame issues in a very unhelpful way.
I should say that the tactics and strategies below are core to the field of digital activism. DigiActive provides training on how to use new media to frame your message and how to connect with mainstream media. One needs to set an “agenda of resistance” in all media interventions.
News framing is like a picture frame; new influences what people think and feel about but also influences what people do not think about. Words activate particular frames of seeing. The challenge for activists is to “mediatize” your own conflict.This means framing the conflict at home and abroad. Getting your values and vision across can substantially change the strategic balance of your struggle
In order to interact with the media, nonviolent movements have to understand what journalists need:
- Clear, molded messages: What are you trying to say?
- For clearly targeted audiences: Whom are you trying to reach? Your first audience is us in the press.
- With a local angle or news-peg: Why does it matter to me?
- Promotion is key: Storytelling is story selling double meaning.
Journalists in essence perform two functions: verification and justification. The challenge for the activists’ organization is to be able to feed both these appetites:
- Capacity to deliver the event/development journalists can themselves witness;
- Capacity to provide the “justifiable” sources and commentators.
Being able to provide both enables the nonviolent activist to trade in the media market at some competitive advantage.
What makes a good story?
- Information: what do people need to know? Why does a story matter to me?
- Human appeal: News is people, who they are, what they want, and how they get it. Issues need a human face.
- Buzz factor: what are people talking about? News is deviation from norm. Mode of delivery matches message. Nonviolence is often a deviation from the norm.
One participant asked whether the story of Neda in Iran helps or hurts the civil resistance? On the one hand, Neda has come to frame the current struggle. On the other hand, it does demonstrate that the regime is cracking down and may help spread fear. CNN turned the story of Neda into a story on “how CNN covers the Neda story” as opposed to the story behind Neda.
Don’t fight the media, figure them out:
- Understand who covers what
- Target your media audience: TV? Radio? Print? Internet?
- Make relationships, maintain them (not just when news breaks)
- Understand news cycles
- Pitch the right reporter at the right time
- Mold the message say it simply
- Personify your story: we cover people, not issues
- Keep deadlines in mind
- Know how journalists see their competition
Get your story out on the Internet: Why? How?
- Reach a new audience
- Free distribution
- Increase your numbers
- Get feedback
- Meet allies
- Signal adversaries
- Raise money
- Pitch to journalists
- Great blogs have new posts several times a day
In conclusion, understand what makes a story; remember who you’re trying to reach and how; treat the press like an ally, not an enemy; technology is your friend (but use it safely/securely); develop flexibility in your ability to get your message to people.