The Virtual Activist

A Training Course


Part 2C: Tips for Effective Online Media

A NetAction Mini-Trainer

Email is an excellent tool for communicating with media. It is a cost-effective way to quickly distribute press releases and newsletters, and is also useful for submitting letters to the editor or opinion articles. Electronic press releases and newsletters can also be posted to your Web site. NetAction offers the following suggestions for communicating online.

Tips for Effective Online Media:

Distribute email press releases in plain ascii text.
Draft your press release as you would any other email message, using an email software program such as Eudora or Microsoft Outlook. Never send press releases as attachments to email, or attach other documents to email press releases. If you need to prepare a paper copy of the press release, copy and paste the ascii text into a word processing document (such as Microsoft Word) after the release is written in the email browser.

Keep the text brief and focused.
An electronic press release should follow the same "pyramid" format as any other press release. Start with the most important information (and remember the five "W's" - who, what, where, when and why). Use short paragraphs and keep it brief.

Write a subject line that's compelling or provocative.
Keep in mind that the subject line is the first thing reporters will see when they download your release. Never email a press release (or any other message) with a blank subject line.

Include your electronic contact information.
Remember to include your email address and Web site URL in addition to your phone and fax number, and address. Put all your contact information at the top of the press release.

Use hyper-links where appropriate.
If there is additional information available on your Web site -- such as a white paper or an event announcement -- include a hyper-link so reporters can click right to it. Online publications will often include these links in their stories, making this an effective way to direct visitors to your Web site.

Send a test message before distributing your press release.
Always send a copy of the press release to yourself or to a colleague before distributing it. Check the format to make sure there are no broken lines of text, and check for any mistyped Web URLs by testing them to make sure they work.

Avoid disclosing the recipients' email addresses.
Always type the recipients' addresses in the "Bcc" field of your email message header, rather than in the "To" or "Cc" field. (See NetAction's "How to Create An Email Media List.")

Post your organization's media contact information on the home page of your Web site.
Be sure to keep the contact information up-to-date, and include information on how reporters can be added to your mailing list.

Treat email media inquiries the same as phone inquiries.
Always respond just as promptly to email media inquiries as you would to phone calls. Reporters who work for online publications are much more likely to contact you by email than by phone. If you're responsible for answering media inquiries, check your email frequently throughout the day.

Set up an online archive for your media communications.
Set aside an area of your Web site where reporters can locate past press releases. (If you publish a newsletter in electronic form, maintain an online archive of past issues, as well.)

Post press releases only to appropriate lists, news groups, and publications.
If you plan to post your press release to any email discussion lists, news groups or online publications, make sure the topic of your release is appropriate content for the list or Web site. If your press release announces a new report on air pollution, it would not be appropriate content for a forum for race car enthusiasts, for example.

Collect email addresses from your media contacts.
If you've been distributing your press releases by fax or postal mail, ask your media contacts if you can switch to email distribution. Commercial media directors (such as Bacon's Metro California Media) routinely include email contact information. Major newspapers frequently have separate staffs for their online versions, so you'll need to include those contacts on your list, too. There are also media directories and news services specifically for online publications that may be appropriate to add to your media list.

Limit the size of your email message window.
In many email browsers, text that is longer than the width of the message window will "wrap" to the next line. (When text is set to "wrap," you don't need to hit the "return" key at the end of every line.) If the size of your message window is set for more than about 75, the automatic "wrap" may result in broken lines of text.

How to Create An Email Media List

The simplest way to create an email media list is to use your regular email software. The most common products you might use are Qualcomm's Eudora, Microsoft Outlook, or Netscape Mail. To create your own email activism list, you will need to be familiar with two features of your email software: the address book and the "Bcc" field.

Using Your Email Address Book

Most email software programs have a feature that lets you set up an address book where you can store the email addresses of friends, relatives, and business associates. Most email address books will let you store hundreds or even thousands of names, making it a useful tool for creating a simple announcement-only email list that you can use to send out press releases or email newsletters.

For example, if your organization distributes press releases, you can set up an address book entry labeled "Media" to store the email addresses of reporters and editors so you won't have to send individual messages to each of them. In the example below, we created an address book entry labeled "Media" in Netscape Messenger. The first two email addresses in this "Media" entry are and . (The other addresses aren't visible in the screen shot of the address book.)

Using the "Bcc" Field

When the email addresses have been entered in the address book, your list is ready to use. But you'll want to send messages to the list without disclosing any of the recipients' addresses. So if you haven't already been introduced to the "Bcc" field, it's time to get acquainted.

When you open a "New Message" window in your email software, the message form will usually include a header that looks something like this:

=====================================================================
     To:
     From:
     Subject:
     Cc:
     Bcc:
     X-Attachments
=====================================================================

(Note: In some email software, "Bcc" is not included in the default setting of the header display. If you don't see it, check the "Help" file or the User Manual that came with the software, or contact the software company's support service by phone or email.)

Using the Media list in the example above, here is how you can send a message without revealing the reporters' email addresses: Type "Media" in the "Bcc" field of the message header (instead of in the "To" field) and type your own email address in the "To" field, like this:

=====================================================================
     To: 

     From: 

     Subject: PRESS RELEASE: CARAL lauds FDA approval of mifepristone
     Cc:
     Bcc: Media
     X-Attachments
=====================================================================

Always use the "Bcc" field if you send email to a list you've created in your address book!

If you type "Media" in the "To" field instead of the "Bcc" field, all of the reporters' addresses will be displayed when the recipients open the message. There are two problems with this. First, some people prefer not to disclose their email address. Also, if the address list is long, the header will be long. This is annoying to some people because they have to scroll through screens full of addresses before they see the message. If your list contains several hundred addresses, just imagine how annoying it will be to scroll through all those screens! Here is an example of an email message from someone who neglected to use the "Bcc" field:

=====================================================================
    From: "Jane Doe" <
>
    To: James King <
>, Alan Williams <awilliams@sirius.com>,
        Dave Garrison  <DG@aol.com>, "Jennifer Reilly" <Reilly@Reilly.com>,
        "George Kelly" <Gkelly@pacbell.net>, "Thomas Jones" <tj54@aol.com>,
        Gina Rogers <GinaR@uswest.com>, Dan Stevens <dans@yahoo.com>,
        Vincent Davis <vince@att.net>, Ron Butler <ronbutler@dnai.com>,
        "Marc Smith" <marc_smith@earthlink.net>, Tony Altura 
        <tonya@food.org>, "Jeffrey Carr" <carr867@aol.com>,
        "Michael Milton" <mmilton@ucla.edu>,
        Peter Boyd <pboyd@mindspring.com>, "Susan Smith" <ss@home.com>
=====================================================================

Online Media Advocacy Resources

Media Advocacy Guides and Tool Kits

Managing the Media, A Guide for Activists
http://tenant.net/Organize/media.html
 
"Raising Our Voices," A Tool Kit for Activists
http://www.media-alliance.org/voices/index.html
 
ConsumerNet's "How To Work With the Press" Guide
http://www.consumernet.org/library/pr_writing.shtml
 
ConsumerNet's "Nonprofit Publicity" Guide
http://www.consumernet.org/library/publicity.shtml
 
Benton Foundation's Best Practices Toolkit
http://www.benton.org/Practice/Toolkit/publicize.html
 
NetAction Notes 20 on Media Activism
http://www.netaction.org/notes/notes20.html
 
NetAction Notes 47 on Media Activism
http://www.netaction.org/notes/notes47.html
 

Online Media and News Services

Media Alliance Links to Media Organizations
http://www.media-alliance.org/medialinks.html
 
Thousands of General Media Links
http://ajr.newslink.org/
 
Ascribe Public Interest News Wire
http://www.ascribe.org/
 
Links for Progressives and Media Activists
http://www.nlightning.com/bookmarks.html
 
Salon Magazine
http://www.salon.com/
 
Institute for Global Communication (IGC)
http://www.igc.org/
 
AlterNet
http://www.alternet.org/
 
Common Dreams Newswire
http://www.commondreams.org/community.htm
 
The Village Voice
http://www.villagevoice.com/
 
NewcityNet
http://www.newcitynet.com/
 
Weekly Wire
http://weeklywire.com/ww/current/ww_news.html
 
NewsBytes News Service
http://www.newsbytes.com/
 

Directories

Mailing List Directory
http://www.liszt.com/
 
Deja News Search locates news groups
http://www.dejanews.com/
 
Publicly accessible mailing lists
http://www.paml.net/
 
Bay Area Progressive Directory and Events Calendar
http://www.emf.net/~cheetham/index.html
 
Craigslist announcement mailing lists for Bay Area events, jobs, etc.
http://www.craigslist.org/
 
Newstrawler searches for news on the Internet
http://www.newstrawler.com/nt/nt_home.html
 

Online Public Relations

Bibliography

Bacon's Internet Media Directory
1782 pages, $195.00
Primedia Information Inc.
101 Lake Drive, highstown, NJ 08520-5397
Phone: 800-621-0561
Web: http://www.baconsinfo.com
Poor Richard's Internet Marketing and Promotions
By Peter Kent and Tara Calishain
404 pages, $29.95, ISBN 0-9661032-7-0
Published by Top Floor Publishing
P.O. Box 260072, Lakewood, CO 80226
Web: http://www.PoorRichard.com/promo
Public Relations on the Net
By Shel Holtz
332 pages, $24.95, ISBN 0-8144-7987-1
Published by AMACOM, American Management Association
1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
Web: http://www.amanet.org
Publicity on the Internet
By Steve O'Keefe
401 pages, $29.99 ISBN 0-471-16175-6
Published by Wiley Computer Publishing, Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Professional, Reference and Trade Group
605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158-0012
Web: http://www.wiley.com/compbooks/
Spin Works!
By Robert Bray
128 pages, $23.95 ISBN 0-9633687-9-6
Published by the Strategic Press Information Network (SPIN),
a project of the Independent Media Institute
77 Federal Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
Web: http://www.spinproject.org/

Next: Part 3A: Web-based Advocacy and Outreach Tools -- Basic Strategies