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The most effective way to get your message to the public is usually through the news media: print, radio and television. While advertising may be the first thing your local union thinks about, it is often costly and needs careful consideration.

Getting your issue picked up by the news media takes planning and some basic skills. A reporters job is to talk with real people just like you to get to the heart of the story.

CUPE members know first-hand whats happening in the workplace and how decisions effect the people who use our services. As front-line workers, you know more than the reporter does. Its a good idea to identify several members who feel comfortable speaking with reporters. Then choose one who will serve as the main spokesperson and steer reporters to them. Use this guide to prepare. Remember, help is available through your CUPE rep and the Communications Branch.

When thinking about the media, though, dont forget about the alternative and community media. Theyre often far more sympathetic to unions than the Globe and Mail, National Post or other large dailies. Most large cities have an “urban weekly”, which is usually free, and sometimes peace, environment, womens and gay and lesbian newspapers. Media are also sometimes centred on a specific community, such as First Nations people or African-Canadians. If these operate in your area, they should be included in any plans you have. There are also province-wide alternative media in places such as Saskatchewan (Briarpatch) as well as community radio stations and cable TV channels throughout the country.

Personal contacts are more effective than a news release. Keep track of whos reporting on what issues and follow up by phone or e-mail with additional information. On-going contact will help develop a relationship of trust. Then reporters will seek you out for comment.

Not making any headway with the reporter who covers your issues? Try columnists or commentators and build contacts with them. Maybe a background briefing with the editorial board or producers will help.

Remember that reporters have a lot of issues on their plate, limited resources and deadlines to meet. Keep releases short and to the point. Keep interviews and news conferences brief. Return calls promptly and give ample notice of events, when possible.

What is news?

News is information people need to make rational decisions about their lives in a democracy. Its a break from the normal flow of events, something new.

Reporters personalize and dramatize their stories to catch readers interest and to capture the feeling of being there. What is newsworthy is often determined by factors called news values. Here are some examples:

Impact events that affect many people, e.g., an airline strike or a major storm.

Timeliness events that are immediate or recent, e.g., election results, how workers vote in tight negotiations.

Prominence events with well-known persons or institutions, e.g., CUPEs National President draws media as the representative of hundreds of thousands of CUPE members across Canada.

Conflict events reflecting clashes between people or institutions, e.g., fist-waving protestors on the steps of Parliament.

Bizarre events that deviate sharply from everyday life, e.g., an unemployed worker who wins a lottery.

Currency events and situations being talked about, e.g., the ongoing cutbacks and changes to health care.