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How to pitch news outlets to cover your action

by: Jonathan Matthew Smucker

Mon Nov 07, 2011 at 07:00 AM EST

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To pitch a reporter or assignment editor about an action or event you're planning is to call them up—typically after sending them a news release—and attempt to persuade them that they should come out (or send a reporter) and cover what you're doing. A good pitch call is at least as important as sending a good news release. With a call, unlike a news release, you are creating a memory of a human-to-human interaction. It's your opportunity to make a strong impression so that when the reporter or editor goes into their morning or afternoon meeting—where they're deciding which stories to cover—they are more likely to advocate for covering your event.

Reporters and editors are busy people. They often sound as if they are unhappy that you reached them by phone, and sometimes you'll be lucky to get a full minute of their time. An effective pitch call makes a strong impression within the first five seconds, and makes at least the start of a compelling case within ten seconds.

For comparison, here's an example of an ineffective pitch call:

Hi. My name is [name]. I'm calling about an event that we're organizing. The event will be here in Manhattan. We'll be having a march. It's part of Occupy Wall Street. Veterans will be joining the protest today.

The caller would be lucky to get to the veteran part—which is the news hook—without the reporter or editor yawning or interrupting. Now, here's an example of an effective pitch call:

Hi, I'm [name], calling on behalf of 'Veterans of the 99%'. Tomorrow, military veterans dressed in uniform will march in-step from the Vietnam Memorial in lower Manhattan to the Stock Exchange. Then they'll join Occupy Wall Street — where they'll use a "people's mic" to talk about why, as veterans, they are participants in the 99% movement. Did you receive our press release?

While the second pitch is actually slightly longer than the first, it is packed with words that command attention and stimulate the imagination. Everything in the pitch floods the mind with powerfully vivid images. The first example, on the other hand, is bland. There's no indication of what the caller is even talking about until a few sentences in.
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#OWS: We are ALL leaders!

by: Jonathan Matthew Smucker

Fri Oct 28, 2011 at 00:55 AM EDT

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What is the difference between saying none of us is a leader and saying all of us are leaders?

At first glance these two phrases may seem like two ways of saying essentially the same thing. We believe in organizing in a way that is more horizontal than vertical. We believe in equalizing participation and resisting social hierarchies.

But the word leadership can mean a lot of things. There are things we associate with leadership that have nothing to do with hierarchy. Taking leadership can mean taking initiative on moving a project or task forward. It can mean looking for what is needed in a group, and stepping up to do that thing.

These positive group-serving associations with leadership are the reason why there's an important difference between the idea of "no leaders" and the idea of "all leaders".

If we are part of a group that talks about having no leaders, this phrase can inadvertently make us overly hesitant about stepping up to take initiative. It can create a group culture where as individuals we become reluctant to be seen as moving something forward — because our peers might see us as a "leader", which would be a bad thing.

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#OccupyWallStreet & the Political Identity Paradox

by: Jonathan Matthew Smucker

Sat Oct 22, 2011 at 13:29 PM EDT

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Strong group identity is essential for social movements. There can be no serious social movement—the kind that challenges the powerful and privileged—without a correspondingly serious group identity that encourages a core of members to contribute an exceptional level of commitment, sacrifice and heroics over the course of prolonged struggle. This kind of group identity is clearly emerging right now among core participants in occupations across the country and around the world, and that's a good thing.

However, strong group identity is also something of a double-edged sword. The stronger the identity and cohesion of the group, the more likely people are to become alienated from other groups, and from the broader society.

The Political Identity Paradox states that while social change groups require a strong internal identity in order to foster the level of commitment needed for protracted struggle, this same cohesion tends over time to isolate the group; and isolated groups are hard-pressed to build the kind of broad-based power needed to achieve the big changes they imagine.  

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#OWS: Welcome Visitors & Plug In New Participants

by: Jonathan Matthew Smucker

Fri Oct 21, 2011 at 01:39 AM EDT

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Three Tips for Plugging People In

Bringing in new participants and volunteers is essential to an occupation-or any group or organization-that wants to grow in size and capacity.  The momentum of the Occupy Wall Street movement has quickly attracted a lot of people to occupations across the United States and around the world. But attracting or recruiting new people to your occupation or group is only the first step.  Getting them to stick around is a much bigger challenge.

The good news is that there are tried-and-true methods you can use to plug new participants and volunteers into tasks and roles that will build their investment and leadership in the collective effort, and will increase what you all are capable of achieving together.

1. Greet and get to know newcomers.
When someone shows up at your occupation, march, rally, or action, they are indicating an interest. Greet them!  Find out about them!  And don't just invite them to come to your next meeting.  Even the most welcoming and inclusive groups tend to develop their own meeting culture that can unintentionally make new folks feel like outsiders.  To increase your new participant retention rates, take a few minutes to stop and talk with new folks.  Get to know the person.  Find out about what attracted them to your effort.  You might ask about what kinds of tasks they enjoy doing, what they are good at, etc.  If that goes well, you might ask them how much time they have.  You can tell them more about what's going on with the effort - and discuss with them what their involvement could look like.  While this level of orientation requires some time in the short-term, it saves you time in the long-term - because more people will plug into the work faster, and stick around longer. It may make sense a working group to take on the ongoing task of greeting, welcoming, and orienting new folks.

2. Accommodate multiple levels of participation.
In short, some people can give a lot of time, and some can give a little. Organizers with more time on their hands should avoid projecting their own availability as an expectation onto others. A foolproof way to drive new folks away from your occupation or group is to consistently ask them to give more time than they are able to give. Instead learn what kind of time commitment is realistic and sustainable for them. Help them plug into tasks and roles that suit their availability. Check in with them about how it's going. Are they feeling overextended, or would they like to take on more? Take responsibility for helping new folks avoid over-commitment and burnout.

3. Make people feel valued and appreciated.
If you want to inspire people to stick with this burgeoning movement for the long haul, make them feel valued and appreciated. It's basic. People like to be around people who respect them, and who are nice! If we want to compete with the myriad of often more appealing options for people's free time, then we have to treat each other well and take care of each other. Notice and acknowledge new folks' contributions, however small. Make time to check in with them outside of meetings. Ask their opinions often: What did they think about the meeting? the event? the action? Bounce your ideas off of them and ask for their feedback.

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Occupy Tactic Star

by: Jonathan Matthew Smucker

Wed Oct 19, 2011 at 17:25 PM EDT

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Occupation of a space is itself a tactic. It is an action intended to help us build momentum and to move us a step closer toward our goals. And it's been wildly successful so far!

But an ongoing occupation of space is also more than a tactic. An occupation serves as a base camp from which we launch many different tactics. Right now occupation movement participants are deploying different actions and making complex tactical decisions every day.

Choosing or inventing a successful tactic typically involves some intuition and guesswork - and always risk. But the more we think critically about our particular contexts, the better we can become at judging how to act strategically. Projecting and measuring our success is complex, but we shouldn't let the murkiness of these waters deter us from diving in. Patterns do emerge. We can learn a great deal from our experiences when we critically analyze them. This tactic star (see PDF) names some key factors that change agents can consider when determining tactics. The same tool can be used to evaluate actions together after they have been carried out.

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The Tactic Star (a tool for planning and evaluating tactics)

by: Beyond the Choir

Mon May 02, 2011 at 09:00 AM EDT

The "tactic star" is a tool we developed a few years ago. We wanted to repost it here on the new site. Click here to download it as a worksheet (PDF).

Choosing or inventing a successful tactic often involves some intuition and guesswork — and always risk. But the more we study our contexts, the better we become at judging when to pull which punches. Projecting and measuring success is complex, but we should not let the murkiness of these waters deter us from diving into them. Patterns do emerge. We can learn a great deal from our experiences when we critically analyze them. This tactic star names some key factors that change agents should consider when determining their tactics. The same tool can be used to evaluate actions after they have been carried out.


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Orienting New Members & Volunteers to a Local Group

by: Jonathan Matthew Smucker

Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 00:09 AM EST

Three Tips for Plugging People In

Bringing in new members or volunteers is essential to any local group that wants to grow in size and capacity. However, attracting or recruiting new people to your group is only the first step. Getting them to stick around can be a much bigger challenge! The good news is that there are tried and true methods you can use to plug new members and volunteers into tasks and roles that will build their investment and leadership in the group, and will increase what your group is capable of achieving.

Click thumbnail image on left to download this post as a PDF worksheet.

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grassroots communications tips (series)

by: Jonathan Matthew Smucker

Sun Jan 30, 2011 at 08:00 AM EST

Someone recently asked me to jot down some communications, media and messaging tips for folks engaged in grassroots social justice organizing efforts and campaigns. So, that's what I'm doing in this series.  I'll be breaking down some specific techniques and also exploring deeper communications concepts and frameworks.

This is the landing page for this series.  You can bookmark it and check back for new posts, which I'll be linking to from this page.

  1. How to pitch reporters
  2. Hooks & messages
  3. Narrative insurgency
  4. Grassroots organizational branding
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Building a Successful Antiwar Movement

by: Beyond the Choir

Thu Jan 27, 2011 at 10:00 AM EST

Four years ago today (January 27, 2007), United for Peace & Justice organized a mass protest in Washington DC to end the Iraq War.  In the three weeks leading up to the event we were rushing to get our first publication-Building a Successful Antiwar Movement-to the printer in time to distribute at the rally. Jonathan Matthew Smucker wrote this antiwar organizing primer in collaboration with Madeline Gardner, and we fundraised to be able to distribute about 20,000 copies free of charge to local antiwar groups across the country.

The pamphlet is written for a particular audience at a particular political moment - at the height of the unpopularity of the Iraq occupation, and a week after the new Democratic-controlled Congress had been sworn in.  However, the pamphlet provides some "tools and methods for people organizing to end the war" that are still relevant today.  And the frameworks can be applied to other social justice issues as well.

The pamphlet is posted here in four parts:

  1. Three Roles of an Antiwar Core (Intro)
  2. Speak the Truth, Tell a Story (Role 1: Interpretive)
  3. Articulating a Strategy (Role 2: Instructive)
  4. Activating Popular Participation (Role 3: Facilitative)
You can also click here to download the original formatted pamphlet as a PDF.

To inquire about ordering hard copies of the pamphlet, email info[at]beyondthechoir[dot]org - please write "Pamphlet" in the subject line.

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