Media reaching out

And here are a few tips for how you can take advantage of the trend

June 30, 2007

by David Kopel

As high school coaches often say, "There's no 'I' in 'team.' " Well, these days, there definitely is an "I" in "media." Here are some examples of new opportunities to participate in the traditional media, ands suggestions about how to do it.

Colorado Public Radio has launched a project called the Public Insight Network. If you sign up on their Web site (, you can share your experiences and insights on issues such as T-REX, health care, green energy, or Iraq war veterans. Some of the comments will be integrated into CPR programs on the subject. About once a month, CPR will solicit members of its Public Insight Network about a new issue.

CPR is trying to reduce its reliance on experts, and to broaden the voices heard on the air.

The Boulder Daily Camerahas taken a huge step away from the traditional system of unsigned editorials representing the official position of the newspaper, as determined by an editorial board of select newspaper employees. Now, staff-written editorials are signed by their author.

More significantly, there is a new "editorial advisory board" of a dozen Boulder citizens who do not work for the paper. Every Saturday, the Daily Camerapublishes one- or two-paragraph essays by several of the editorial advisers on the topic of the week.

For the Sunday editorial, the Daily Cameraannounces the topic during the preceding week, and solicits comments from the "virtual editorial board" (ordinary readers). The comments are published on the Daily Camera's Web site, and the best appear in the print edition.

And then there's YourHub, the Rocky Mountain News/Denver Postweekly insert, which relies heavily on reader-written articles. Initially, I was a skeptic, but YourHub has proven to be a great vehicle for adding new and interesting voices to the papers.

As the traditional media outlets struggle to maintain their relevance, efforts to forge closer links with the audience will continue to expand.

Even the old-fashioned letters to the editor are being changed by the Internet. While space for letters may be shrinking in some publications, many newspaper Web sites now publish almost every letter they receive.

So here are some tips for your own participation in the media. The better you do at entry-level efforts (e.g., letters to the editor), the better your chances for moving up to more selective roles. Most of these tips also apply to letters that you might send to journalists asking them to improve their coverage of a topic.

1. Read carefully before you write or speak, and doublecheck your facts.

High standards of factual accuracy are what the traditional media hope will distinguish them from their new competitors. The more that you hold yourself to standards of absolute certainty for every fact you mention, the greater your long-term credibility.

2. Whenever you can, supply a source. If you think that someone else got a fact wrong, point out a source (ideally, a primary source) which has the right facts. If you have the URL for the source, so much the better.

3. Remember that print journalists face ever-tightening space restrictions. It's reasonable to expect that a straight news article will include a balance of perspectives, but it's not fair to expect that print articles will be comprehensive.

4. Avoid nasty generalizations. Claims such as "Liberals hate America" or "Conservatives don't care about children" make it nearly impossible for you to persuade someone who doesn't already agree with you.

5. If you have to use a label, understand what it means. For example, the "neo-conservative" movement was founded in the 1970s by ex-leftists, many of them socialists, who had been disillusioned by the weakness of McGovern Democrats and Nixon Republicans regarding the Soviet Union, and by the unintended, harmful consequences of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society welfare programs. Today, the classic neo-con magazine is The Weekly Standard,edited by William Kristol. Neo-cons support a much larger and more active federal government than do most other conservatives.

It's just ignorant to call anyone who supports the Iraq War a "neo-conservative." Christopher Hitchens is a militant atheist and a critic of Israel; Glenn Reynolds is a libertarian. They are no more neo-cons than is Dennis Kucinich.

It's never been easier to play a role in the mainstream media; do your best to do so responsibly.


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