Although domestic violence is a pervasive problem year-round, affecting more than 12 million women and men annually (NISVS, 2010), the issue is likely to receive increased media attention in October, when advocates have traditionally observed Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). A time to mourn those who have died because of domestic violence, DVAM is also an opportunity to celebrate those who have survived and connect those who work to end abuse and violence in intimate relationships. Throughout DVAM, media stories abound, ranging from news articles covering domestic violence fatalities in a particular community, to radio interviews with advocates advertising their upcoming events, to TV shows featuring survivors who are willing to share their stories of overcoming abuse. Media coverage of the complex and multifaceted nature of domestic violence can also vary broadly, ranging from helpful to harmful.
The public gets the majority of its information about the world from the media. (…) If we are going to educate the public about domestic violence — encourage them to take action to prevent or reduce this crime, or ask them to support our efforts — we must work with the media. (Media Outreach Made Easy)
To successfully educate the public about domestic violence, encourage action to prevent or reduce domestic violence, or ask for support, advocates must work with the media both in response to specific cases and as a proactive measure. As many advocates have come to learn, engaging with various media outlets can be challenging at times. Effective work with the media involves broad efforts such as educating the media about the nature and dynamics of domestic violence and providing guidance for accurately covering domestic violence. It also involves specific tasks like building a list of local media contacts for distributing press materials such as news releases, media advisories, press statements, etc. Developing certain skills is critical, too. For instance, learning how to take control of an interview and utilize each question (especially the “bad” ones) as an opportunity to deliver the message one wants to convey – “No, that’s not really accurate, but I can tell you that…” or “I think what you are really getting at here is…”.
Fortunately, resources and materials are available to facilitate this process and help advocates be proactive, prepared and knowledgeable. Available tools include glossaries of media terminology, information on how to generate media coverage and draw attention to a story, guidance on how to prepare a media list, and templates for press releases and proclamations.
Media Advocacy and Outreach: Preparation is Key
Media distribution options are diverse and plentiful. Channels include: television and radio news programs; talk shows; newspaper and magazine articles, feature stories, editorials, columns, letters-to the-editor and guest editorials; stories in community and ethnic or specialty newspapers; public service announcements (PSAs); and social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube, and blog hosting sites, among many others. As anti-violence advocates engage these different and varied media channels throughout the year – especially during DVAM when domestic violence may gain increased attention – two strategies are of critical importance: developing a compelling message and preparing survivors for media interviews.
Develop your message. Before advocates participate in an interview, it is good practice to decide on a concise and compelling message to convey. Identify two or three clear and brief talking points to focus on (no more than two complete sentences). Because people respond better to things they are familiar with, using examples, analogies and contemporary references can be very helpful. Tangible numbers also speak volumes. In other words, say “one in four” rather than citing a huge number. The Domestic Violence Awareness Project (DVAP) website, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV), offers a variety of sample 3-Legged Stool Talking Points Forms that advocates can use and adapt in preparation for media interviews. Talking points are available on a variety of topics, ranging from the impact of domestic violence on children to the connections between firearms and intimate partner homicides to the role of faith and spirituality in healing from domestic violence.
Prepare survivors for media interviews. It is natural for media outlets to highlight the voices of those directly affected by the issues on which they are reporting. Advocates are frequently asked to identify a survivor of domestic violence who will agree to an interview, and this will surely remain the case. So, just as advocates maintain a media list, it is also a good idea to keep a list of survivor contacts who are willing to talk to the media. Advocates should not identify anyone to the media until gaining their prior consent. An interview is not meant to be a traumatic experience, but rather a pleasant exchange of information. Therefore, preparation and safety planning is key to a successful interview. The NRCDV has developed several resources to assist advocates and survivors in preparing for speaking publicly. Among these resources is From the Front of the Room: An Advocate’s Guide to Help Prepare Survivors for Public Speaking, and its companion piece, From the Front of the Room: A Survivor’s Guide to Public Speaking, which are available in English, Spanish and Arabic.
Supporting Advocates’ Public Education Efforts
Additional resources related to media advocacy and outreach are available on the DVAP website, including webinar recordings and BlogTalkRadio sessions discussing effective use of social media to engage the public and developing partnerships with media outlets to promote anti-violence messaging, among other topics. Moreover, the DVAP offers tools to support advocates’ ongoing public and prevention awareness and education efforts, including information on public awareness campaigns and strategies and free resources and sample materials for download. Guidance for organizing a domestic violence awareness event is available, including a section about key considerations and a searchable events database where advocates can advertise their events at no cost. Advocates can also engage with the DVAP and other NRCDV projects via our various social media channels, including Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram.
How do you work with media outlets in your community so that the issue of domestic violence is covered responsibility during DVAM (and throughout the year)?