In light of current events, here are a few of my thoughts on dealing with the news media. For those that don't know, I have worked in the newspaper business for eight years. Some of this I'm sure has already been discussed or proposed, but here are my observations and suggestions:
Regardless of the advent of the Internet, most Americans still get their news from traditional sources. And much of the news on the Internet originates from these same traditional sources. Infowars and its ilk do nothing to accomplish the goal of improving the image of the militia in the general public, which by-and-large equates the militia with racism and Timothy McVeigh.
What is the mainstream news media?
The term mainstream news media really refers to three distinct areas: national, regional and local.
1. National news media consists of the major broadcast networks and the major cable news networks such as CNN, FOX, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC etc. It also consists of the major weekly news magazines such as Time and Newsweek, as well as the major metropolitan dailies (the ones with more than 250,000 in circulation) such as the New York Times, The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times, etc. And, importantly, it also refers to the Associated Press. Nearly all daily newspapers in the country, as well as most television networks, radio stations and news websites get a significant amount of content from the AP. Most daily newspapers rely solely on the AP for their national and state news coverage rather than their own staff. It also consists of NPR and public television, which have a unique niche in the market.
2. Regional news media consists of individual broadcast and cable-only television stations. Because the radius of the broadcast and cable-service providers is fairly large, a station in say Albany, NY will provide locally produced news content over a 100-mile or so radius. They may concentrate on a core area within a 50-mile radius, but if the story is juicy enough they will expend resources out to the 100-mile radius and even beyond. There is of course a lot of variation nationwide based on geography, but in a lot of ways upstate New York is fairly representative of much of the rest of the country in this regard, with a mixture of small and medium-sized media markets. Regional news media also consists of larger newspapers usually based in a state capital or large cities. Again, using Albany as an example, The Times Union is available on newsstands throughout the state and has a staff large enough to cover stories throughout the state. The Wisconsin State Journal is another example, along with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. NPR-affiliated public radio networks and sometimes public television stations will also often have locally produced news that would be classified as regional.
3. Local news media consists of broadcast television stations, especially smaller ones, and smaller daily newspapers serving a handful of counties or perhaps a single county. These newspapers will tend to have circulations under 35,000. It also includes weekly newspapers and radio stations that provide at least some locally produced news content. Local news media will expend nearly all of their newsgathering efforts on happenings in their immediate geographical area of service. They rely on the AP and sometimes their parent companies if the parent companies have their own wire service for regional, national and international content.
What do these classifications mean for getting the word out about the militia? Well, there are different challenges and advantages for each. The national media is perhaps the most agenda driven and therefore the hardest to influence. It is my belief that the greater good can be served by concentrating on the regional and local news media. However, responses to stories that get distributed nationwide, such as the latest AP article, should be swift and deliberate. Contact information for AP bureaus is readily available online. There can be other attempts at gaining favorable coverage by the national media that I will explain later.
Ideally, there should be a national public relations unit for the militia movement that can respond to the national stories and in general curry public support in our interest. That is a topic for another discussion. It may be much more feasible to focus on what can be done at the unit level.
Getting ahead of the story Perhaps the most important thing to remember in dealing with the mainstream media is getting ahead of the story. The key to getting ahead of the story is preparation, organization and staying tuned into the news media by following trends and breaking stories.
A militia group should have a capable, designated spokesperson who also serves as a media watchdog. If possible, this spokesperson should not be the leader of the group, because the leader should be busy leading not dealing with the press. But the leader should also be able to serve as the spokesman in case the spokesman is unavailable or if the situation dictates it. It is important when dealing with the public, that you leave the camo BDUs at home. Dress in casual clothes or a suit when appropriate. Appearing clean and neat is crucial. One of the weapons our enemies are using against us is image. They will try very hard to portray us as overweight, unkempt, beer-swilling racists or pimply-faced misfits who graduated from airsoft last week and just bought their first AR-15.
As ConSigCor has noted, investigative reporters will seek out militia units to do feature stories. In fact they already are. It is important to control this and be available for interviews. Otherwise, the reporters will end up with Stormfront or other undesirable groups.
Know your media market It is of utmost importance to know what regional and local news media organizations are serving your geographical area of interest. It is also crucial to know what the personnel structure is at these organizations. Usually, there is managing editor/news editor/city editor/producer that handles the day-to-day assignments and generates the ‘daybook,’ which is simply an informal list of the stories being covered on any given news cycle. Their phone numbers, fax numbers and email addresses should all be put into the unit’s address book. It is important for the unit spokesperson to introduce him or herself in person at some point and even occasionally make casual contact with them.
It is also important to know who the reporters are who could conceivably be covering your items of interest. They should also be sent the same press releases that go to their bosses. Redundancy is the key here. Newsrooms are busy places and things do get lost in the shuffle. You also never know if someone is on vacation or out sick. In some cases, if there is a particular reporter that seems to be fair and sympathetic to the cause, the unit should make every attempt to build a casual relationship with him or her. Take them out for a beer or coffee or something. Feed them tips about other, non-militia items of interest. Reporters like nothing better than to get a tip from somebody that turns out to be a great story. They have long memories and are grateful for these tips.
Press releases Press releases are a crucial tool to help stay ahead of the story and influence the news media. But they need to be done right. Press releases should be one page, clear and concise and they MUST be error free. Snobby editors and reporters snicker at press releases that have spelling mistakes. A lot of times they will get tossed out if they are poorly done.
A press release can be sent in response to a national, regional or local news event or to promote an item of interest. For example, a no-knock warrant on the wrong house in a local neighborhood; an AP story demonizing the militia; an upcoming blood drive sponsored by the militia or an affiliated group; bad legislation being proposed in the state capital; or an upcoming emergency preparedness training event for the public. The possibilities are really infinite. But press releases are not “fire and forget” weapons. Newsrooms are very busy places and it is very easy for press releases to get casually disregarded or lost in the shuffle. They should be followed up with a phone call, email or even a personal visit if you are dealing with a regional or local news outlet. But there is a limit to this effort. Editors and reporters can become resentful if the sender is too pushy. At the same time, if a news organization ignores press releases, you should never stop sending them. You never know when there will be a slow news day, or better yet, a sympathetic reporter or editor. Use competition to your advantage. Unfortunately, in today’s world there are fewer competitors in the news media at the regional and local level. When following up on your press release, casually mention that the competition (mentioned by name) seemed to be very interested in it when you talked to them and say something like, “We want to make sure we are giving you a fair shot at it too.” Normally, I don’t advocate bending the truth for any reason (I’m a reporter, not a PR flak), but in this case, a little subtle manipulation, can be a greater good.
The press release itself should have, in a very prominent place, the phone number and email address of the spokesman. It should also have a quote or two or three from the unit leader or unit officers that are not only colorful, but provide a good nugget of information. We call these “canned quotes” in the newsroom and they are somewhat frowned on by editors, but they have become more acceptable in recent years due to staff cuts and fewer newsgathering resources. Many news outlets will simply rewrite press releases, as seen in the latest AP story about the militia, which quotes liberally from the SPLC. Instead of overwhelming the reader with information, the press release should have links to any pertinent websites that a reporter can go to get additional info. Reporters love this. A standard paragraph about the unit at the very end of the press release is a necessity. Ideally, that paragraph would include something like, “The Cumberland Valley Militia is a non-partisan organization dedicated to neighborhood defense, preparedness and community service and is open to people of all ages, races and genders. We support the rights of all Americans as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. For more information contact 1-800-freedom.”
Templates of press releases should be made available through AWRM or other militia networks.
The use of the word “militia.” I will not get into that here. There has been much discussion about the use of “emergency preparedness group” or “militia.” I favor militia, personally.
Public image of the militia I will also not get into this too much here. Much has been said, and in some cases done, about the community service aspect of the militia. What I will say is that if you unit is going to be doing something good in the community let the news outlet know two or three days AHEAD of time. I can’t stress this enough. This is, of course, a tactic that works best with the local news media.
Letters to the editor and guest columns This works really well in local newspapers. Given the volume of letters received at regional and national newspapers, your letter to the editor about the subject of the day will most likely not make the grade. But at local newspapers, those under 35,000 circulation, chances are your letter will get published. They may even let you write a larger guest column.
The key to a good letter to the editor is to be current, local, concise and clear and, if you can manage it, witty. Take public officials to task if they make statements that run contrary to the freedoms in which you believe. Encourage members, friends and relatives to send letters. In addition to letters to the editor, most newspapers have comment sections after their online stories or even forums. Participate. It is important to not get too complicated, though. You can turn people off. Baby steps. Lead them to the water, but don’t force it down their throat.
A media event If a militia unit has their act together, is training regularly and is collectively unopposed to scrutiny by the public, it may be a good idea to invite the mainstream media to a training event. The invitation should be extended first to the national news media and if no response is received within a week or two, the regional and local media should be invited. Obviously, great thought and care needs to be taken if this road is traveled. I would suggest every effort should be made to have that event consist of first-aid, orienteering, search and rescue rather than “military” ops. It may also be a good idea to include any women members or non-white member, without making it appear too staged. Camo BDUs should be fine for a training event. After all, we are the militia. But leave the medals and rank insignia home. No matter what, expect the media, especially the national or regional media, to spin the event. But the more honest and non-threatening we can be, the better the end result.
Finding a celebrity endorsement/spokesman This is a big picture item. But how cool would it be to get Chuck Norris or Ted Nugent or some other freedom-friendly celebrity at a training event or to say some favorable things about the militia. For better or worse, we are a society driven by celebrity. This should be used to our advantage.
[ 08-14-2009, 06:21 PM: Message edited by: Tahawus ]
Posts: 756 | From: Upstate New York | Registered: Oct 2006
I read an article today about a militia. This post isn’t intended to demean them or any of their members, however, it’s a great case study from an Operations Security (OPSEC) perspective. I’m not against militias (I’m also not in one), this is not an etymological argument, nor is it a legal one. It’s obvious that security groups have served and will serve an important purpose again in this country. These are solely my personal observations and there are five points I’d like to make.
1. Public Relations. Organizations, whether they’re protest groups, militias, survival groups — whatever they are — always seem to do poorly when they don’t engage with the media. On one hand, we all expect a liberal media outlet to twist words in interviews or make outrageous claims, and then once the furor is over and the page traffic dies down, quietly update the story to reflect what was really said or what was really meant (if you’re lucky). You may do very well during an interview and feel like you’re getting your message out there, but after your interview is over, you lose control of the narrative. Period.
One of the major takeaways from the Bundy Ranch standoff was that events like these need a strong public relations effort. As far as that’s concerned, I applaud the Bundy Militia at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for holding press conferences and being generally open to the public and media. They were able to dispel some misinformation and push their own narrative through both independent and national media. Ammon Bundy’s updates have been sincere, heart-felt, salt-of-the-earth-kinda-guy displays and he’s done very well at expressing the reasoning of why they’re there (despite the best efforts of others on-scene).
On Sunday, the event was trending like a stand-off; at least that’s how the media and commentariat made it out. But once Ammon Bundy began pushing his message of focusing on the Hammond Family and the thugs at the BLM, and Western land rights at large, more and more people understood that this was a protest, not a deathwish for Waco 2.0 (although there are still agenda-driven media outlets painting the Waco picture). I was surprised at the objective views and articles published by even some national mainstream media outlets (local media reporting seemed much, much worse). So this absolutely has to be Lesson #1: if you allow someone else to control the narrative, then your uphill fight gets steeper. Don’t allow a media outlet to tell your story for you. You must find someone capable of delivering your message and humanizing your efforts. If you allow someone elses propaganda to dehumanize or vilify you, then killing you is more easily justified.
2. Identify Your Target Audience. When doing media interviews or any type of public relations, you have an opportunity to reach people. These folks are watching a video or reading an article because something about the topic or title piqued their interest. The title may have been purposefully misleading — we call that ‘click bait’ — because most media outlets need advertising revenue, which means they need traffic, which means that they need to draw people to their site by hook or crook. This is why we see article titles like the one below. Does he look very “militant” to you?
Does he look very "militant" to you?
Now back to the target audience. I’ll give you an example. There was an article posted a few days ago that featured a state militia leader. He did an interview with a local media outlet and the media outlet told not only his story, but also the story of the SPLC. Net loss, if you ask me.
Before you start answering any questions, if you still choose to be interviewed by the liberal media, determine what audience you’re being exposed to, identify the profile of the person you want to reach (e.g., pissed off conservatives) and speak to them in terms that they’ll understand. This is an opportunity to influence as much as it is to be a lightning rod, so weight those options. Don’t be in the business of giving out free information just for publicity. If you just want free publicity, then start uploading prank videos to Facebook. Instead, use the opportunity to reach someone specific with your message and draw them to your side.
On my first deployment when I was screening detainees for intelligence value, I had an interpreter. I never asked the interpreter a question and I never responded to the interpreter. Why not? He wasn’t my target audience. I spoke directly to the detainee and looked at the detainee while he was speaking and while the interpreter was speaking. The detainee was my target audience. Take my advice for what it’s worth (or for what it cost you): don’t waste time answering a reporter’s questions for the sake of satisfying his or her question. Use the opportunity to answer the question by speaking directly to your target audience. Always, always, always speak to your target audience.
Along the lines of discovering your target audience, if you’re going to cooperate with liberal media outlets, even just the local news crew, then consider just how deeply a market they have for your target audience (maybe you want to reach the socialists who read their articles, I don’t know). If you’re contacted by a liberal media outlet, consider if you’d be better off contacting Breitbart or some other right-leaning media, who are more likely than the lefties to be aligned with your best interests and also have a wider exposure to the people you want to reach. Email a reporter and tell him or her that you’ve been contacted by a media outlet (you could even forward the email), and say that you’d rather go on the record with them instead of the liberal media. They may bite and it may be well worth the effort. Then you can go do the interview with the local reporter and if they get something wrong, at least now you have the opportunity to force them to correct it.
I do want to share the absolute best part of this article, which was, of course, buried at the bottom. Kudos to making this a part of the interview, however, it’s too bad that it wasn’t more prominently displayed.
“We are not different than you … we have jobs, families, we take the kids to the park and play with the dog. We don’t sit in our houses and plot a takeover of government. That’s ridiculous. But we do stand against a corrupt government.”
“Not a single unit that I associate with wants to overthrow the government,” he said. “We want government to do its job, to represent people and respect their rights as given to us in the Constitution and not alter it when they see fit and how they see fit.”
If you want to humanize yourself, say stuff like this. Don’t talk about being heavily armed or how extreme your views are perceived — that stuff dehumanizes you. Stick to the message that you want people to know about you.
3. Arm Yourself with Marketable Knowledge. In the same article referenced above, the SPLC provided numbers, whether they’re accurate or not, that are marketable. That means that someone sees the numbers and the numbers do the talking. Here’s the example:
.. the Southern Poverty Law Center identified 276 militia groups – up from 202 in 2014, a 37 percent increase.
The SPLC’s target audience are people who know nothing about militias and aren’t too sure about them in the first place, and these numbers just scare the shit out of these people. The SPLC provided the media outlet with marketable information that sells the SPLC’s message. On the other hand, this was the featured quote from the militia leader:
“Government is becoming increasingly oppressive… People’s First Amendment rights are being squashed. Now they feel their Second Amendment rights are being squashed.”
How, man?!?! How?!?! Consider your target audience! What specifics can you provide to market to the target audience? Your target audience may inherently understand these things (or they may just want proof) but compared to the information the SPLC provided, the speaker looks more angry than he is informed. If the speaker wants to recruit individuals to his militia, then he needs to provide a better message than just saying that the State is trampling on our rights. That alone doesn’t make the target audience want to join a militia. He should speak directly to his target audience — tell them, make your case about why joining the militia is in their best interest. (Now if the speaker did provide specifics, aside from executive action, then it didn’t make the article.)
What are the benefits? People look at a militia like a gang, and that’s all they see — a bunch of white dudes who are probably racist and who drink beer and shoot guns in the woods. We know that’s generally not the case, especially as more militias are becoming more professional. Most people don’t actually know the benefits, so sell them on receiving medical and communications training. Alleviate their fears of a militia by explaining what you do. Focus on the benefits of joining.
Let’s look at another future Pulitzer award winner from the SPLC:
“We believe these armed extremists have been emboldened by what they saw as a clear victory at the Cliven Bundy ranch and the fact that no one was held accountable for taking up arms against agents of the federal government,” she said in a written statement.
The SPLC has been doing this for years. They’re very good at it, they’re professionals, which is why militias or anyone else who speaks on the opposing side needs to get really good at it, too.
Not to beat a dead horse, but before you go into an interview, decide what message that you can market (they’re called ‘talking points’) and then look for ways to position yourself and market your solution to the target audience. This is what professionals do.
4. Using Military Terminology. This is just a petty bone to pick, but I need to share it. This is not a personal attack, however, when a person is quoted in the media and says this, military guys go, “WTF????”
“[the militia] is based all over the state, with 15 battalions and an approximate statewide membership of about 400 people, both men and women.”
There are 15 battalions but only 400 people? That’s barely one battalion. Sounds like there are 15 detachments or companies-minus, and the state has a battalion-minus. As long as anyone is going to use military terminology in the militias, you may as well use the corresponding unit sizes for the terminology you’re using, but that’s been covered in many other places far better than on this blog.
5. Security-Minded Public Relations. As much as there is a need to cooperate with media, there are still times when you have to be judicious in your approach to giving out information.
A major part of Operations Security, or OPSEC as it’s called, is determining your critical information. That critical information, if leaked or otherwise discovered by an adversary, endangers your mission. Your mission may be recruiting, training, planning or conducting an operation, and therefore you need to protect mission critical information.
Now I get it — 100%, I get it — the willingness to be completely open and transparent. After all, in this climate, if you have something to hide then you must be guilty. I can appreciate that. Most of us — the overwhelming majority of us, myself included — don’t condone wanton violence. We’re just not in a rush to turn our cities into Baghdad and Kandahar and go through that again. If that’s you, make that clear.
But another part of the OPSEC planning process is not just near-term but also long-term, which is why I was absolutely astonished that the following was written:
“[He] estimates that there are hundreds of smaller groups – “underground groups” across the state, ranging in size from small units of three to five men to larger groups.”
Why, why, why would you ever cop to this? Look, I get it. Some reporters are very good at their jobs. They will impress you with some knowledge, stroke your ego and then play dumb, hoping that their rapport and puppy dog eyes will get you to open up and say things that you probably shouldn’t be saying… like what was said above. They play on your willingness to play nice and be helpful, but back at the news desk, they’re getting a gold star sticker from their editor.
By saying things like this, all you’re doing is further justifying the existence of DHS. And it might be used to get a federal grant to build a new wing on the Fusion Center with your name on it. Guys, this is just not good PR, from a security standpoint. Do you want more negative attention or less of it? And by saying this out right, you’re also confirming some analyst’s intelligence requirement that reads, “Are there underground or clandestine extremist groups in the state?” Done. Push it to green and check that one off.
There are just some things that you shouldn’t say because now the local yokels are going to look less at dudes named Mohammad and Habib and look more at guys named John and Donald. I just wouldn’t recommend saying anything like this, and that’s my two cents. Thanks for reading.
-------------------- "The time for war has not yet come, but it will come and that soon, and when it does come, my advice is to draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." Gen. T.J. Jackson, March 1861 Posts: 15324 | From: A 059 Btn 16 FF MSC | Registered: Oct 2001