1. Finalize the press release.
If at all possible, keep it to one page. Spell-check it. Proofread it. Get someone else to proofread it again. Print it, copy it and add it to the press kits. (An example of a press release for a breaking-news action follows this checklist.)
2. Alert all media you can trust, and who might possibly want to be on the scene, that the action is going down.
Obviously, there are times when you can’t tell anyone. The local newspaper may be in the pocket of the industry you’re hitting. The TV anchor in a small market may not know enough not to “accidentally” break a pledge of confidentiality. But in general, if you approach the news media straightforwardly and make sure that you’re off the record, they will honor your request to keep the information confidential.
Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and take a chance, because if news outlets know what’s coming you’re almost certain to get better coverage. But do not, under any circumstance, fax them the press release, or anything else except a map – nothing on paper until the action is safely under way. Faxes can be lost or intercepted.
Ideally, you should speak directly with the reporter who’s going to cover the story. If that’s not possible, you should ask to speak to the city editor of a newspaper, and the assignment editor of a TV or radio station. Be prepared to tell them in 30 to 60 seconds what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and why it will make a good story. Make sure they get the exact time and place of the action, and phone numbers where you or someone else on the media team can be reached from that moment until the action.
The best time to do this round of calls is the late morning or early afternoon before the action. Before 11 a.m., most editors are in meetings; after 4 p.m. they are on deadline and they will not want to talk to you. If you can’t call before 4 wait until 7 p.m. and call the night editor.
If you know you’ll have reporters on the scene when the action starts – or even think you might have some – do whatever you can to keep news cameras away from the actual site until the action is underway. Have them meet you at a nearby staging area and take them in once your activists are in place. Or tell them to be there half an hour after you expect things to be in place, if you can control the timing that closely.
The night before the action
1. At a meeting of everyone involved – action people, ground protesters, support people – go over the press release, emphasizing the main message and the lead sound bite.
Spend some time with everyone who might possibly be in an arrest or interview situation, letting them practice the sound bite or variations on it. If there are too many of you, partner off and practice in pairs.