The morning of the action
1. Get on the phone by 7:30 a.m. (assuming it’s a morning action, which is almost always best for coverage).
Call the TV and radio stations again, to make sure someone on the news desk got the message from the day before and knows what’s happening. Again make sure they have the exact time, place and the correct phone numbers for contacts. Most newspapers won’t have someone on the desk until 9 a.m.; call them if time permits.
2. Double check to make sure that the person stationed at the fax machine has copies of the release and the prioritized list of news outlets.
As soon as the action begins
You “have an action” at the moment protesters are in place and/or the image and banner are deployed. If you are some distance from the action site, work out a radio signal with the action coordinator, who should notify you the instant this occurs. Then:
1. Contact the person at the fax machine and tell them to start pumping out the faxes.
It is ideal, if you have the capability, to use multiple fax machines or to pre-store the list of numbers in your fax machine so you can start the process with one command. Do your best, but anything that gets out the maximum number of faxes in the shortest amount of time will help.
2. Begin calling, in order of priority, the news outlets on your fax list. Identify yourself by name and organization, and clearly and succinctly, inform that you have a peaceful protest underway, its location and the purpose. Be calm and businesslike, not urgent or lecturing.
For example: “This is Zazu Pitts with Rainforest Action Network. This morning we are conducting a peaceful, nonviolent protest against Unocal’s destruction of the Amazon. Five minutes ago, two climbers scaled to the top of Unocal’s headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, and they’re going to stay there until the company agrees to meet with us.”
At that point, they’ll usually say: “Send us a press release.” Tell them one is on its way, then say something like: “I just wanted to tell you the protest is going on right now at 123 Main Street, let you know how to reach us, and see if I can answer any questions for you.” They’ll either say no thanks, or start asking questions. For an action in a major U.S. metropolitan area, these will almost surely be the first few calls you make:
The Associated Press
United Press International and/or Reuters
The 3 or 4 leading TV news stations
The 2 or 3 leading radio news stations
The local newspaper
If you’re in a smaller town – one without an AP bureau or TV station – your first calls may be the local newspaper and radio station. But get in touch with the closest AP office as soon as possible.
During the action
• Do not keep calling back with updates, unless they are truly big and unexpected developments. If the outlets are interested, they will be following the action through the authorities.
• With cellular telephones, it is now common for action protesters to speak live to the news media from where they are hanging or locked down. News radio stations in particular love this, so if you didn’t reach them at the beginning of the action, keep trying and make sure they know they can go live to the site.
• It’s best to let the people who are actually engaged in direct action deliver the message – it adds undeniable authenticity to the coverage. As media coordinator you should of course also be prepared to deliver crisp, on-message soundbites.
But your main responsibility is to help journalists do their jobs.
• Reporters will ask all kinds of questions unrelated to the action’s message – How do they go to the bathroom up there? You should be ready to provide a courteous answer that nonetheless quickly turns back to the topic at hand. (“They wear diapers. It’s inconvenient, but that’s nothing compared to the danger this toxic waste poses to this community.”)
After the action
When the protesters are arrested, or leave peacefully, or whatever marks the end of the action, call the main outlets mentioned above (at least, those that showed any interest at all) and tell them that the protest ended, what time it ended, and the outcome. Again, make sure they know where you can be reached the rest of the day – and often the following day. If there were arrests and people are released later that day, call again with that update.