Today, I participated in a panel at the U.S. part of the Global Forum of Direct Democracy to discuss the initiative and referendum in the public arena and the role of the media. In addition to myself, the panelist included John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee, Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake, Patrick McGuigan of CapitolBeatOK.com and moderated by Joel Fox from Fox & Hounds.
I was the only non-journalist/regular blogger type. As told by my former employers, Citizens In Charge Foundation, who were co-hosting the event, my role on the panel was to talk about the public perception of initiatives and referendum and pitching stories about initiatives process and movement.
While the rest of the panel discussed anecdotes from covering the initiatives or their experiences with other “sexier” topics like ObamaCare and wikileaks…. I tried, as best I could, to talk about the differences between pitching stories for issues like initiatives in contrast to pitching stories about political candidate campaigns. The panel made the point to the room of international activists that it will always be harder to get news articles on issues than “horse race” stories on candidates and the race.
The reality is there are less mainstream journalists who must do more (blog, write columns, tweet, etc), makes getting issue stories on lesser known topics harder to get published. Yet, with the rise of the Internet, social media and blogging, activists have many more opportunities to promote their issues.
I regularly tell activists that they shouldn’t wait for the stories to get published by mainstream journalists; they have to become creative and use the tools they have at their disposal. Finding ways to package a story using the existing news flow will help an unknown issue have a timely hook. The Internet can be an activist best friend, if they know how to use it. Regularly blogging about the issue with a clear message on popular websites will help many activists gain traction for their causes. Using social media sites to post updates and platforms like foursquare and meetup to get together in person can help organize like-minded activist around a cause at a local level.
A major mistake made my many activists is creating static web page which look more like glossy brochure, then a modern website. They don’t add new content and don’t give visitors a reason to come back to the site. They don’t engage with others on the issue and they don’t try to cross-link their information to more popular sites. Activists must foster an online community that can create off-line change, and like everything else in life, it takes hard work.
You can learn more about the conference and the panel at http://www.2010globalforum.com/