We recently had the opportunity to participate with some of our colleagues from Wards 7 and 8 in a media and communications training for East of the River leaders sponsored by the Nonprofit Roundtable, in partnership with the East River Family Strengthening Collaborative. The training helped us fine tune our communication skills and introduced us to journalists who provided us with valuable feedback on how to pitch our stories to the media. Soon after the training ended, we reached out to WAMU 88.5's Senior Producer, Rebecca Blatt, who hosted us at the WAMU studios where she helped us and rising seniors from Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy understand the essential ingredients that go into a successful radio commentary. We left both empowered and inspired to write a commentary worth putting on the air. We are sharing Rebecca's guidelines in hopes you will as well.
Picking a topic is the most important part!
• Pick a topic you know about and care about and you can use your experience to talk about.
• Ideally this topic has some kind of news peg/timeliness and relevance to your audience. For instance, if your commentary is about summer programs – June is a great time. If it's about changes at school – maybe fall is a good option.
• Decide an outcome you'd like to achieve. This could be awareness of an issue, some policy change, mobilization in the community, etc.
- Develop a basic understanding of the topic and its context. This could mean reading news coverage and previous commentaries, talking with a range of people about the issue, etc.
- Find that "time peg" that makes your idea relevant now.
- Develop your best arguments for the outcome you're trying to achieve.
- Figure out counterarguments by talking to people and by reading up.
- INTRO: start with a way to grab your audience. This could be a personal experience, a statistic or recent news story.
- Give basic information the audience needs to understand the topic.
- Outline your arguments and acknowledge/address counterarguments.
- CONCLUSION: end with the message you want to leave your audience. What do you want the outcome to be?
- Write strong declarative sentences – not hypothetical questions.
- Be yourself! Follow basic grammatical rules but keep your voice throughout.
- Stay on topic.
- Write cleanly/concisely.
- Be knowledgeable about and respectful of your audience.
- Don't be self-serving! Your audience will see through it.
- Before you submit your draft, make sure you're comfortable with each line.
- Know your target outlet and follow their guidelines for submissions.
- At WAMU, we're looking for a local angle, and commentaries must be about 2 minutes long when read out loud.
- Be open to the editing process. Each outlet has a style and a format they follow. Allow them to help you fit into both.
- Read, read, read! The more you read news coverage and editorials the better sense you'll hav of how to put them together.
- Find outlets you enjoy and that cover topics that are important to you. If you're into sports read Sports Illustrated. If you live in D.C., read The Washington Post.
- Keep writing! The more you write the better you'll become.