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Tips for Reaching Out to Journalists and the Media

APPENDIX J: Tips for Reaching out to Journalists and the Media

The authors of this Handbook asked several experienced journalists for tips on how to approach the media if you are writing to a news publication from prison. Here are a few things they recommended:

  • Keep it short, a couple paragraphs at most. A journalist often won’t even start reading if a letter looks like it’s very long. Make very clear what the focus of your story is, why it’s important, and why you’re the person to tell it. You don’t need to send your full story in your first letter.

  • If you are providing information about something you want a reporter to look into, make clear what access you have to any evidence or to people who are willing to speak about that particular situation.

  • If you or someone on the outside can, find out who is the editor at the news outlet who works on prison issues and address your letter to that person rather than just to the news organization.

  • If you know that a certain publication or journalist has done some good reporting on prison issues before, you can write a sentence or two referencing that. For example, "Your paper does very powerful first-person stories. I think mine could be a good fit."

  • If you have a lawsuit, do not send your court documents unless a journalist requests them. However, you should send the name and citation for the case.

  • Stories about mundane aspects of life inside prison can sometimes be very interesting to journalists. People who have never been incarcerated or don’t have incarcerated loved ones have no idea what life inside is like. The things that to someone who is incarcerated might seem most mundane, like the daily bureaucracy, prison rules, day-to-day exchanges with prison staff, can be what people outside would most benefit from learning about, including anything detailing abusive conditions inside prisons.

  • Keep following up! Journalists are often very busy and get huge amounts of mail, emails, and phone calls every day. But someone who is persistent can often get a response, it just might take several weeks or months. All the journalists we spoke with said to keep writing if you don’t get a response at first. Remember to keep your follow-up letters short.