One of the most important lessons we've learned in five years of media advocacy is that issuing a report is a fantastic way to get media attention for an issue.
Reporters need strong hooks. Data-rich reports that provide fresh information on important issues are strong hooks. If the report includes one or more powerful personal stories and policy recommendations or other calls for action, the newsworthiness is even stronger. But don’t just take our word for it. Here are two examples of recently released eviction-focused reports that garnered strong media coverage. In both cases, Voices was brought into the process early on, allowing us to plan ahead and be strategic about how to maximize media potential.
Ohio State Legal Services Association / Legal Aid Society of Columbus
Last fall, Ohio State Legal Services Association and The Legal Aid Society of Columbus asked for Voices’ advice regarding the media value of the findings of an evaluation of their longstanding Tenant Advocacy Project, which is funded by a local foundation. The report highlighted the benefit of legal representation for low-income tenants and suggested that more could be accomplished with additional funding. The foundation was holding an event to present the findings, and OSLSA wanted our help to get media coverage, ideally prior to the event.
The report showed great results, plus the local press had been covering eviction for months, so we were optimistic about the prospects for good media. Together with OSLSA, we offered key local reporters the opportunity to receive the report ahead of its release (on an embargoed basis), identified individuals willing to tell their personal eviction stories, and prepared the lead attorney for media interviews. The plan worked. Coverage highlighted local legal aid advocates as experts in housing and evictions and amplified the impact of the report. This came in handy a few weeks later as the city council considered a retaliatory eviction ordinance and the same reporters were looking for comments and sources. The best clips on the Ohio report are available on the Voices website.
Philadelphia Bar Association and Pennsylvania Voices
Last summer, the Philadelphia Bar Association and other members of the newly formed Pennsylvania Voices reached out to us for help publicizing a report that was still in development. Economic Return on Investment of Providing Counsel in Philadelphia Eviction Cases for Low-Income Tenants showed that Philadelphia could save $45.2 million per year by spending $3.5 million annually to provide legal counsel for low-income tenants at risk of eviction. (Talk about newsworthy!) The report was released in November, giving Voices several months lead time to work with the task force to devise an embargo strategy that targeted key print and electronic media. In its press release the Bar called for the city to provide legal counsel to low-income tenants at risk of eviction, which increased media interest in the report.
Fourteen national and regional media outlets have covered the study thus far. Following the media coverage, Philadelphia’s mayor made a public statement acknowledging that his office was discussing the findings with city council, and that he is hopeful the city will be able to include $3.5 million in its budget to cover the cost of funding legal aid for low-income tenants in eviction cases. The best clips featuring the Philadelphia report are available on the Voices website.
Are you working on or contemplating a report? Reach out to one of us as early in the process as possible, and let us help you think about media potential.
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The team here at Voices for Civil Justice is excited to mark our fifth anniversary as the go-to media resource for civil legal aid and civil justice reform. And we are grateful to you for being our indispensable partners in driving a steady drumbeat of media coverage about civil legal aid – what it ... Read more
The team here at Voices for Civil Justice is excited to mark our fifth anniversary as the go-to media resource for civil legal aid and civil justice reform. And we are grateful to you for being our indispensable partners in driving a steady drumbeat of media coverage about civil legal aid – what it does, why it matters, and why it deserves support. It’s an appropriate moment to take stock of how far we’ve come and to forecast what’s coming next.
Attracting the Media Spotlight
Since launching in November 2013, we’ve had a hand in more than 450 media pieces and shifted the tone of coverage – from the hopelessness of budget cuts and overwhelming demand to the innovative and effective ways the civil legal aid sector is ensuring equal justice under the law.
That impressive achievement was possible because of the incredible resource that is our JusticeVoices network of 1,500 advocates representing every state and territory.
For example, the Trump administration’s 2017 attempt to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation galvanized the JusticeVoices Network and provided the news hook to help us precipitate an unprecedented torrent of positive media coverage about the critical role of civil legal aid. Voices had a direct hand in 40 percent of the coverage in national media outlets and provided messaging guidance and coaching that network members used in response to media requests and in news and opinion pieces that appeared in more than 100 national and local media outlets nationwide. The significant spike in coverage throughout the spring and into the summer of 2017 marked a measurable turning point for Voices. Even more than a year after the news cycle passed, we have continued to experience an amplified drumbeat of coverage, with lasting improvement in both the volume and the quality of media pieces.
As much as local media matters (it matters a lot) national media can be a profound game changer, so one of our primary objectives was to build visibility for civil legal aid in prominent, high-traffic outlets. We are proud that Voices has helped bring about exposure in The New York Times (with 27 pieces to date), Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Associated Press, and Bloomberg News; national broadcast and online outlets like NPR, CBS Evening News, PBS NewsHour, CNN, FoxNews.com, and NBCNews.com; and outlets for specialized audiences like the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Governing, National Law Journal, American Lawyer Magazine, and Law360. You can find these press clips on our website, as well as pieces we track in our daily media monitoring. You can follow and filter the coverage – and use it to spark your own story and op-ed ideas and as fodder for your social media posts.
With so much to celebrate on our fifth birthday, there is a lot more to do. Equal justice under law is an American ideal. But we know that in civil justice systems across the country, restricted and unequal access is the rule, not the exception. The lack of a common narrative about civil justice poses a barrier to the funding increases and policy reforms needed for system-wide change.
By defining and conveying the urgency of the civil justice problem, we can provide an overarching narrative that unifies the many components of an emerging national movement for civil justice. The bipartisan support for the Legal Services Corporation continues with new and old allies. Justice for All projects are being implemented in several states. Civil legal aid organizations are forming new partnerships with hospitals, schools and governments. Advocates for self-represented litigants are modernizing civil courts systems that block access. The civil right to counsel movement is gaining momentum as cities try to address the scourge of eviction. Technology offers promise for increased access to justice. Foundations are investing in civil justice reform.
These stories need to be told. That’s what we aim to do in coming months with our new storytelling project, All Rise for Civil Justice. We’ll be launching a website that will use easy-to-share mediums like video, photos, animations and mapping to tell the stories of the real, human consequences of civil justice systems that are out of whack. The website will spotlight practical solutions and dial up the urgency of remedying the situation.
It will be a one-stop-shop for resources that enable you to better tell your stories of affected people, families and communities. It will promote message discipline to advocate more consistently and forcefully for reforms suited to the large scale of the problem.
We are proud of what we’ve accomplished together with you. We want to increase our impact, and to do that we need to grow our JusticeVoices network. Will you help us celebrate Voice’s fifth birthday by inviting a couple of colleagues to join us? Please take a minute to forward this email, with your note of endorsement, to at least two people who you think would be interested in expanding media coverage of civil legal aid and civil justice.
Meanwhile, with you as our essential partners, we’ll continue to drive that drumbeat of media coverage and to help you tell your stories. We are just a phone call or an email away if you have questions about big picture strategic thinking, need a fresh set of eyes on a press release, could use feedback on talking points, want guidance on contacting reporters, or simply want to talk about challenges and successes related to communications and media.
The first five years have truly been an adventure. We can’t wait to see what comes next.
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