Anatomy of a civil legal aid media pitch

September 8, 2014 - 12:09 pm
by Martha Bergmark, Elizabeth Arledge

Strong newsworthiness, strong facts and credible spokespeople were key ingredients leading to high-traffic placements in the New York Times and CNN.

In recent weeks, our pitches to national media outlets are starting to bear fruit – most notably an August 29 front-page story in The New York Times, Evictions Soar in Hot Market; Renters Suffer by Shaila Dewan. And last Thursday’s op-ed on CNN, Refuge-seeking kids face deportation hearings alone, is our first placement on this high-traffic site – the 4thmost popular news site in the U.S., with more than 76 million unique visitors per month.

Media pitches: A case study
The evictions story provides a good example of the opportunities and challenges we face as we seek to raise the visibility of civil legal aid. In April, the media was covering stories from New York City and San Francisco about gentrification and rising rents driving out lower-income residents. Our BerlinRosen team suggested that if we could show this was also happening in other, less obvious places, along with the important role legal aid lawyers play in protecting the rights of tenants, we could add something significant to this story.

When we first approached reporter Shaila Dewan about this idea last spring, we didn’t yet have a Voices network in place. Fortunately, the MIE Fundraisers discussion list members and their network of housing lawyers came to the rescue, and we were able to gather significant data about rising evictions in many jurisdictions around the country. Shaila took it from there, interviewing several of you as well as other sources. She decided to focus her story on Wisconsin, where Legal Action of Wisconsin was instrumental in connecting her with people whose lives have been affected, and she used data from across the country to make it a national story.

Key ingredients of this success were: 1) newsworthiness – we were able to add a different angle – something new and topical and national in scope – to a story that was already getting media attention; 2) factual support – we were able to provide court data about evictions that was not available from a single national source, and to interpret it appropriately across different jurisdictions; and 3) credible spokespeople – we were able to put the reporter in touch with knowledgeable sources who were, in turn, able and willing to provide access to people directly affected by the rise in evictions.

Please keep your story ideas coming; your ideas based on what you’re experiencing in the field every day are critical to our success as a network, and to shining a national media spotlight on civil legal aid. Our new JusticeVoices discussion list will be the primary forum for working with you on specific media pitches, so please sign up here. Meanwhile, thanks to all for your indispensable help so far.

Best regards,
Martha and Elizabeth

Organizations mentioned/involved: New York Times (NYT), CNN