If you follow the news, you probably heard that this week’s well-attended Nelson Mandela memorial featured a sign language interpreter who wasn’t actually signing correctly. Besides being really offensive to the deaf community and incredibly embarrassing for this globally-viewed event, I noticed something really interesting when this story crossed in Associations Now: it was really the perfect platform for the Deaf Federation of South Africa to tap into a news event.
Associations across the US and around the world have to struggle for media attention, which seems strange because association leaders are truly the experts in their field. For every news story that crosses the papers, TV, radio, and Internet there’s an association pro out there who can comment intelligently on the piece and add some perspective.
In the Associations Now article, writer Ernie Smith notes that the association commented that they’ve filed complaints about the interpreter before, as he has stood besides other world leaders and apparently was not signing correctly. The article then goes on to note the support from other Sign Language Associations and an emphasis on the importance of properly vetting interpreters.
So how can your association tap into a news event, like DeafSA did in this instance? Here are a few quick tips:
1) Keep an eye on the news, especially local goings-on that directly affect the community. You’ll know when something resonates with you or one of your members’ expertise
2) Find out who from your association is willing to potentially talk to the media as a recognized and named source. It doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal, but there are many people out there who would rather not have their names published or image captured by camera, and in some cases with some professions, jobs or legal issues may make it illegal or dangerous to be on camera. That consent stage is important.
3) Put your heads together. Get those willing to speak to the press, your board, and any other crucial people in on the brainstorming, and come up with a succinct statement that you can E-mail or read quickly on voice mail.
4) Once you have a few members who are knowledgeable and willing to speak to the media and a statement, just call your local TV station or get in touch with the reporter directly who is covering the story. Many news reporters are publicly sharing their contact information via social media. Hit them with your pitch, be sure to include your contact information, and wait. Chances are if you don’t hear back in a few hours the journalist might have enough in the way of sources or quotes, but it never hurts to ask.
5) Remember that even if they don’t call you on this story, there will always be another one. Keep up this practice, and let local reporters know that you are a good source for insight and information, and are willing and able to add another, possibly untapped, dimension to the story.
If you do get on the news or in the paper, help the news outlet promote it! Be sure to share with your members and on social media and your website. It adds legitimacy to your group and spreads the word about your works with actually a comparatively small effort from you.
One final word of advice: don’t crowbar yourself into the news. If a statement from your association is warranted and would add dimension and color to the story, go for it. But keep in mind that every news outlet gets twice as many fake tips as real ones, and they screen their calls pretty carefully. Don’t be offended if you don’t get called back or picked up right away. Just keep swimming! Your story is out there!