Guidelines for Communicating with the Media
Few issues today are more misunderstood by the general public than the issue of home building and development. Many of the commonly-held misconceptions result directly from the media’s often skewed coverage of this issue. Letters to local newspapers, radio, and television stations to protest biased coverage of building related issues help influence the media’s presentation of this subject, as well as inform the public of the facts that support of our position. Keep in mind that your letters do not always have to be negative. If you see a positive story relating to home building and development, contact that media outlet to thank them and to encourage them to run similar stories in the future.
Letters to the editor provide citizens with the opportunity to comment on articles and editorials appearing in their local newspapers. Studies show that the letters to the editor section of newspapers is extremely popular, and is widely read by community leaders and lawmakers to gauge public sentiment about current issues.
- Type Or Write Clearly. Include your name, address, and telephone number. Papers often call to verify authorship. Newspapers generally do not print anonymous letters.
- Address Your Letters To the “Letters Editors Or “Dear Editor.”
- Be Brief and Specific. Letters should rarely exceed one page. State the purpose of your letter in the opening paragraph and stick to that topic. If your letter pertains to a specific article or editorial, identify it accordingly. Try to keep your letter under 125 words. Always adhere to the paper’s guidelines, which should be clearly stated on the editorial page of the paper.
- Accurate Documentation. Mentioning documented studies and statistics in your letter will enhance its effect. Your underlying message can become lost in a sea of figures. Do not make statements you can’t site with hard facts or figures. Avoid personal attacks and insults.
- Write About Current Issues, Not Old Topics. Stick to current debates and issues. Respond promptly to anti-gun stories and editorials. Write in support of pending pro-gun legislation or against pending anti-gun legislation.
Don’t become discouraged if your letter is not published. Most publications receive more letters than they can print, and will often print one letter as a representative of others. Most important, keep trying! Unpublished letters are still read by the editors, and can help them determine which topics should receive more attention.
Editorials are a vehicle by which citizens can make extensive comments on articles, editorials, and policies. Like letters to the editor, editorials are placed on the editorial page (often opposite the letters to the editor), and have the ability to reach a large audience. When writing an editorial, be sure to keep your piece concise and include specific information. The average length of editorials that are printed is between 400-800 words long. Check with your local paper concerning length requirements. A phone call to the editor is helpful, and is sometimes required, when arranging the publication of a guest editorial. Generally, you will have a much better chance of having a letter to the editor published than an editorial, but this should not discourage you from taking the appropriate steps to submit an editorial.
Although letters to the broadcast media will not be seen or read by the general public, they can help influence the programming of a particular station. Local radio and television stations compete for listeners and viewers, which means their programming must cater to their audience. If you complain about unfair coverage on a building issue stations may see that as the potential for lost viewers or listeners, and thus, lost revenue in the form of advertising dollars. Likewise, if you thank broadcast media outlets when they air pro building/development stories, you help increase the chances that similar stories will run in the future. Remember, your impact will be multiplied when you encourage your family, friends, and fellow developers to contact the station as well. Here are some helpful guidelines to follow when crafting your letter to the broadcast media:
- Locate the Station’s Address In Your Local Yellow Pages. Stations will be listed under ‘Radio Stations” or “Television Stations.”
- Type Or Write Clearly. Include your name, address, and telephone number.
- Address Your Letter To The “Station Manager’ Or “General Manager.” When possible, call the station to obtain his name and official title.
- Comment On Recent Housing/development Related Stories. If your letter refers to a particular story, always identify it by the date and time it aired, as well as who reported it. Cite documented statistics and facts to back up your objection to anti-gun stories.
- Urge The Station To Contact NAHB/BAHV For Comments On Housing -Related Stories. Too often, NYSBA and BAHV is not given the opportunity to refute anti-development stories in the media. Let the station manager know that you want to hear both sides of the story. (Encourage him to call the BAHV Governmental Affairs Administrator at (845) 567-6600.
Remember, do not limit yourself to only letters of complaint. When you see a positive building-related story, a friendly letter of thanks mentioning that you found the show lively, entertaining, and informative, can go a long way to ensuring similar stories in the future. Remember to mention that you are a regular listener or viewer, and you hope the station will continue broadcasting similar programs.
RADIO & TELEVISION TALK SHOWS
Calling talk shows in your area is a great way to help get your message across to thousands of listeners for free. In addition to calling in to regularly-scheduled talk radio shows, do some additional research and call your local radio and television stations and ask if they have any open forums — talk shows where callers can discuss any subject with the host. If so, try to get on the air to make short, concise, positive statements about development and homeownership. If there is currently an anti-development bill making its way through the legislative process, the host may keep the topic on the air for several minutes. If not, then at least you can take comfort in knowing that your brief statement in support of our position was heard by the station’s listeners.
You can also call talk shows and ask the producer if there are any scheduled shows coming up that will discuss building-related issues. If one is scheduled, try to get an NYSBNBAHV representative booked to appear on the show.
Again, be sure to monitor your local radio and television station,
participate in these shows, and alert fellow developers so they may do so as well.
As a voting constituent, you have a tremendous ability to influence the outcome of legislation. Ask any elected official which individuals concerns are most important to him, and chances are they all will deliver the same response: his constituents. All politicians are keenly aware of the fact that it is their constituents who hold the keys to their political futures. Therefore, constituent concerns are of the utmost concern to politicians. The best way you can affect the outcome of legislation is to directly communicate your views to your lawmakers. REMEMBER: Your lawmakers work for you! Since the primary concern of all politicians is to get re-elected, be sure you communicate your concerns with your own elected officials first! Then, if you wish to express your views to others who don’t directly represent you, you can do so. But make sure your legislators hear from you first!
Of particular note is our ‘Write Your Representatives” feature, which will enable you to identify and contact your lawmakers directly from our site. Also, keep in mind many times you will not be speaking directly to your elected official, but rather to a member of his staff. Contact with legislative staff is critical to the process, as staff has major input with lawmakers and has expertise in most issues on which legislators will vote.
WRITING EFFECTIVE LETTERS
One of the most often-utilized methods of communicating with your lawmakers is by writing a letter. As a voting constituent, a letter is an easy way for you to let lawmakers know your views on specific issues, encourage them to vote your way, and let them know you will watch how they vote on particular issues and keep those votes in mind on Election Day!
Personally-written letters allow you an opportunity to present your position to your lawmakers without interruption. With that in mind, you will want to keep the letter short and to the point, with just enough facts and figures to further enhance your statement. Never make a statement you cannot verify with evidence. Always let your lawmakers know how a specific issue will affect you personally, and make sure he understands that you live and vote in his local district or state, and therefore, what affects you may affect your fellow constituents as well. If you own or operate a business, use your company letterhead. If you are a member of another civic group or organization then do not hesitate to mention that. Taking these steps will enhance your message and ensure your concerns are taken seriously.
- Address Your Representative. Address your letters to “The Honorable ________,“ and begin the letter “Dear Senator” or “Dear Representative.” If writing to a Committee Chairman or Speaker of the House, address him as “Mr. Chairman” or “Mr. Speaker.” “Write Your Representatives” feature at…
- Be Brief, Specific, & Always Be Courteous! Letters should not exceed one page, and the purpose of your letter should be stated clearly in the first paragraph. If your letter pertains to specific legislation, identify it accordingly (use the bill number, if known, and the title of the bill and/or a brief description). To make sure your letter is as productive as possible, always be courteous, even if you disagree with your representative’s position. Never threaten or use abusive language. This will only hurt our cause.
- Ask Them To Write Back. Always ask for a response to your letter. You will want a hard copy of your legislator’s positions on these issues for future reference and to document their positions. Always send copies of any responses you receive to BAHV.
E-mail is becoming a more popular way to communicate your views to your lawmaker. While not every lawmaker can receive e-mail messages, most are able. Tips for transmitting an effective e-mail message are similar to writing a letter, though this format is usually less formal and allows you to be brief in your message. A major advantage of e-mail versus a personally-written letter is the speed in which your message will be received. Be prepared for some lawmakers to “respond” to your e-mail message with a canned reflector message that may not specifically address your concern. Whether you receive a specific response to your message or not, be sure that you request your lawmaker’s position in writing. Send this response to BAHV for our information and records. (You can find your lawmakers’ [federal and state] e-mail addresses AND directly send them an e-mail message utilizing the “Write Your Representatives” feature.)
Faxing has become increasingly popular as more and more Americans have gained access to fax machines. In fact, nearly all U.S. Senators and Representatives have published fax numbers. Faxing allows you to send a full, letter-length message to your representatives in a matter of minutes for just the cost of a phone call. When preparing a fax message to a lawmaker, follow the same basic guidelines used when mailing a letter via regular mail. You also want to make sure your fax number is clearly visible, in case your legislator wishes to respond to you via fax.
EFFECTIVE TELEPHONE CALLS
You will often find that, as resolutions/bills move through the legislative process, there simply isn’t enough time to write your legislators prior to a key vote. When you need to get in touch with your lawmakers immediately to let them know of your position on building/development issues, and if you don’t have e-mail capabilities, your telephone calls become the most effective means for you to communicate your views.
- Identify Yourself As A Constituent. As someone who lives and votes in the district or state of the lawmaker you are contacting, your phone calls carry the most weight. Calls to representatives outside your district or state can be helpful as well. However, be sure to always contact your own legislators first.
- State Your Point Quickly And Clearly. Be sure to limit your telephone call to one subject. Be brief but specific. Your phone call should last at most only a couple of minutes. State the reason you are calling, giving a brief description of the bill and bill number if possible. REMEMBER: ALWAYS BE COURTEOUS! NEVER threaten, or use abusive language.
- Request That Your Legislator Follow Up Your Call With a Letter. Be sure to give your name and home address and request that your legislator follow up with a letter. You took the time to call, so have your legislator take the time to respond. Get his position in writing on issues important to you and furnish these responses to BAHV.
- You Do Not Always Have To Identify Yourself Solely As A BAHV Member! Unfortunately, many anti-development politicians are under the misguided impression that building members only say what NYSBA/BAHV tells them to say. If you identify yourself as a voting constituent, community or business leader then lawmakers will find it harder to dismiss your call.
By far, the most effective way to articulate your views to your elected official and to affect the outcome of legislation is to sit down and speak with your lawmakers face-to-face. While these personal visits are extremely productive, they also require the most amount of planning to ensure success. When planning a personal visit, refer to the following guidelines:
- Schedule An Appointment. Elected officials have extremely hectic schedules. To help increase the chance that you will have time allotted for you to speak directly with your legislator, call in advance to set up an appointment. In all likelihood, most of your personal meetings will be scheduled at your lawmakers’ district offices, so be sure you contact these offices to make your appointment.
- Explain How Proposed Legislation Will Directly Affect You. Use specific examples to show your lawmaker how anti-building/development related legislation would affect you, your family and business. If the proposed measure will strengthen our efforts then specifically cite examples to support this position.
- Always Be Polite! Nothing is as detrimental to a visit with a lawmaker than rudeness, vulgarity, or threats. Even if you disagree with the position of your legislator, be courteous. Dress professionally to convey the seriousness of your visit.
- Follow Up Your Visit With A Letter. Regardless of how your meeting goes, send a letter to your legislator thanking him for his time, and reiterating the points you discussed. This gesture will go a long way, and possibly allow for future meetings.
- If Your Lawmaker Is Unavailable, Meet With His Staff. Your representative may not always be available for a meeting. In such cases, try to schedule an appointment with the staff member responsible for building/development related issues. The legislative staff will bring your concerns to your legislator’s attention. The legislative staff has great influence on legislators’ voting decisions, and often have expertise on building-related issues. Send a follow-up letter to the staff member you met with as well. Keep in mind many congressional/legislative staff members later run for office themselves, so these relationships can be invaluable in the future!
- Bring Ample Materials To Share With Your Lawmaker And His Staff. These materials will bolster you point and serve as valuable reference materials after your meeting has concluded.
ATTEND TOWN HALL MEETINGS
Lawmakers often host town hall meetings in their districts our especially during congressional district work breaks — to tout their achievements and solicit feedback from their constituents. Such meetings are a prime opportunity for you to ask your lawmakers to state their position on land preservation, housing, development, and building related issues for the record, in an open and public forum. The following guidelines should be helpful when planning to attend town hail meetings.
- Get On The Invite List And Attend The Meetings. Write your lawmakers and ask to be put on the invitation list for the lawmaker’s town hall meetings. If they do not have such a list, ask for information on the next meeting. When you receive word that a town hall meeting is scheduled, be sure to make plans to attend, and share this information with BAHV so we may alert our membership.
- Prepare Questions Ahead Of Time. Have specific questions in mind, such as asking for your legislator’s position on a specific bill or issue, e.g., Labor law 240/241, building moratoriums, brown field development, transfer tax, etc.
- Get An Answer. Ask your question clearly and as simply as possible. If your legislator doesn’t answer your question sufficiently, politely repeat the question.
- Follow-Up With a Letter. Whether you had the opportunity to ask your question or not, follow up with a letter to your lawmaker. Let him know you attended his last town meeting. Ask your question in your letter if you didn’t have an opportunity to do so at the meeting, or address his response to any building-related questions other constituents may have asked. This letter will ensure your lawmakers take you and your views seriously, and will allow you to obtain a written response addressing your concerns that you should also share with BAHV.