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Editorial boards: the power of influence: winning an endorsement from a newspaper editorial board can spur public support for an issue or even change a candidate's political fate.

Trying to persuade an editorial board can be intimidating if you don't understand the process and know very little about the people who make the decisions. As Mark Twain said, "Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel." Politicians and advocacy groups, however, can succeed in convincing editorial boards to support a particular position.

Who makes up editorial boards? Members of a newspaper editorial board are select members of a newspaper's staff who decide the paper's editorial positions. For smaller newspapers, the publisher may be the one who makes those decisions. Typically, the news side of the newspaper and the editorial staff maintain a wall of separation. Here is how one major metropolitan newspaper sums it up. "The editorial board of The Seattle Times meets regularly to identify and discuss issues and determine the editorial position of the newspaper. These editorial opinions are reflected only on the editorial pages and do not affect other content and coverage."

HOW CAN I LEARN WHO IS ON THE EDITORIAL BOARD?

Many newspapers identify the editorial board members on their Web site. Some even include profiles to provide insight on who makes those decisions. Many media directories, such as ones published by Bacon's or Burrelle's, list and update staff names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. For a fee, some companies, like NewsBios, will even prepare biographies on editorial board members.

WHY SHOULD I MEET WITH AN EDITORIAL BOARD?

Building relationships with journalists is one of your best public relations strategies. It's important to get to know the people who will be issuing opinions about you--hope-fully long before they are put in a position to make a public judgment. Many legislators will meet with editorial boards only around election time. The editorial board, however, can have a great deal of influence about issues important to you and can help generate public support.

HOW DO I MAKE AN APPOINTMENT?

Call the editorial board contact person and find out the preferred method of making an appointment. Generally, the board will want a written proposal, which will take a few days to circulate before they agree to a date to meet with you. Rarely do they make appointments more than a month in advance, but they are also hesitant to meet you with only a day's notice.

Follow up your letter with a phone call. Mention the specific item you wish to discuss in your proposal. Editorial boards often do not have time just to meet and get to know you. They want to have a firm sense of the purpose of the conversation in advance.

It is best to limit the number of people you bring to the meeting. Editorial boards prefer talking to just one person; the more people you bring, the more your message will be diluted. Only in rare instances should you have more than one person with you at the meeting.

WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT?

Typically these meetings last about an hour. Make sure you show up on time and are ready to talk. You should have a 15-minute presentation prepared specifically on the issue. Try to avoid relying heavily on obvious notes. Be sure to make it concise and to the point. End with your request that they take a specific position, if that is your purpose.

For the remainder of the time, be prepared to answer questions and engage in a discussion. Don't expect all of their questions to be friendly--they will want you to be able to respond to the tough questions. Don't be afraid to tell the writers that you don't know the answer to a question. Tell them you will get back to them with the information later. Avoid phrases, acronyms and jargon that may be understood at the capitol, but no where else.

HOW SHOULD I PREPARE?

Know precisely what kind of result you want the paper to adopt. Are you looking for a specific editorial position or do you simply want the board to know the pros and cons of an issue?

Be sure to research past editorials to learn if they already have a bias toward the issue. Bring handouts and other information to explain your position, but be selective. You don't want the most important information to get lost in the pile. If there is too much information, the board may never look at the stack of handouts again.

Be sure to read the newspaper closely on the days before your meeting. You may be asked your opinion about a news story, series or feature that ran in the paper that week.

WHAT IF I DON'T LIKE THE EDITORIAL WHEN IT RUNS?

Welcome to the club! History is filled with people who did not get the type of editorial they wanted. As long as you can accept that it won't always be a perfect process and that sometimes the cards will not fall in your favor, then you will be much further along than most politicians who forever hold grudges and refuse to deal with the newspaper again.

Generally, editorial board members respect those who understand their process and are willing to disagree with each other. You can always call the editors to discuss what they have written. If you believe it is necessary, write a letter to the editor in response.

CHECKLIST

[check] Understand how editorial boards work.

[check] Read the editorials and find out who is on the board.

[check] Learn how to make an appointment and set up a meeting to begin building a relationship.

[check] Prepare a presentation for your meeting.

[check] Bring brief, but highly informative, handouts.

[check] Limit the number of people who come with you.

[check] Don't be disappointed if the editorial doesn't agree with you. Maybe the next time it will!

Gene Rose is a co-director of NCSL's Communications Division.
COPYRIGHT 2005 National Conference of State Legislatures
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Title Annotation:TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Author:Rose, Gene
Publication:State Legislatures
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:966
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