So you have an important event or activity or news event to get out to the world? You want MindFreedom to help get that out? YOU ARE YOUR OWN JOURNALIST! Here is a few tips. A professional reporter has reviewed this essay. [Updated July 2012.]
It is the 21st century so YOU ARE THE JOURNALIST!
This article comes down to three words:
Write it up!
Then three more:
Get it out!
It’s as simple as ringing an alarm bell. But sometimes you need simple when you’re writing about an issue that the public tends to ignore, and that can involve such deep and overwhelming oppression.
But first, some “Do Not’s”!
- Do not wait and wait for corporate media to cover your story.
- Do not expect MindFreedom, with low resources, to fly in a journalist, or even put one on the phone. We do not have any journalists on staff.
- Do not simply email or postal mail a bunch of letters… medical records… files… raw data… Power Points….
YOU ARE THE JOURNALIST!
At a minimum, that means writing up a brief, clear, accurate, summary:
Who. What. Where. Why. When. How.
Start with the most important “lead,” just like in a newspaper.
Don’t assume your readers know anything – write for the intelligent reader who knows nothing about your situation. For one obvious example, if you use an acronym, spell it out.
Double check for accuracy. Try to format it neatly and check misspellings, but this doesn’t have to be perfect.
Just write it up!
This might mean a “Public Service Announcement” that announces your event. Be sure to include all details like the date including year, location, etc.
Or perhaps you have a news alert — try to sum it up in a few paragraphs or a page or two.
If you have a longer piece, it still helps to sum up the main information at the beginning, in a few paragraphs or in a page. Then those interested can choose to read more if they wish.
Just write it up!
From a professional journalist:
MindFreedom asked a working reporter to review this essay. Here’s what this reporter said:
I’d say you did a good job summing up how to be your own journalist.
There’s a tip I got years ago at a writers conference for people trying to pitch their fiction projects to agents and editors that also might help. It’s the, one-sentence, one-paragraph, one-page technique.
You should be able to summarize your story in one sentence, i.e:
“After 20-years of drug therapy with its debilitating side effects, I found real relief from my symptoms with nutrition, art and volunteer work.”
You should be able to give more vivid details in a paragraph:
“I stared in the mirror and couldn’t believe my eyes. After a year on Zyprexa, I had gained 80 pounds. Worse, my doctor was warning that I showed pre-diabetic symptoms. It was the beginning of the end of my relationship with drugs. ….”
You should be able to show the arc of the story in one page that includes all the who, what, where, when, why details.
I’m not sure who came up with the one-sentence, one-paragraph, one-page idea, but it’s certainly helped me clarify my thinking. As long as you don’t attribute it to me, feel free to use it if you think it’s helpful.
Then what… How to get out your news?
Let’s say you have your newsy paragraph… or one page… or several-page article.
In the 21st century, that means you not only write your piece, you help get it out!
Just a few ways:
* E-MAIL: You are welcome to e-mail news to MFI office at– no guarantee we will distribute, but we take a look at everything. One clear e-mail news piece makes information far easier to distribute to others. If the office has to do any further proofing, editing, researching… your news may get ‘stuck.’
* E-MAIL LIST: MFI members can choose from a lot of e-mail discussion lists for members. There’s even an MFI Member Networking e-mail list, just for members who want to network about just about anything with other members.
* FACEBOOK and other “web 2.0”: MindFreedom and millions of others use Facebook. You can often set up a page, or make a comment, to link to your story. You can even set up your own “Word Press Blog,” etc.
That’s the idea in brief.
If you want even more ideas, suggestions, and the reason to write your own alert… read on….
But the main thing is to get out your news!
Why Be Your Own Journalist?
The delivery person arrives at the MindFreedom office with a big mysterious box.
What is inside?
Once more it’s a big box of ‘raw material’ such as photocopies of correspondence, court documents and medical files.
We’ve received boxes and boxes in our office with hundreds of pages of such raw documents, which sure must be expensive to photocopy and bind and mail.
Meanwhile, at the same time on our laptops in the office we’re receiving a passionate e-mail, pouring out a person’s life story, and many pages of heart-breaking oppression they have faced, perhaps with a dozen attached files with records, letters, Power Points.
Or we get sent 10 photos from some event, with no caption.
Or we just get a link… with not even five words about why we ought to click it.
Unfortunately, too often, both that box and those 10 photos and that link have something in common:
We could take a look.
Maybe we could file it.
Maybe we can share it with an archive.
But we usually can’t use the material in MindFreedom campaigns, news distribution systems, etc.
What we tend to be able to use, if at all, is ‘digested material’ such as a brief news article that is written by you like a newspaper story.
Because you ARE the journalist!
When we get a brief, clear, written article on a relevant topic, there are times we can use it on the web, on an e-mail list, or in our MindFreedom Journal. And it especially helps if there is one (1) good digital photo or image.
Please note: Important Disclaimer
Even if you submit a brief, professionally-written article, there’s no guarantee MindFreedom itself can use it. In fact, we get so many e-mails, letters, articles, etc. that we cannot even acknowledge all of the many submissions.
However, if you prepare a brief, clear article like a journalist, in general it will be easier to get your message out, if not via MindFreedom itself then in other ways.
We wish MindFreedom had paid, trained journalists who could process much of the raw material we receive into readable brief summaries. We do not.
If your news is truly important — and it is, right? — then remember in the 21st century each of us is our own media.
Even if you have a very long story (e.g., life history), a succinct introductory article about your longer piece is helpful on the web. That way someone can read a brief description and then decide whether to download a much longer piece and read it off line.
More and more it’s almost a requirement to accompany a brief stand-alone article with one good digital photo, for potential use on the web.
It Bears Repeating: We Are Each Now All Our Own Media
Certainly, ‘mainstream mass media’ is also important. Too often corporate media ignore important stories about human rights and alternatives in mental health. However, note that when a MindFreedom story has broken into mainstream media it’s often because a reporter has first seen our own articles and photos that we have created and posted on our own web sites, first.
So no way around it, if you are a human rights activist then you are also hopefully your own journalist, or you have some friends or colleagues who can help you be your own journalist.
This suggestion to ‘write a brief news article’ sounds simple, but a lot of people may find it a bit challenging at first.
However, we all are able to tell a story! Stories drive the news.
Some tips about writing your own article as a beginner are common sense.
For instance, why put in an obscure technical term, say a pharmaceutical, without explaining what it is? We need to realize that people brand new to the issue may have absolutely no idea what those initials mean. Think from the reader’s point of view.
Clarity is one of our most important nonviolent weapons. Imagine you’re a busy reader who needs to quickly grasp what a piece is saying.
Yes, it may be a bit of a challenge to sit down and write a story, even a brief one, because it does take a bit of work, research, double-checking and discipline. But again, if your news is important, it’s worth the effort!
This does not have to be long or perfect.
In a MindFreedom campaign on forced electroshock, it was a one page “letter to the world” written by Paul Henri Thomas, for whom English is a second language, that eventually mobilized literally thousands of people to speak out, together.
Paul spoke from the heart. He told his story. He described his forced shock. And he moved us.
By the way, note that Paul made it clear in the title of his piece — Letter to the World — that his plea was meant for wide distribution. If you e-mail out a personal story, many people will assume it is meant to be kept private unless you tell them clearly they are encouraged to share it with others.
There is a learning curve even for we amateur journalists. Consider studying newspapers and news web sites and see how professional journalists do it.
Examples of what a journalist does:
- LEAD: Journalists tend to start with the most important point as “lead.” They seek to write their lead in a way that is interesting and draw in the reader. Sometimes they’ll “paint a picture” by describing a scene at the start of an article. For a brief news piece, they’ll often just sum up the most important news in the very first sentence.
- PROFESSIONAL: Journalists are supposed to at least try to be objective, do research and include facts. Journalists are supposed to double-check their facts. Even if you are writing an ‘opinion essay’ rather than plain news, try to make include some accurate facts, and make logical points based on evidence.
- FACTS: Journalists are supposed to include ‘who what where why when how.’
- QUOTES: Journalists often insert a quote or two to humanize their story, and they seek to report such quotes accurately. If there’s a heated opinion to include, it helps to quote someone, so that the rest of the article still is “newsy.”
- PHOTO: As mentioned above, but it bears repeating, in the 21st century a journalist often includes at least one clear digital photo for an important story. This isn’t a requirement, but note that all featured “Google News” stories have that in common: A photo. If you don’t take a photo, you can sometimes find a generic image you can use: e.g., a state map for a story about a state, or a generic photo of an institution you are complaining about. Remember, do not send in 10 photos with no caption. It’s better to pick the best, and include a caption.
There are plenty of other tips on the web, use the Google search engine with words such as:
Remember: This social change movement is all about empowerment. You can tell astory that may reach many people to win human rights andalternatives. No one can stop a well told story.
If your article is a human rights alert that is also calling for action, you may benefit from reading MindFreedom’s top ten tips on creating an alert. You can find the link in ‘related content’ below.
You don’t have to be perfect. This article isn’t perfect.
Write It Up.
Get It Out.
– end –
Here’s a brief web address for you to refer to this article in the future: