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Two ways traditional media can teach us how to communicate better as advocates

We live in an era of meme-based communication. Organizations and individuals who have a message will often use memes to try and get support or push people to take action. Sometimes we see memes that are mostly just a quote; sometimes we see them and it’s a photo with a short message; and other times it has some information about an upcoming event or rally.

Memes are very effective at spreading information – whether it’s a joke about Sponge Bob, a comment on a politician, or what people can do to help protect wildlife and the environment. The question is: can we do a little bit better?

Let’s turn to the way journalists are taught to provide information in their writing for traditional media like newspapers or radio and find a few tips we can use as advocates, too:

The Five ‘W’s

You may have learned about these at school: who, what, when, where, why and how. A crafty journalist can tell you in one or two sentences the answer to all of those questions. For example, here’s two sentences from the beginning of an article about The Fur-Bearers’ Children Animal Welfair event:

“Hundreds of children interacted with displays, asked questions about coexistence, learned about how we impact animals and the environment, and won some awesome prizes at the Children’s Animal Welfair! Hosted at Science World in Vancouver, the initiative co-managed by The Fur-Bearers, the BC SPCA, and the Animals in Science Policy Institute was a resounding success on Thursday, May 23.”

https://thefurbearers.com/blog/2019-children%E2%80%99s-animal-welfair-success

Can you find the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How in those two sentences? Comment below to add what you think they are!

It’s important to have this information because it literally tells a reader everything they need to know (or link to somewhere else where they can find it). Clearly communicating this information will make sure your message is best heard and people can best support your cause.

Add a Dateline

We already covered ‘when’ as part of the Five ‘W’s but it’s extra important to make sure you include relevant date information in your post. For example, if you’re hosting an event at school, you’d write specifically that it’s taking place on June 24, 2019; if you’re asking for help finding a missing pet you’d add, ‘Last seen on June 15, 2019, this post updated on June 18, 2019’ so people know both when the pet went missing and how recent or relevant your information is; or, if it’s about advocacy that requires participation like a letter-writing campaign, you’d want to add, “The deadline is June 15, 2019.”

The context (click here to learn what this word means) of a meme isn’t always clear, just like the context of news isn’t always clear: unless you know when it was published. A dateline, which you can find on almost all news articles, helps provide that context and therefore makes your meme more effective.

These two little things can go a long way in making sure your message is heard, and if you need people to take action, it makes it a little bit easier.

We’d love to hear about your advocacy work! Send recent projects or creations to info@youngdefenders.ca for a chance to be featured on social media or the site!

Michael Howie

Michael Howie is an international award-winning journalist whose background includes work for Torstar, Metroland, and other magazines and publications. He is the producer and host of The Young Defenders podcast, host of the popular Defender Radio podcast, the writer of The Fur-Bearers’ blogs, and contributes to various online publications on behalf of The Fur-Bearers. He is also the primary manager of The Fur-Bearers' social media platforms. Michael has successfully managed a political campaign, worked with various non-profits as a strategic communicator, and performs in the popular End of Times and Other Bothers improvised comedy podcast. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

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