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Individuals can do a variety of things to get their message into public discourse such as writing opinion editorials or press releases and organizing press conferences. This section will give you the tools you need to communicate effectively with the media.

bulletLetters to the Editors
bulletOpinion Editorials
bulletPress Releases
bulletMedia Advisories
bulletPress Conferences

Letters to editors:

Studies show that letters to the editors are one of the widely-read sections of any newspaper. Writing a letter to the editor is also a quick and easy way to respond to negative coverage in the news or to educate the public on issues relating to Islam and Muslims.

Because newspapers receive so many letters on a daily basis, most letters of the editors do not get published. To increase your chances of publication, be sure to follow the guidelines:

  1. letters to the editor should express one idea.
  2. State the purpose of the letter in the first paragraph and keep it to 25 words or less.
  3. Keep your letter to no more than 150-250 words. Newspapers are apt to edit extensively if you write more.
  4. React quickly to news of the day or negative coverage. If possible, have the letter in the hands of the editor on the same day in which the news or negative editorial appears.
  5. Be authoritative. Speak on behalf of an organization or community if possible.
  6. Offer a solution.
  7. Address the letter to “The Letters Editor.”
  8. Be passionate or even controversial, but avoid rhetoric or defamation.

Opinion Editorial:

An opinion editorial, or op-ed, for short, is an opinion piece that tries to persuade the reader to adopt a particular point of view. An op-ed must have a single central message with supporting evidence to reemphasize the central message. But before starting an op-ed, call the newspaper to make sure they will accept outside editorials and whether they would be interested in publishing your particular piece. Due to space restraints and in-house policies, some newspapers do not accept opinion editorials from people outside the newspaper.

Also, be mindful that most papers have an op-ed review process that can take up to a week. Many of the larger newspapers will require exclusivity - the idea that the author will grant the newspaper sole rights to publishing his/her article.

The following are a few guidelines to follow when writing an op-ed:

  1. Contact the editorial board of the newspaper to get a clear understanding of the editorial guidelines of that newspaper.

  2. Start the op-ed with an increasing hook to grab reader's attention and sustain it by stating the position you will take and how you will support the argument.

  3. Support your argument in the next few paragraphs by citing examples or statistics.

  4. Close with some call to action or solution to the problem.

  5. Keep articles under 1000 words.

  6. Stress the local impact, if relevant.

  7. Write in AP style.

  8. Keep trying. Rejection is normal.

Press Releases:

For a spokesperson of a Muslim organization or mosque, the basic means of communication between you and the news media is the press release. A press release reads like a good story or at least the framework for a good story.

The headline and first paragraph (also called the lead) should grab the editor's attention and include the most important information of your message. The questions of who, what, where, when and why should be answered within the first two paragraphs of the press release.

The next few paragraphs should elaborate on other details of your message and can include a quote from a representative of your organization or mosque.

Finally, you will want to include the contact information of someone who designated to handle all of the media requests.

Other Press Release Components:

  1. Letterhead: Write your press release on the official letterhead of your organization or mosque.

  2. Typeface: Use common typefaces such as “Times” and “Helvetica.”

  3. Release Date and Contact Information: Indicate when the release was issued and who may be contacted for more information.

  4. Headline: Summarize the angle of the story in the headline use capital letters to set it apart from the rest of the text.

  5. Lead Paragraph: The first paragraph should answer as much as possible the who, what, where, when and why of your message.

  6. Body: Arrange the information in your press release from most important to least important.

  7. Conclusion: State standard facts about your organization or mosque that can be used as an introduction or tag.

  8. –END-, #30, or ###: Use of one of these symbols to indicate the end of a news release.

  9. Spacing/Length: Try to double space and keep the press release to one page if possible

  10. Distribution of Press Release: Send the press release to the appropriate media outlets. Local news will usually be covered by local media outlets whereas national media outlets will cover national news and trends.

Media Advisory:

Another type of news release is a media advisory. A media advisory is a release that informs the press and daybook editors of a newsworthy event to take place in the near future. An advisory primarily focuses on the who, what, when and where of the event.

Media advisories are typically issued when a group is having a press conference, speech, open-house or other events that the media can attend.

A good media advisory is short and to the point, lists photo and sound opportunities, and is time sensitive. They are sent before an event, ideally a week before, whereas press releases are issued in response to an event.

A press conference is a staged media event that allows a spokesperson to deliver his or her message in person to invited press officials. It allows a community or organization the platform to announce news, or create news.

At a press conference, a statement is usually made. A statement offers the community an opportunity to present a unified front on a variety of issues, to go on record for clearing up misconceptions about the community or organization, and to comment on important news.

For a press conference to be successful, there are few points to remember:

  1. Try to build visuals into the event, if possible.

  2. Timing is important. The best time to hold a news conference is between 10am to 1 p.m. or 7 to 8:30 p.m. You never want to host a press conference around 4 or 5 p.m. because reporters are usually filing their stories at this time.

  3. Designate one or two people as media contacts for the event. All media inquiries should be directed to them in order to keep the message uniform and consistent.

  4. Send out a media advisory about the event as early as possible.

  5. Follow up with phone calls to key media professionals who you want at the press conference.

Steps to Holding a Press Conference:

  1. Determine the appropriate location for the press conference such as a mosque or conference room.

  2. Contact those who will be attending the news conference to get their approval of the broad outline of the format and statement.

  3. Fax out the news release. Remember to send a copy to the local wire service Daybook editor.

  4. Arrange to have the press conference participants arrive early to discuss the format.

  5. After the media has set up, introduce the participants and give their organizational affiliations.

  6. Read a short statement. Offer part participants to say a few words ( 1-2 minutes) and then take questions. If feasible, one-on-one interviews can be arranged after the press conference.

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Last Updated 03/07/2006