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UNITY E-Alert: August 3, 2015

Tips on Placing Op-eds and Letters About Community Safety in the Media

The way the media cover community violence powerfully shapes how policymakers, community stakeholders, and the general public understand what causes violence and what solutions can address community violence. Now more than ever, advocates for safe and equitable communities need to leverage the media to promote a multi-sector approach to violence prevention.

We know that community violence is complex and influenced by many factors, from the availability of economic opportunities to the quality of the local school system to the way our physical space is designed. But too often, media coverage of community violence fails to make explicit the connections between violence and the many sectors represented in each of our communities, as recent research by Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) and Prevention Institute has found.

One way to change the conversation on community violence is through op-eds and blog posts. PI and Berkeley Media Studies Group recently published a commentary on Edsource.org, an education advocacy group, about the links between schools and community violence—and how the media need to do a better job of highlighting these links. Last month, PI published a commentary in the LA Business Journal about the need for businesses to engage in community safety efforts. In both cases, the aim was to promote multi-sector involvement in community safety.

As PI’s Rachel Davis and BMSG’s Lori Dorfman wrote in their Edsource.org piece:

"If we want to do something about how violence shapes the climate of a school, and vice versa, how do we learn about it? News coverage can help. News is the baseline of our public conversation. It's easy to ignore issues the news doesn't spotlight, and hard to turn away from what is in its glare."

Following are tips on writing and placing op-eds and letters to the editor that reframe community violence and highlight multi-sector solutions:

Emphasize the environmental, cultural, economic, and/or social factors that underlie community violence. Name solutions that help address safety at a community or policy level, not just individually-oriented approaches. Give solid examples of solutions that have worked.

Discuss the benefits to various sectors of helping to create and maintain a safe and thriving community. For businesses, for example, being located in a safe community can attract more clients, customers, and employees.

Keep your piece short and direct. Opinion pieces usually run between 500-600 words; letters to the editor typically run 200 words or fewer. Make the point of your message in the first paragraph and end with a strong statement.

Partner with another organization or community leader. Co-authors can offer a different point of view and may enhance your organization's credibility. Working with a community advocate, local policymaker, or healthcare provider can make your piece more relevant to a broader audience.

For more information on how to make the case for community prevention to the media, browse our free online resources.

Webinar on Race, Place and Preventing Violence

Join Prevention Institute at 11 AM Pacific on August 4 for an American Public Health Association webinar on racism, health, and preventing violence. Register here.

Safety in All Policies

This series of three papers outlines the core elements of a “Safety in All Policies” approach and is intended to serve as a roadmap for state agencies to promote policies, practices, and
actions in support of safer communities.

Safe, Healthy and Ready to Learn

Futures Without Violence’s new consensus report on children exposed to violence explores policy solutions to help children, families, and communities heal and thrive. Download here. Also read Larry Cohen’s written testimony to the Task Force for Defending Childhood on why we need to prevent childhood exposure to violence in the first place.

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