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Article of Interest - IDEA & The Press

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Grabbing the Brass Ring: Directing the Press
by Shari Krishnan, Our Children Left Behind, October 20, 2003

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We are all being constantly reminded by our favorite advocacy organizations and other parent groups to write to our Senators and Representatives during IDEA reauthorization. It is the direct response that is always in order and essentially the proper first-line thing to do, and parents do it very well. Keep up the good work!

But there is more to this IDEA reauthorization carnival. We have written about it before* and right now it is critical that we know how to grab this brass ring of opportunity. The opportunity lies in your ability to help direct your local and favorite press outlets in their approach to IDEA reauthorization stories.

The press has major input into molding the public’s opinion regarding people with disabilities and determining what the public will be willing to support. Knowing that the economy is suffering in many states at the same time that our national education system is spinning with uncertainty in the name of reform, it is our duty to assure the public, our senators, and representatives that hard-earned taxpayer dollars are well spent on our children. If we don’t tell them why the investment is wise, very few will do it for us.

Just as we have encouraged our Web site visitors over and over again to call and build relationships with their elected officials, the same goes for your local papers, TV and radio stations, public cable access, and the like. Unless the people who work in these areas have children with disabilities, they honestly will not understand things the way that we do. We need to help them learn more about our children and what is needed for them to be successful in school. We also need to help our newspapers’ editors and newsroom producers learn the important questions to ask when they (or their crews) are sent out to conduct interviews pertaining to IDEA reauthorization.

The press will always look for the biggest hooks. They will videotape the worst examples of student behavior. They will print numbers demonstrating the biggest wastes of money. They will do anything to get the attention of the viewers and readers. After all sizzle sells and stories need to be told quickly.

You can be sure that many newspapers will spin their IDEA stories to place some type of educational blame on students and parents. Rarely will we see newspapers talk about what good teaching, promising practices, effective behavior support, and respectful home-school relationships can do to benefit students – most of which cost our taxpayers nothing. It is up to us to help newspapers and newsrooms understand the newsworthiness of IDEA success stories and the plights that we are facing. Defining the “wow” behind our stories for the news teams is our job.

There is another reason it is important that we help shape the news versus constantly reacting to it, and that is to shape the opinions of our legislators. It is not a coincidence that after the legislators’ breaks more stories pertaining to special education and students with disabilities are in the press. Most of these are calculated moves with calculated timings.

Parents have it a bit harder winning a game at this press carnival since we don’t know the timings (when bills will be released) and many of us don’t have the writing skills to play the press game. Sure, there are little press games that we will win at. Kind of like those carnival games where people guess your age or weight. You will win most of the time, but the payoffs don’t seem big. They take $2.00 and give you a 50-cent prize to keep you happy and coming back. But, try using the broken water gun with not enough pressure to aim at the target. It isn’t fun at all. We feel defeated. However, tomorrow is a new day, the pressure could be stronger, our friends are playing, and we are energized to play again.

Fortunately, there are times when we are good or gradually improve at some press games. We need to play those. The big payoff will be to make our legislators who vote(d) against our kids a bit concerned about how the press is portraying them. And the best long-term payoff will be a public who better understands what we want it to learn about our children and the investments we ask it to support.

There are going to be many of us who contact our local papers, radio, and TV stations and do not even get anyone to take our calls. That is OK. Since there will be others of us who will have calls returned and stories will come from our efforts. We can’t win if we don’t play. And, the risk is a few phone calls, so why not? There is more at stake if we don’t do this, our children’s futures.

Thank you to the many of you brave parents who have participated with the press; who have written your own press releases; who have trusted us enough to use our releases and turn them into your own; and who are doing everything that you possibly can for our kids.

This is hard stuff and hard times for us. Thank goodness that we have each other. There are few brass rings out there, but as each of us grabs one, we can pass them around for all of us to enjoy.

Let us know how you do. We’ll all celebrate.

Shari Krishnan, today’s

*To see our previous story about writing to the press, go to:

Here are some links that may help you learn how to write a press release (there are also excellent books on the topic at many local bookstores):
Dr. Randall Hansen’s Guide to Writing Successful Press Releases
CanadaOne’s Free Interactive Press Release Builder
(Note: This is a great Press Release Builder. Just keep in mind that it is Canadian, so once you build your press release, visit for a link that will help you find places to send your press releases in the United States.)

Press Release Writing Tips


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