CFRB 1010 radio host and Toronto Sun columnist Jerry Agar gave a talk to the Christian Heritage Party convention in Hamilton, Ont., Nov, 6 on “how to speak reporter” so Christians can get heard by the media.
He said just as liberals and conservatives often do not speak the same language, Christians and members of the media often do not speak the same language. He said that Christians are faith-based and believe in God-created morals, and are thus immovable and mostly brave. Many members of the media, however, are or believe themselves to be fact-based, secular, uphold popular culture norms, see themselves as persuadable, and are mostly cowardly.
He said that if Christians insist on quoting the Bible and speaking in moral absolutes, the media will continue to ignore them.
Agar said that there are “rules” that the media gatekeepers play by and that whether it is fair or not, everyone has to play by them. He said, “it is not about you … it’s about the person you are counting on,” whether that be a radio host, television producer, a reporter, or a columnist.
Agar, who also hosts an afternoon show on the Sun News Network, said the media gets to decide who gets to present their views to the larger public and how. “There is nothing you can do” about the media’s imposed rules of engagement, Agar said, “except learn and exploit them.”
He said logical, non-religious arguments can be made to advance religious and moral causes. “The inconvenient truth,” he explained, “ is that it is legitimate for reporters not to believe in the Bible — just as you have the right to believe in it – so do not give them the chance” to dismiss religious arguments. As an example, instead of defending the Christian moral teaching of Trinity Western University, make arguments regarding TWU’s law school about religious freedom.
Despite the media’s power, he said they have “weaknesses” including “an insatiable need for material.” He called that “your biggest opening.” But instead of moralizing, he advised, “tell them a story” because every editor and producer is looking for compelling stories. He said that ideas and worldviews take a backseat to stories with which readers, viewers, and listeners can connect. He said “logic doesn’t move people” and thus emotional details will get an audience to care about the issues that Christians want to bring into the public square, if presented correctly. “People change when they feel it,” Agar said. “Make them care about someone.”
He said that Christians can write letters to the editor, pen guest columns, call into radio talk shows, and present themselves as sources.
Agar said letters to the editor and radio call-ins are the easiest way to get the message to a broader audience, but there are still rules. For example, for radio talk shows, have one point to make in one sentence to get past the call screener then be on topic and be organized. He also said callers need “to know your stuff” because they will have to defend their points.
On a more basic level, he said callers need to talk clearly, not too fast or slow and without pausing, because it makes for poor radio. Agar stressed that callers can be old but they “can’t sound old,” by which he did not mean aged but lethargic, dull, and slow.
His advice for writing letters to the editor included be brief because long letters will be edited, perhaps in ways the letter-writer does not appreciate. Most newspapers have limits on length, and coming well under them is a smart strategy to getting published. He advised to learn what types of letters editors run and mimic them.
In dealing with reporters, he said learn their interests and connect with them on that level.
While following these strategies may not always work, Agar said they increase the chances of being able to talk to reporters and thus their audiences.