Advocacy in the writing world: getting your stories in front of the right audience

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Illustration by Greg Storey

Some of the most-read news stories out there are dominated by inflammatory headlines and are poor examples of journalism done right. But, luckily, clicks don’t equal impact.

I stumbled upon an interesting interview with BuzzFeed News Managing Editor Sara Yasin that hits on a lot of the points I was trying to highlight in my last blog post. Not everything you write is going to get noticed, and some of the more important issues you cover may receive less attention when compared to clickbait-y articles.

The stories we tell and how we tell them remain of the utmost importance. Hopefully alongside Sara’s input, this post will reaffirm that you’re doing the right thing and how to get those compelling stories in front of the right people—not necessarily more people.

Sara’s career path was an inspiring one to learn about—she was originally working for a women’s rights organization that focused on Muslim women and also contributing to an academic blog on the matter. She transitioned from advocacy work to journalism, but that passion for getting others to “care” never really left her.

Echoing the sentiments of other writers and reporters who cover humanitarian issues, Sara acknowledges that her work is less focused on the numbers and more concerned with telling the right stories:

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019 quote-left

The senior audience development analyst and I have regular conversations with desks about how their stories are performing. We think about the points of opportunity. We feel really strongly that it’s about way more than the numbers. I do think that sometimes it’s a matter of getting things in front of the right audience. You know, sometimes you’re going to write a story that only has 10,000 views — but it’s introduced as evidence in a Senate hearing, and I feel like that is equal to a story that gets a million views.

There was a common mistake she noticed, though, in both the advocacy and the writing world, of trying to tell people what to care about:

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019 quote-left

The problem that I found a lot of the time was that they didn’t know how to frame things around what people actually want to learn and what they actually want to know. They focused more on what they thought people should care about. And there are plenty of things that people should care about, you know, but if you don’t frame it in a way that makes sense, they’re not going to latch on to it.

She emphasizes that she’s always been concerned with making things accessible for a wider audience—one of the main reasons she shifted from advocacy to journalism. But it’s more than just writing about an important topic and hoping it gains tractions, you have to set your stories up for success:

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019 quote-left

I do think that there is a way to make sure that those stories get their best shot. One of the things I’m constantly saying to foreign correspondents and people in that space is that a good story is a good story. If you find the right angle, and if you find a headline, and you package it well, then you can get it to the right people and you can give it its best shot. But you have to balance that with maintaining the integrity of the story.

Sara experienced first-hand how the media can influence and shape the way we view the world, recounting instances where individuals had told her they thought all Muslims were terrorists because they only watched Fox News growing up. This contributed to her desire to work in media and encourage people to care about the human side of things.

It’s crucial to be aware of the stories we tell and how we tell them. Legal blogging can be a direct vehicle for change, depending on how you wish to approach it and the ultimate goal you have in mind for your publication.

If you’re interested in any form of advocacy journalism and its crossover with social media, I highly encourage you to check out the full interview.

Michelle works on LexBlog’s Publishing team as the Editor and assists in managing and creating the company’s editorial and social content, as well as working with clients to ensure the overall success of their blogs. She has experience working in all different realms of publishing—including newspapers, magazines and research journals. 

Photo of Michelle Newblom
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