Impactful, Human, Rooted In People: How Advocates Work with the Media to Get Client Stories Told | Blog

February 22, 2021

Getting news organizations to cover your work is easier said than done.


To take a deeper look into how advocates can work with the media to get their stories in front of the public, the Project on Predatory Student Lending joined a panel discussion hosted by the University of San Diego around How Advocates Can Work with the Media to Effect Change and Protect Postsecondary Students. The panel was a part of a new webinar series on Protecting Postsecondary Student Consumers.


Moderated by David Halperin, investigative reporter and editor of The Republic Report, the panel featured Erica Green from the New York Times, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel from the Washington Post, Student Defense Director of Student Affairs Sam Gilford, and the Project’s own senior advisor Kate Kennedy.


Right off the bat, the reporters on the panel established one thing: they want impactful stories with human elements.

“We want stories that have impact. [Stories with] the power to get readers thinking about how policy affects the lives of everyday people,” said Douglas-Gabriel.

“People connect to other people…Those are the most successful pitches, the ones that are rooted in people and not always pain, but some kind of human emotion and consequence that we can really bring to light,” said Green.


Bringing those human experiences to the work that’s being done is something advocates are working on regularly. Kate Kennedy talked about how the Project takes the same human-focused approach to amplifying our client’s stories and voices.

“We bring two things to the table. First, our expertise. We want the reporter to know that we are the legal experts on the issue. We’re uniquely positioned to talk about why it’s relevant, what it means…Then, of course, the client story. Who is it impacting? There’s so much demand for this and for good reason. Our clients’ first hand experience, their authentic words, are best told when they’re connected directly to the reporter. We merge those two – the expertise and the human element – whenever we can.”


But as advocates know, just having a worthy cause isn’t always enough to get media coverage. Reporters want to know how this problem is affecting real lives and why it’s important to raise awareness of the solution.

“Just the existence of a lawsuit against a private company doesn’t always make the newspaper, but by keeping members of the press updated on developments on a pretty major piece of litigation, the story evolves. I think the lesson I’ve drawn from [pitching reporters] is that it’s not so much about what you get on day one from a story but it’s really, over time, explaining to people what the impact is and why this is important. I think being consistent over the long term and keeping that back and forth going is super important for being successful here,” said Gilford.


Creating that level of trust makes it easier for reporters to know who they can rely on for a story and who will give them what they need.

“We just started to build trust. I mean, with reporting and being a reporter, so much of what you do is about having a strong relationship, so you know that your sources can trust you, and they can, and you can trust them,” said Douglas-Gabriel.


One question posed by Halperin to the panelists has been a big point of discussion among the industry lately:


What could the Biden administration and the Department of Education do to make for-profit, higher education better for students? How probable is it that the Biden administration goes after these institutions?


Kate Kennedy used this as an opportunity to remind everyone that they first need to take care of unfinished business with the Department of Education.

“Corinthian Colleges, ITT tech, all of those students were promised relief under Obama and they’re still waiting. These are people who the public may assume ‘haven’t we taken care of that already? We know they’re bad actors.’ But, no. [These students] still have those loans. And we need to make sure that those who are asserting their right to Borrower Defense are able to get the loan cancellation they deserve. So, there’s a lot of unfinished business there.”


Advocates are hopeful that change is coming under the Biden administration, and reporters are waiting to tell the impactful stories of the individuals and families that are most impacted as a result.


If you missed the event and would like to catch up on this panel, and others like it, visit the webinar series page on the University of San Diego’s site.

As a continuation of this series, tune in on March 10th for a panel on litigation as a tool to protect postsecondary students featuring one of the attorney’s at the Project on Predatory Student Lending, Victoria Roytenberg. Register here.