The National Advocate for People with Down Syndrome Since 1979

National Down Syndrome Society
666 Broadway, 8th Floor
New York New York 10012
800-221-4602
info@ndss.org 

Reactive Media Outreach

Responding to Positive Press

The first reaction to positive coverage about Down syndrome is to think, "Finally! They got it right." and to file the article for future reference. However, that is only the first step. Write a letter or thank you note to the reporter who wrote the story and offer yourself and your group as a source for reference and future articles.

Responding to Negative Press

The media will often run articles that use poor language in describing people with Down syndrome or that contain factual errors. Sometimes the whole story has a negative tone or is offensive. While NDSS will typically respond to major coverage that is negative, it is important for local groups to respond as well. Here are some ways to respond:

Contact the Reporter

When contacting a reporter, call as a representative of your local parent support group. If you call as an individual or a parent, your opinion will carry less weight. Be diplomatic about correcting errors in articles or coverage that has already run. First, share any positive thoughts you had about the coverage. If the offense was minor, such as incorrect language or terminology, offer to send the NDSS preferred language guide or a comparable guide from your group for future reference. For factual errors, refer the reporter to your group's website or to the NDSS website for the most up-to-date statistics. Most likely, the reporter's mistake was unintentional and not a deliberate attempt to denigrate people with disabilities.

Go Through Official Channels

For more serious offenses, such as deliberately misrepresenting the reality of Down syndrome or using blatantly offensive language, use your judgment. Particularly on radio, the internet or television, some programs are intentionally offensive; drawing public attention to the director or program host may only fuel the fire. In cases like this, write a letter to the station manager and owner, the host network and the management or parent company. For offensive internet content, also write to the site's internet service provider (ISP).

Once you have written the letter, follow up with phone calls. If you do not get a response, move on to the media outlet's board of directors and advertisers. In cases like this, the more people calling and writing letters the better.

In all contacts, make a rational argument and back it up with facts. An emotional statement will add impact, but do not let it overshadow the rationality of your position. Make clear what action you want the media outlet to take to rectify the situation.

Write a Letter to the Editor

Most newspapers regularly publish letters to the editor. The two most important features of these letters are timeliness and brevity. Try to respond to negative articles within 24 hours of publication. As time passes, interest in the article will fade and publication of your letter will be less likely. Newspapers cannot publish every letter they receive, so they generally take a representative sample. The more letters received on a topic, the more likely it is that one will be printed. In addition to writing a letter representing your group's position, get the word out to group members and have them write letters as well.

NDSS Resources

  • Buddy Walk
  • NDSS Yourway
  • My Great Story