Newsjacking for Rationality and Effective Altruism

post by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-03-15T21:58:23.781Z · score: 17 (25 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 16 comments

Contents

  Introduction
  Specific Steps
  Conclusion
None
16 comments

Summary: This post describes the steps I took to newsjack a breaking story to promote Rationality and Effective Altruism ideas in an op-ed piece, so that anyone can take similar steps to newsjack a relevant story.

 

Introduction

Newsjacking is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story. It should be done as early as possible in the life cycle of a news story for maximum impact for drawing people's attention to your ideas.

 

Some of you may have heard about the Wounded Warrior Project scandal that came to light five days ago or so. This nonprofit that helps wounded veterans had fired its top staff for excessively lavish spending and building Potemkin village-style programs that were showpieces for marketing but did little to help wounded veterans.

 

I scan the news regularly, and was lucky enough to see the story as it was just breaking, on the evening of March 10th. I decided to try to newsjack this story for the sake of Rationality and Effective Altruist ideas. With the help of some timely editing by EA and Rationality enthusiasts other than myself - props to Agnes Vishnevkin, Max Harms, Chase Roycraft, Rhema Hokama, Jacob Bryan, and Yaacov Tarko - TIME just published my piece. This is a big deal, as now one of the first news stories people see when they type "wounded warrior" into Google, as you can see from the screenshot below, is a story promoting Rationality and EA-themed ideas. Regarding Rationality proper, I talk about horns effect and scope neglect, citing Eliezer's piece on it in the post itself, probably the first link to Less Wrong from TIME. Regarding EA, I talked about about effective giving, and also EA organizations such as GiveWell, The Life You Can Save, Animal Charity Evaluators, and effective direct-action charities such as Against Malaria Foundation and GiveDirectly. Many people are searching for "wounded warrior" now that the scandal is emerging, and are getting exposure to Rationality and EA ideas.

 

 

Newsjacking a story like this and getting published in TIME may seem difficult, but it's doable. I hope that the story of how I did it and the steps I lay out, as well as the template of the actual article I wrote, will encourage you to try to do so yourself.

 

Specific Steps

 

1) The first step is to be prepared mentally to newsjack a story and be vigilant about scanning the headlines for any story that is relevant to Rationality or EA causes. The story I newsjacked was about a scandal in the nonprofit sector, a breaking news story that occurs at regular intervals. But a news story about mad cow disease spreading spreading from factory farms might be a good opportunity to write about Animal Charity Evaluators, or a news story about the Zika virus might be a good opportunity to write about how we still haven't killed off malaria (hint hint for any potential authors). While those are specifically EA-related, you can inject Rationality into almost any news story by pointing out biases, etc.

 

2) Once you find a story, decide what kind of angle you want to write about, write a great first draft, and get it edited. You are welcome to use my TIME piece as an inspiration and template. I can't stress getting it edited strong enough, the first draft is always going to be only the first draft. You can get friends to help out, but also tap EA resources such as the EA Editing and Review FB group, and the .impact Writing Help Slack channel. You can also get feedback on the LW Open Thread. Get multiple sets of eyes on it, and quickly. Ask more people than you anticipate you need, as some may drop out. For this piece, for example, I wrote it on the morning and early afternoon of Friday March 11th, and was lucky enough to have 6 people review it by the evening, but 10 people committed to actually reviewing it - so don't rely on all people to come through. 

 

3) Decide what venues you will submit it to, and send out the piece to as many appropriate venues as you think are reasonable. Here is an incomplete but pretty good list of places that accept op-eds. When you decide on the venues, write up a pitch for the piece which you will use to introduce the article to editors at various venues. Your pitch should start with stating that you think the readers of the specific venue you are sending it to will be interested in the piece, so that the editor knows this is not a copy-pasted email but something you specifically customized for that editor. Then continue with 3-5 sentences summarizing the article's main points and any unique angle you're bringing to it. Your second paragraph should describe your credentials for writing the piece. Here's my successful pitch to Time:

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Good day, 

 

I think TIME readers will be interested in my timely piece, “Why The Wounded Warrior Fiasco Hurts Everyone (And How To Prevent It).” It analyzes the problems in the nonprofit sector that lead systematically to the kind of situation seen with Wounded Warrior. Unlike other writings on this topic, the article provides a unique angle by relying on neuroscience to clarify these challenges. The piece then gives clear suggestions for how your readers as individual donors can address these kinds of problems and avoid suffering the same kind of grief that Wounded Warrior supporters are dealing with. Finally, it talks about a nascent movement to reform and improve  the nonprofit sector, Effective Altruism. 

 

My expertise for writing the piece comes from my leadership of a nonprofit dedicated to educating people in effective giving,  Intentional Insights. I also serve as a professor at Ohio State, working at the intersection of history, psychology, neuroscience, and altruism, enabling me to have credibility as a scholar of these issues. I have written for many popular venues, such as The Huffington Post, Salon, The Plain Dealer, Alternet, and others, which leads me to believe your readership will enjoy my writing style.


Hope you can use this piece!

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________


4) I bet I know what at least some of you are thinking. My credentials make it much easier for me to publish in TIME than someone without those credentials. Well, trust me, you can get published somewhere :-) Your hometown paper or university paper is desperately looking for good content about breaking stories, and if you can be the someone who provides that content, you can get EA and Rationality ideas out there. Then, you can slowly build up a base of publications that will take you to the next level.

Do you think I started with publishing in The Huffington Post? No, I started with my own blog, and then guest blogging for other people, then writing op-eds for smaller local venues which I don't even list anymore, and slowly over time got the kind of prominence that leads me to be considered for TIME. And it's still a crapshoot even for me: I sent out more than 30 pitches to editors at different prominent venues, and a number turned down the piece, before TIME accepted it. When it's accepted, you have to let editors at places that prefer original content, which is most op-ed venues, who get back to you and express interest, know that you piece has already been published - they may still publish it, or they may not, but likely not. So the fourth step is to be confident in yourself, try and keep trying, if you feel that this type of writing is a skill that you can contribute to spreading Rationality/EA.

 

5) There's a fifth step - repurpose your content at venues that allow republication. For instance, I wrote a version of this piece for The Life You Can Save blog, for the Intentional Insights blog, and for The Huffington Post, which all allow republication of other content. Don't let your efforts go to waste :-)

 

Conclusion

 

I hope this step-by-step guide to newsjacking a breaking story for Rationality or EA will encourage you to try it. It's not as hard as it seems, though it requires effort and dedication. It helps to know how to write well for a broad public audience in promoting Rationality and EA ideas, which is what we do at Intentional Insights, so email me at gleb@intentionalinsights.org if you want training in that or to discuss any other aspects of marketing such ideas broadly. You're also welcome to get in touch with me if you'd like editing help on such a newsjacking effort. Good luck spreading these ideas broadly!

 

P.S. To amplify the signal and get more people into EA and Rationality modes of thinking, you are welcome to share the story I wrote for TIME.


16 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-03-16T03:36:35.312Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for pushing EA to mainstream. I didn't personally like the style of your article, but then I'm not the target audience of TIME either.

Question: does it benefit the cause to portrait EA as a "nascent" movement?

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-03-16T04:52:03.300Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I tend to think portraying EA as "nascent" is appealing to more readers than not describing it that way. This is for two reasons.

First, many readers will be attracted by the possibility of becoming part of the cool new thing, especially the younger and intellectually-oriented readers, who are more likely to convert to EA causes, since the EA movement swings younger and more intellectual than the general population.

Second, describing the EA movement as "nascent" is accurate, in terms of the number of people who identify with EA (as a rough heuristic, the main EA FB group has under 10K members). So just describing it as a movement without identifying it as a small movement might be perceived by those researching the topic after reading the article as disingenuous.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-03-17T02:11:42.841Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Further proof of this strategy's effectiveness: my original piece was picked up by other prominent venues, most notable The Chronicle of Philanthropy https://philanthropy.com/article/Opinion-Wounded-Warrior-Flap/235715

comment by Lyyce · 2016-03-16T09:39:03.342Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Found the ideas in the article nicely organised, and the paragraph about how EA is financed was a good idea.

Reading it left me a very different feeling compared to your older articles who tended to push my "crank detector" buttons, is that just you "improving" your style (by my standard) or rather an adaptation to a different venue?

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-03-16T15:11:35.274Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Glad you liked this piece more!

The style is more an adaptation to a different venue - TIME is more high-brow than The Huffington Post or Lifehack, so I was writing in a more high-brow style. I guess you fall within the style "Overton Window" for this style :-)

More broadly, my goal, as well as that of other people involved with Intentional Insights, is to aim for the style that would connect with the audience of each venue in order to spread Rationality and Effective Altruism ideas most effectively by bridging the inference gap with each audience. So I'm not surprised that more LWs would connect with the style expressed in this piece, as most LWs tend to be quite a bit above the level of style of the average Lifehack reader.

comment by stephenwarren · 2016-12-03T03:50:49.603Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Great article. Thanks.

One frequent and easy opportunity to newsjack is to respond to reports of heroic deeds with letters to the editor or op-eds praising the hero and pointing out that everyone can be a hero by giving effectively.

comment by JohnC2015_duplicate0.34499772964045405 · 2016-03-24T06:43:13.759Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Congrats on your article being published in TIME - not everyone has the chance of doing it! :) By the way, the 5 steps are simply amazing! Great ideas.

comment by JohnC2015_duplicate0.34499772964045405 · 2016-03-24T03:32:46.308Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for sharing your wonderful thoughts. Honestly, I never thought that "newsjacking" exists until now. You pointed out great ideas and would love to read more articles from you.

comment by beatricesargin · 2016-03-22T17:00:48.540Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wow!, these ideas are practically organized, very motivating and encouraging. A brilliant way to promote rationalism and Effective Altruism, Am aspiring to want to create a story like this..

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-03-22T20:25:01.533Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, and if you do write a story like this, please let me know!

comment by TheAltar · 2016-03-17T14:45:52.080Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How commonly do you think other groups do this and what ways would you suggest at stopping it? Your article seems fairly innocuous as far as spotlight stealing goes, but I'm sure other people's attempts might be far more harmful for the original news story obtaining appropriate attention.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-03-17T16:34:49.057Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oh yes, spotlight stealing is a tool, and can be used for good or evil alike, as any other tool. Other groups who are savvy at marketing do this regularly, and there aren't good ways to stop them doing so. My take is that our best bet is to use this tool for the sake of decreasing entropy and improving the world, rather than trying to stop others from using this tool.

comment by Sarginlove · 2016-03-22T17:09:24.426Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wow lovely post i have observed some certain characters about my self which i had too change immediately i read this post. I think now i now understand what it takes to become rational and also what i could gain sharing my own story of Rationality and Effective Altruism. At least sharing stories about yourself would help others to understand the various ways and steps to follow to guide their activities which could help them achieve their own objectives and goals. This post had made me understand the impact of drawing others to pay attention to my ideals.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-03-22T20:23:51.369Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Glad you liked it!

comment by avwenceslao · 2016-03-23T08:39:20.121Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Nice article and I like it, Great job. Can't wait to read more.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-03-23T21:07:14.286Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks Alex!