Media Relations: Gun Reform Protest Coverage Goes Worldwide

By on Friday, October 19, 2018

On February 14, 2018, the nation was shocked when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The stream of bullets coming out of his AR-10 upper’s nozzle killed seventeen students and staff members and injured seventeen others.

Only 3 days after the shooting that shocked the nation, Steppingstone LLC got a call from a group called Teens for Gun Reform, which was organizing a protest the following day at the White House on February 18 (President’s Day). Led by two high school students who organized the protest through social media while at an academic competition that weekend, the group planned to demonstrate its grief with a “lie-in” and to call on our nation to break its gridlock over gun law reform.

After a quick briefing call that Sunday morning, we quickly assembled a press advisory and pulled together a list of Washington, D.C. news desks and reporters to pitch for the event. Then we issued the press advisory and began follow-up calls. Preliminary “look ahead” stories began that Sunday evening (WJLA), and we coordinated two television interviews that night. It became apparent that Sunday evening that we would need more than one person on-site to manage the massive press interest in the event. So we reached out to a business partner and secured additional assistance.

On the morning of the protest, we made another round of early desk calls, with nearly every national and local television news desk saying that they planned to attend the event and cover it. Our team met downtown early to go over details and prepare, and then we headed to Lafayette Park next to the White House. The students arrived in small groups carrying signs and hugging each other in the morning cold and dampness. Students came from middle schools and high schools from throughout the city, thanks to social media about the protest.

The news camera crews arrived too, setting up in a horseshoe shaped arch around the White House fence line, where protestors frequently gather. We were very busy coordinating interviews with the students who organized the protest and talking with reporters and camera crews as they arrived on site. Thankfully, one of the high school organizers was taking AP Spanish, and was able to give interviews in Spanish.

When it came time for the protest, 17 students silently walked through a crush of two dozen cameras and dozens of journalists to the sidewalk in front of the White House fence. Their faces were solemn. And then they laid down on the ground for three minutes – to represent the 17 lives lost in this tragedy and the time it took the gunman to kill them. There had to be 400 people there, but it was completely silent. From our vantage point standing with the reporters, it was remarkable.

Then the students stood up and they invited everyone present to join their protest and also lie down for 3 minutes. And so they did. Steppingstone LLC founder Ami Neiberger-Miller said, “I was standing with a bank of cameras watching the protest in front of me near the fence. Then I realized that the 300 people behind me had all laid down on the ground, as if they too, had had life snatched from them in an instant. They laid there on the ground looking up at the sky, holding their signs. Some were high school students. Others were adults who just came to be supportive for the students. It was eerily quiet – and I wondered if our nation might finally be at a tipping point on gun violence.” Then it was over and everyone stood up and hugged each other. We were busy coordinating more interviews and responding to more press requests for a few hours and the next day as well.

The press coverage of the event was huge – with CNN covering it live and newscasts around the globe sharing photos and footage from the event. Photos from the protest ran on the front pages of the New York Times the next day and on the front pages of dozens of other newspapers. NBC’s Today show and ABC’s Good Morning America ran footage and CNN’s Anderson Cooper did too. There were hundreds of news stories about the event across the U.S. and around the globe. The heavy news coverage of the protest contributed to building momentum for a new movement by young people for political engagement and gun reform.

Links to select coverage:

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