Know the News, Make the News


You have a reliable media list.  You also know how to craft interesting and provocative press materials.  Lately, however, it seems that your news releases are falling on deaf ears.  You wonder why your most trusted reporters aren’t covering your stories.  What can you do to overcome the silent presses?



One of the most effective but often overlooked strategies for engaging the media is to know the differences between different media outlets.  In the communications business you have to know the media if you hope to influence media coverage.  Knowing the media means more than just knowing the local daily that you’ve always read.  It means knowing television and radio, as well as local weeklies and possibly additional local dailies.  In Seattle, for example, it’s important to be familiar with both the Times and Post-Intelligencer.


The greater familiarity you have with the outlets in your region, the better you will understand their personality and temperament.  With greater knowledge of an outlet, you will also learn about the unique characteristics of different outlets, such as special columns or photo opportunities.  Finally the more you know about an outlet, the more you will know about local reporters, the topics they cover and the often quirky, hard-to-define aesthetic they bring to their favorite stories.  This will make you more effective as you attempt to target specific reporters.  It may also open your eyes to reporters that haven’t traditionally appeared on your media lists.  In the long run it will undoubtedly make you more effective at getting your message in the media.


Gauge an outlet’s personality

The most important reason for following an outlet is to gauge that outlet’s personality.  If you regularly read, listen to or watch the same outlet you will begin to understand its temperament.  You’ll know what kinds of the stories the outlet generally runs, and how it presents these stories.  The writing and presentation style will also differ from outlet to outlet.  All of this information will be invaluable as you attempt to craft pitches that appeal to specific outlets.


Identify unique characteristics

If you know an outlet well, you’ll know about the columns, programs and pieces that make that outlet unique.  For example, you may discover that some outlets have regular pieces on how to become more involved with local organizations.  You might also find special weekend columns in an outlet that will appeal to your target audience.  Identifying these nooks and crannies will increase your ability to get your message into the media.


Photographs provide an additional opportunity for getting your story into the media.  The better you know an outlet, the better you’ll understand how the outlet uses photographs.  What kind of photographs appear in the publication?  Under what circumstances will the outlet publish photos without a story?  Which stories generally include photographs?  Knowing the answers to these questions will help you prepare you to pitch the photo desk, which will lead to both images and articles about your issues.


Better understand reporters

Keeping up on the news will help give you an innate, hard-learned sense of what is news. It will also help you stay on top of reporters.  By reading the news, watching TV or listening to the radio you will begin to learn exactly who covers what.  Reading a particular reporter’s stories will help you determine the themes that will not interest him or her.  It will also help you identify the type of story that the reporter may be receptive to in the future.


Knowing more about a reporter than just his or her name and title may improve your rapport with the reporter as well.  Reporters enjoy hearing feedback on past work, and may be more apt to take you seriously if you mention a story they’ve just written.


In addition to knowing your standard reporters better, gaining a better grasp of an outlet will help you identify journalists that you may not have targeted in the past.  If you read the business page you might find reporters who cover the business angle of environmental issues.  On the lifestyles page you may come across a food writer that covers sustainable agriculture.  In the local section the breadth of topics of many local columnists might surprise you.  Knowing potential “environmental” reporters who don’t officially work the environment beat might lead to unique stories that reach an untapped audience.


Share the work

Staying on top of the news in a number of outlets is a daunting task.  There’s too much information and too little time.  If you divide up the work among the people on your staff, however, each staff person will become an expert on at least one outlet and your organization as whole will be far more prepared to work with your local media.  Start by subscribing to all of the major papers in your region, and then assigning one outlet to each staff person.  Be sure to include both dailies and weeklies in the list of assignments.


In addition to newspapers, DON’T FORGET ABOUT TELEVISION AND RADIO.  More Americans get their news from TV than from any other source, and knowing your local television station will help you effectively pitch television stories.  Unfortunately gaining a good feel for television news can be even more difficult than staying on top of the local print media.  With a minimum of two or three stations in each media market broadcasting news at the same time it is impossible for a single person to regularly watch every station. If you divide the work among your staff, over time you’ll get a good grasp of the different TV stories on different channels.  Much as you did with the newspapers, try assigning a different station to each staff person.  Have the staff make a commitment to watch their assigned TV news program at least one night a week.


Finally don’t forget to give staff a time to share what they find.  This way the entire staff will benefit from the increased media awareness.  And with increased awareness, you’ll all be in a better position to deliver your messages to the right outlets and reporters in the most effective manner.


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March 2004


This Media Tip is sponsored by The Mountaineers Foundation.