Making good use of the press/media
Effective use of the press and media requires an understanding of what makes a newsworthy story. If managed well, a good relationship with local or national press can offer a highly efficient and inexpensive way of communicating the work or concerns of your parish with the wider community.
Where there are fears or concerns regarding the coverage of a parish story, the communications office will be able to allay these and offer practical advice and support where required (https://www.london.anglican.org/about/diocesan-staff).
Further information regarding dealing with media enquiries can be found here: https://www.london.anglican.org/kb/dealing-with-media-enquiries
What is news?
News is primarily about people:
- What they say and what they do.
- Ordinary things happening to extraordinary people.
- Extraordinary things happening to ordinary people.
- Committees, councils, businesses, governments, charities.
- Fires, accidents, and planning decisions.
News is about change:
- Whatever is current or emerging; it is about major events that shape society.
- That which is changing for the better, or often for the worse.
- That which is a first or exceptional.
- That which is a disruption of the normal:
When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news.?Charles Anderson Dana, American journalist, 1819-1897
News is whatever the editor thinks is news:
- Papers will often have their own agenda
- News is what people are trying to hide:
News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.
Lord Northcliffe, British publisher 1865-1922
Conflict, Danger or benefit to the community, Unusual behaviour, Scandal, Emotion, Announcement, Individualism, Controversy, Hardship, Strong opinions, Innovation, Challenge, Crisis, Dispute, Pain, Novelty, New ideas, Progress.
- Present your news professionally and accessibly as a news release. Your news will have to compete with hundreds of other items so it has to have real value and stand out in the pile. Address your story to the News Editor.
- Offer photos or photo opportunities.
- Compile a mailing list of all the media outlets in your area; newspapers, radio and television stations. Include local or regional news agencies and free sheets. This information is regularly updated in a number of media industry guides – www.mediauk.com is a good start.
- Read the local papers. Study them carefully and familiarise yourself with their style. Take note of each section: news, features, finance, sport, motoring, woman’s pages, fashion, cooking, D I Y, politics, gardening, fishing. Each is a potential opportunity for the right sort of story. Seek an invitation to visit the Newsroom to learn more.
- Listen to your local radio stations and watch regional television programmes. Get to know the whole spectrum of their output – and think how you might get coverage on them. Again offer to visit.
- Church stories can make interesting features. We have some extraordinary people and, even when they do ordinary things, these can attract media interest. When they do extraordinary things this is news.
- Target your approach and tailor your story to appeal to a specific section of the paper or programme. It is well worth discussing an idea with the journalist responsible at an early stage so that you can work up the detail as helpfully as possible. If you are targeting a particular journalist or reporter then make sure you spell his or her name correctly.
- Get to know who’s who at the news desk or in the newsroom. Be sure to keep the list up to date. Cultivate as many personal contacts as possible the personal touch often brings good results! Offering the occasional exclusive story can be very beneficial here.
- Be prepared to volunteer your background. Journalists like to know who they are working with. Remember, you are representing an organisation, not just yourself.
- Learn the various deadlines and plan for them. This is particularly important in the case of weekly newspapers. A press release issued on Thursday could well miss this week’s edition and be history by the following weekend. The overnight pages of today’s evening paper were laid out yesterday afternoon.
- Find out when there is a shortage of news and take advantage of it. The ‘Silly Season’, when Parliament is in recess, has local equivalents. August is a good time to get in-depth coverage of a major idea or initiative – even if it will not be launched until the New Year (you may then get additional coverage). Always try to have an idea up your sleeve and get a reputation for being someone who can help on a quiet day.
Getting coverage for stories
These options can be used either individually or in multiple to promote a story or more sustained media campaign:
News Release (Press Release)
Anything that is newsworthy can be turned into a news or press release. The media use them to fill gaps, to form the basis of bigger stories, or file them to link with others to make future stories. If the timing and subject are right they can make whole stories in themselves. They must be short, sharp and to the point. (See ‘Writing a News Release’.)
This is for major stories that reporters are bound to want to ask questions about. The subject is important. The speakers are interesting and important enough to be worth listening to. Getting the media to a press conference means you have some control over the content of their stories. Having spent time at the conference they are less likely to go looking for other people’s quotes and should believe they have the whole story. Use press conferences sparingly. Don’t build them up to be more important than they are.
There may be times when a story would be best treated by a select group of reporters. A press briefing is really a mini-press conference, where you sit your speakers at one end of a large table and your reporters around the other three sides. Rather than having a few speeches and then some questions, a briefing would start off with an information sheet setting out the story, a spoken explanation and then a discussion with the reporters. While a press conference is always on the record, a press briefing can be off the record or parts of it can be as agreed with the reporters. It is a way of getting all the information over to a group of known and trusted reporters without leaving yourself open to awkward questions from less experienced reporters at a press conference. Again, use sparingly.
There may be times when you have a story that is interesting but not sufficiently so for radio, television and papers to use when they know everyone else has got it, too. You may get someone to use it by offering them an exclusive. This way you forego the chance of wide coverage but, if all you are going to get is four lines in three local papers, this way you might get six or seven inches of copy and a photo or an extended radio or television interview. Pick the media carefully – a paper, local radio, regional television. Go for the one which is most likely to bite and contact a reporter you know is interested. Get all the information together, write it up as a news story – don’t put it on press or news release paper -and give it to the reporter to either use or work on.
This is very similar to offering an exclusive but takes a lot less of your time. Rather than it being a story that you, yourself, need to publicise, it is something that you have come across that will make your organisation look favourable. Think who might use it, who you owe a favour to or who you want to cultivate, phone them, give them the basic details as you understand them, tell them who to contact and let them get on with it. It may be advisable to let the people involved know what you are doing.
This a good place to get publicity. The ‘Letters’ Editor is looking for punchy, articulate letters which are topical and sometimes controversial. You can write letters to local, regional and national newspapers. Letters are useful for correcting inaccurate reporting of an event, but always include more information to your benefit and add to the original story. A letter to the ‘Letters Page’ is a good way to flag up future events. Letters pages are not there to supply you with free advertising, so your letter must have a link with something that is already in the news. Study the letters page and try to imitate the length and style of the letters in it. Get into debate by writing a response to a letter which has just appeared, putting another point of view.
First you need a good subject. Then go for a paper or magazine with a small staff. Ring the editor or news editor, explain the subject and ask if they would like a piece. Agree how many words, pictures and the deadline. If the subject is good, they might bite. If you are fortunate they might decide to send someone along to do it themselves and so save you a lot of time. Alternatively you could write the feature and offer it around until someone bites. The problem with doing it this way is getting the style right. Whenever writing for a publication, make sure you know it well enough to be able to write in its style.
The printed media are always seeking good photos; if there is action involved, television also. A good photocall can make or break a story. It can even be a story in its own right. However, the subject must be photogenic and the storyline a good one. If you are having a photocall, make sure there is a good background. Try to find an interesting location where photographers can find their own artistic viewpoints. Have some props available for the subjects to be doing something with.
Pegs on which to hang a story:
- Launch a campaign.
- Issue a report or annual report.
- Hold a meeting
- Lobby someone else’s meeting.
- Get backing from a well-known personality.
- Send a letter (to an MP or to the Company concerned).
- Get a lot of children together to do something.
- Mark an anniversary.
- Announce a new appointment.
- Welcome proposals.
- Condemn new proposals.
- Unveil plans for the year.
- Present a cheque (in an imaginative way) or receive a cheque.
- Make an award or receive an award.
- Announce oldest/youngest/100th
- Urge government/local authority to take action!
- Reveal unlikely people working together.
- Announce new scheme or project.
- React to news with what it means for local people.
- Invite celebrity or dignitary to visit.
- Organise a competition.
- Introduce a new product.
- Move, refurbish or build new premises.
- Take part in local event/parade/fun run.
- Dream up a publicity stunt.
- Identify who (reader, listener, viewer) you want to respond to your message. This is known as "targeting".
- Relate your message (the style), through the right media (the conduit), to the identified audience (the target), in order to achieve the desired response (the result).
- Targeting therefore includes choosing the most effective means to achieve this. Whether to use radio, television, or the press one or the other or a combination of all three, local or national.
- The likely audience or readership in terms of age, sex, social group, ethnic background and geographic location will be determined by time of day, the type of newspaper or magazine, choice of television channel or radio station.
- Audience research is invaluable when determining not only what your message/story should say but how it should be "packaged" as an item of news, or the subject of an interview or report, a feature or article.
- Effective targeting relies on being aware of the varied forms of media, knowing the opportunities that are available and setting out to make full use of them.