Writing and Working with the Media
Volunteer groups draw upon the knowledge, energy, and interests of all who share their cause. The ability to effect positive change can be greatly enhanced by an ability to engage the media. News organizations can be an important partner. The most effective media relations acknowledge the practical capabilities for both, value accuracy in all dealings, and respect the public.
One of the most important keys to writing for the media is to discern the difference between news and information. Always remember that all news is information; but not all information is news. When you think your effort is ready for a submission, ask yourself a few questions:
What is the issue or development?
Clarity on what needs to be shared will also guide the writing process. If the topic has been covered before, identify what is new or different that is also in the public's interest.
How do I begin?
Make a list of the items or developments that you believe are important to share. Then rank their significance. Whether you are writing a news release or opinion piece, its contents should reflect that order, much like a reverse pyramid. The more important the information, the earlier it needs to be shared.
Conversely, the information in the last one of two paragraphs should contain items that if severely edited, would still preserve the main focus.
What if I just want to share a position on an issue?
Consider a letter to the editor or a guest column. Reporters generate hard news and features. Editorial page writers and editors focus on opinions and perspective.
The difference between a letter to the editor and a guest column are length and prominence. Letters to the editor are usually published daily and appear grouped together. They are also often edited to accommodate several in each edition for the space allocated. Guest columns appear less frequently, are generally longer in length, and are usually prominently placed. Additionally, some papers include photos with guest columns.
What if my organization disagrees with coverage? What can we do?
If the disagreement is substantive, bring the matter to the attention of the appropriate journalist.
For a news report that contains errors or notable omissions, contact the reporter and request a correction. If within a reasonable amount of time (2 or 3 business days for a daily publication), if no correction has appeared, contact the editor for that section of the paper and re-state your request.
If the disagreement is on perspective or an editorial, contact the editorial page editor. Respectfully and factually state your concerns and request a rebuttal (for an editorial) or a guest column. If the request is accepted, be clear on deadlines and observe them.
Does your draft text make a sensible and compelling case?
Passion is often a part of volunteer or ad hoc efforts; but passion alone will not engage the media. Hone and edit your own copy. The absence of spell-checked and coherent copy will be a disservice to your organization. It will also have the effect of diminishing credibility and future opportunities.
How do I submit my copy?
Most news organizations prefer electronic submissions. A growing number now encourage web submissions. This approach usually has a built-in feature that limits text length.
Other news organizations prefer e-mail submissions. Confirm the e-address before sending. Additionally, keep in mind that most news outlets use Mac computers. If your text has been prepared on a PC in Microsoft Word, save it as a Rich Text Format (RTF) to facilitate translation, or save it and attach it as an Adobe PDF. As a safeguard, copy and paste the body of the text into the e-mail.
Attracting and sustaining media interest is derived from building effective and respectful relationships. Armed with accurate information, timely distribution, and reasonable expectations, effective writing for the media will lead to win-win scenarios. When you share the working creative process, you will also share success.