Work effectively with the news media

Work effectively with the news media

By Beth Murphy OP

In the best of all possible worlds, you have a team of people who work with you to help you accomplish your goals in the vocation office. One of those people is your community communication director. She is available every time you need some help advertising an event, lining up news coverage, or responding to a reporter’s query.

Right…. In the real world, you may not be so lucky. Perhaps your community doesn’t have a communication office. Or the one person doing the job is, like you, wearing many other hats and doesn’t have much time to spare.

Are you without hope for your vocation communication needs? Not at all! Here are ten tips to help you make the most of your own efforts. Even if you do have a good working relationship with your communication person it’s good to know these basics.

1. Have a plan

Look at your calendar for the coming year and list the events for which you’ll need some publicity or media coverage. Make note of the date by which you’ll need to contact the media in order to get the coverage you want. Depending on the size of the city where you are located, you may have more or less success getting media coverage. In a small or mid-sized community professions of vows or jubilees are likely to be big news. They would be of less interest to media outlets in major cities, unless a prominent local figure is making vows, or it’s the largest profession class in the history of your community.

Other events worth publicizing might include vocation events such as festivals or opportunities to shadow a sister in ministry, vocation runs, large-scale events like diocesan-wide discernment programs or innovative approaches to vocation ministry that tap into a local or national trend.

When you send a news release, whether by e-mail, fax, or snail mail, be sure to include the basics: The who, what, when, where, how and why of the story; your name and contact information. It is a good idea to include both work and home phone numbers, and your e-mail address. This will signal to reporters your willingness to be available to them.

2. Keep a database of media contacts.

You probably already use a database to keep track of the women or men who have expressed interest in your community. Keep another file of journalists in the same fashion. Start with the media outlets you know and the journalists you’ve already contacted.

Add new contacts as you make them. Ask other vocation ministers what journalists have been helpful to them. If you don’t have a community communication office, the diocesan communication office may be willing to share their list with you. An excellent source for new media contacts is the media outlets’ websites. There you’ll often find the e-mail addresses of every reporter on staff.

3. Develop a nose for news

Get a feel for the kind of story that will be attractive to the news media. They want news that is current, unique (the first, the largest, the most successful, etc.), or touches the lives of many people. Pay attention to issues and trends in the news and see if you can draw a connection to your own work. Reporters like to be able to provide a local angle to a national or international story. Small newspapers are often less demanding and more likely to take any story you provide to them. They will often run your news release verbatim. Take advantage of those opportunities.

4. Make use of new and old technologies

Half of the hassle of sending information to the media used to be the need to fold, assemble, lick and stamp dozens of envelopes. There is almost no need for this any more. Virtually every newspaper, radio and television station in the country has either a fax or an e-mail address to which you can send electronic messages. It’s a good idea to call and ask the radio news director, TV assignment editor or newspaper reporter what delivery method they prefer. In my experience TV and radio stations still like getting information faxed to them, while newspapers are happier with e-mail because it saves them a step in the production process. News releases are short enough to include directly in your e-mail rather than attaching them as a file. If you forward digital photos or artwork, check with the paper ahead of time about the format they prefer. JPG files seem to be pretty standard. Modern technologies make it amazingly simple and fast to get your information directly into the hands of the reporters.

As valuable as electronic communication is, it is still good to put “hard copy” into the hands of reporters when they show up to cover your event. Have a few printed copies of the electronic release on hand the day of an event to give to the reporters who attend.

5. Point reporters to your Web site

Once you have a database of media contacts, periodically send them an e-mail message highlighting something new on your Web site. Include your web address in the message so they can click on it and go directly to your site.

6. Make the reporter’s job easy 

The more help you can give the reporter, the greater chance you have for a positive outcome. Prepare a one-page fact sheet containing basic information about your community (founding date, number of members, types and locations of ministry) and a succinct statement about the mission of the vocation office. Provide a copy to every journalist with whom you work. For each event write a two-page news release that includes accurate details, and the names of all principal players correctly spelled. Also include a quote, attributed to you, that says exactly what you’d want to see in the paper if you were writing the article. You’ll be surprised how often it will appear. Include your name, phone numbers and e-mail address on everything.

7. Be accessible

Reporters work on tight deadlines and need to have easy access to you when they need to check a fact close to press time. Give them your home phone number and assure them that you want to be as helpful as you can.

8. Watch your language

A general assignment reporter can’t be expected to understand the specialized language of religious life. Use common language and easy comparisons to explain things like the process of formation or the meaning of the vows. Provide a glossary of terms with simple explanations.

9. Say thank you

Reporters are people, too. Thank them for a job well done. If you are especially pleased, let their editor know, too. Common courtesy goes a long way toward establishing good media relationships.

10. Make the most of media coverage

Keep a collection of the stories that appear in the media. Videotape TV news coverage, tape record radio interviews whenever possible. Sometimes TV and radio stations will provide you with copies for a fee. You can often purchase from newspapers high quality prints of any photos they take while covering your event. Create simple press kits using copies of print media, your fact sheet, and news releases. Send copies to reporters with whom you are initiating a relationship and share them with potential candidates and others you want to know about your work. Laminate the best stories and use them on your traveling display. 

Beth Murphy, OP is the communications director for her community, the Springfield Dominicans of Springfield, Ill. She served for five years as creative director of media resources for the National Coalition for Church Vocations.

 



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