Note: In Dear WordCount, I usually answer questions from other writers, bloggers and freelancers. This week, I’m veering away from that to tackle a question from a non-journalist friend, with the thought that the answer could help readers working in public relations or for organizations that want to get their stories picked up by news organization. — MVR
Dear WordCount: I need some advice from a journalist. I have become involved in advocating for better air pollution rules in Utah. We have terrible smog, and yet at a rally we just held, we could only get 150 people to show. I would really love to get newspaper coverage for this, but I am not sure how to go about it. Any ideas? – Ingrid
I commend you for getting involved. Here are a couple thoughts:
1. Research publications.
Find out who the appropriate editors are for the local newspapers and pitch then. Look at online publications that cover these issues, such as Environmental Health News, a website that tracks environmental issues. The Sierra Club sometimes covers those types of issues in its magazine, Sierra. There also are regional publications that cover issues and events in the Rocky Mountains, including Salt Lake Magazine, Utah Valley, and Rocky Mountain Magazine. Don’t forget your local public radio station.
2. Think about the message you want to convey.
What are you asking a publication to look into? What do you want to bring to their attention. Be able to articulate the problem, why it’s a problem and what you or your group are trying to do about it.
3. Have data to back up your claims.
Reporters want statistics – otherwise you could sound like a well-meaning but uninformed citizen at best, and at worst, a crank (publications hear from lots of both). If you have statistics about air quality, lack of local govnerment responsiveness, etc., you’re giving a publication information they can use to start investigating.
4. Be patient.
Newsrooms are busy and understaffed. Even if you get someone interested in this, it might take a while for them to act.
5. Don’t give up.
See #4. If you find someone who’s responsive, send them periodic updates on what’s happening. They may be interested but need more info, or they may need to gather info over an textended period of time to convince their editor there’s a story there.
6. Send a press release.
If you’re staging a rally, protest, etc., send out a press release about it. Here’s a post on how to write a press release that gets noticed. You can find other advice and examples online. Don’t send a release about a rally or protest too far in advance – you can almost count on it getting lost or forgotten. For a newspaper, weekly or news site, a couple weeks’ notice is plenty, and follow up again a week or few days before the event just to make sure they got it.
7. Don’t ignore smaller publications.
Reach out to neighborhood or community papers, alt weeklies, hyperlocal news sites like Patch.com, etc. Those kinds of publications have smaller staffs and are usually happy to get information about local news. Beyond that, bigger papers monitor what smaller ones are running and if they see something interesting, might do their own story.
8. Write an op-ed.
If you’re confident of your own writing abilities, turn this into a DIY project and write an op-ed. Contact the local newspaper, find out who the op-ed editor is and pitch writing an opinion piece about the issue. If you can, use something that’s been in the news as a “hook” to pique their interest – the Beijing air pollution crisis for example. Lay out the facts as you see then. List whatever actions you believe the powers that be in the state need to take. If you’re on the board of an organization, ask their permission to write it on their behalf. Or just write it as a concerned citizen.
9. Start a blog on the subject.
Use a blog as a platform for sharing whatever information you collect or stories that are published, and also to share information on when and where rallies are taking place. That establishes you as a player in the landscape, and when and if news organizations decide to write about it, they’ll come to you. Since you’re collecting this info anyway, it’s one way to store all of it. You can start a blog on WordPress.com or Blogger for free; pick one of the default templates and you could be writing posts by the end of today.
Got a freelancing question? Send it to Dear WordCount at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Flickr photo by wickenden]