To consistently get your message into the news, it’s important to develop a strong relationship with reporters who are likely to cover your issues. To do this, maintain regular contact with key journalists, provide them with accurate information, refer them to other reliable sources when you cannot answer their questions, and be respectful of the constraints on their time. If journalists view you as a trusted source of information, they are more likely to turn to you for comments on a regular basis.
Identify key media contacts: It is important to get to know the reporters, editors, and editorial writers who cover your issues at local, regional, and for some issues national news outlets.
There are many ways to obtain this information, but it’s easiest to begin by identifying all of the newspaper, wire services, and television and radio stations that might cover your issue. You should include local, regional, and national media outlets. Then talk with local, regional, and national conservation and recreation organizations to find out who covers your issues at these outlets.
It may be necessary to look on websites, read previous coverage, or call news outlets. While cold-calling a news team may be daunting at first, most journalists will appreciate your effort to locate the right person rather than bombarding them with information that will never be used.
As you identify these individuals, keep a running contact list that you can turn to when you have news to report or a story to tell. It’s important to have a list that is organized, easily accessible to you and other supporters, and easy to update since media contacts often change.
Get to know the following journalists, reporters, and editors in your area:
- Environmental, outdoor, recreation, or other beat reporters at your local papers
- Editorial writers and news editors at the same papers
- Bureau chief or news editor at the nearest Associated Press Bureau
- Assignment editors for each local television station
- News directors for public radio stations (sometimes NPR affiliates) that service your area
- News directors for commercial radio and all news stations that service your area
Many companies publish directories that can make this job easier. Green Media Toolshed, a non-profit provider of electronic media lists, is geared toward serving environmental organizations at an affordable price. Other companies offer annually printed directories and sell access to their media databases. Leadership Directories Inc. publishes a national news media guide known as the News Media Yellow Book. These resources may be available free of charge at your local public or college library.
Communicate with journalists
Working effectively with the media involves more than having your message and facts in order. It’s important to understand the pressures journalists typically work under and to communicate with them in a way that helps them get their work done on time. When working with the media, you should:
Be prompt and mindful of time: Always return a call from a journalist as soon as possible. Reporters are often on a deadline and calling back too late will mean missing your chance to get your message in their story. Be sensitive to their needs and to the amount of time they have available to talk with you.
Be honest: One of the quickest ways to ruin a relationship with a reporter is to provide incorrect information. Never provide information that you’re not sure is accurate, and do not speculate. It’s far better to direct reporters to another person that might be able to help.
Be accessible: Do your best to be available to reporters, particularly on the day you are holding a news event or issue a press release. Consider providing your cell or home phone number to journalists since they often have more time after normal working hours to talk.
Be proactive: You should call reporters if you have news or if you want to get your message into a story. Don’t wait around for a reporter to call you.
Be aware of competing news: When planning strategic media, be cognizant of other competing news events and avoid releasing information when you know another competing event is being held in your area.
The best way to initiate contact with a reporter is by phone. You can then follow-up by emailing or faxing additional information. Be sure to tell the reporter you are sending follow-up information so he or she knows to look for it. Most importantly, send the information right away. If you need time to pull information together, let the reporter know (find out if there’s a deadline) and send the information as soon as possible.
Make an interview work for you: The key to making any interview successful is to maintain control of the discussion. While you have no control over the questions you are asked, you have complete control over the answers you give. To maintain control of an interview, whether conducted in person, live on the air, by phone, or at a news conference, you should:
- Focus on no more than 3 key messages that you can support with facts and examples
- Refine and rehearse your message so that you can sum them up in 30 seconds
- Prepare responses to potential questions and rehearse those responses, especially responses to questions that reflect the opposing viewpoint
- Deliver your most important message first and provide facts and examples only after discussing your messages
- Stay on message and if a question is not related to your message or veers the conversation into a different area, briefly acknowledge the question then bridge the discussion back to your message
- Always base your message and answers on fact and never let a reporter convince you to speculate or hypothesize on an issue
- Be conversational, stay jargon free, and don’t use sarcasm or make flippant remarks
- Speak clearly so the reporter can understand and accurately record your comment
- Remember that nothing’s ever off the record unless you have specific prior agreement with the reporter