Working with the media begins before the first interview, article, or television spot. To succeed, start developing relationships that will serve you well in the future.
Newspapers concentrate on "breaking" stories. However, you can anticipate specific topics to come up at certain times of the year. (i.e., Poultry Safety in November) Reporters are taught to be cynical about most information. Don't take it personally! Some points to consider:
- Reporters care about NEWS. They want relevant, useful, and interesting information for their viewers.
- Most often, reporters have had little time to learn about the subject matter they are reporting on. They seek experts to confirm or dispel the breaking information they plan to write.
- We know a lot about the subject. We need to communicate clearly in simple terms without being simplistic, explain without being condescending, and show why this information is interesting to the public. Reporters only want to know your life story if it adds to your credibility to speak on the subject.
When writing fact based news articles, put the most important information at the beginning in case the article is cut due to other late-breaking news. Expect all articles to be edited. Short sentences of 15-20 words and short paragraphs with easy words are best. The use of active verbs and personal pronouns such as "I", "you" and "they" are most effective.
Feature articles are longer. These contain a "lead-in" that sets the stage for a story to follow. With a feature, you can be more creative. End the article with a "Kicker" that provides the article with a punch.
Magazine articles concentrate on analyzing information rather than "breaking news". Articles usually answer the question, "What does this information mean?" and put associated risks into perspective. Magazine articles often quote various experts who do not necessarily agree on the subject.
Magazines have fewer time constraints than newspapers or television media, but the story's length is critical. Information needs to be short and concise.
Because they deal with "breaking" news, reporters usually will give very short notice. If you do not have adequate time to collect reliable information on the subject, decline to be interviewed live. If possible, suggest a taped or phone interview at a prearranged time.
Television is different in different-sized cities. Large cities may segment it with reporters assigned to deal with specific subject matters. In smaller towns with fewer reporters, the assignment editor decides what stories will be covered and by which reporter. In smaller markets, reporter turnover is high, so the assignment editor will be a more consistent contact person.
Television is driven by deadlines based on when the news is aired. Call early in the morning to get more of the reporter's or assignment editor's attention. The closer to the air time you call, the less chance you will have to get your information on the air.
Find out what subjects the newsroom is most interested in. Remember, they do not have the knowledge base on the subject matter and are looking for experts to support or dispute information in breaking stories. Educate them on your areas of expertise and ask them to call you when they need information on your subject matter.
You will usually have only about 30 seconds to tell your story. Reporters will tape most interviews and edit them to emphasize the point they want to make. Remember that television is a visual medium; use this to your advantage. Relate your information to practical, everyday life using ordinary folks as examples. Limit information to 3-4 key points and repeat them at the end of the interview.
Most radio spots today, consist of pretaped interviews and "call-in" shows centered around a specific topic. Pretaped interviews allow you to plan your information in advance and if needed, tape it several times. The station will usually call ahead and ask you to talk on a particular subject at an agreed time.
A "call-in" show requires you to be ready for almost anything. Some stations screen the caller's question before talking with the guest. Some callers speak directly to the guest. To be as prepared as possible, you will want to inquire if callers will be screened and the show's format. One disadvantage (or advantage) of a "call-in" show is that you will be required to fill in the "dead space" between callers. Make sure to take some "filler" information you can provide listeners between calls. Don't be afraid to say you don't know or can't answer the caller's question. Ask for a name and phone number and follow up with them after the show.
Some tips for developing Media Savvy:
- Think ahead about possible areas of interest. Read newspapers, professional magazines, and subscribe to news services in your area of expertise to see trends in information. Watch your local television and listen to local radio in order to know what type of format to anticipate. If breaking news is late in the afternoon, take some information home. Inevitably, you will get a call at home.
- Build relationships with your local media representatives. Volunteer to do interviews rather than wait to be asked.
- Know key reporter's names and ask for them specifically.
- Ask when the deadline is for the story. If necessary, negotiate an agreed-upon time to provide the requested information. Honor that deadline so you will be considered a reliable source of information.
- Ask who the target audience of the story will be. This will help you target your comments.
- Report unbiased information. This will increase your reputation as a credible source of information.
- Request to review written material before its publication/printing to check for accuracy. However, don't be surprised if your request is denied.
- Give your media representatives feedback on our experiences with them. If you feel you have been misrepresented by the story/article, call and let them know. If you think a written or "on-air" correction is warranted, ask for one.
Taking Charge: News Media Relations in the 1990's. Co-sponsored by the National Broiler Council and Southeastern Poultry & Egg Association. Poised for the Press: Creating Smooth Media Relations. University of Missouri. 1991. VHS.
Publication date: Dec. 29, 1998
Revised: Oct. 4, 2023
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