The media always want good local stories, or a local angle on a national story, especially with a human interest. So if you do have a good story – follow some basic guidelines and you will find the media more receptive than you ever thought.
What kind of story do I have?
There are different types of ‘local story’, not everything is suitable for the news desk itself. The main categories are news, features and listings.
Make sure that it is news in the media sense. Does it break the ‘so what’ barrier. Remember, what is of interest to you about your organisation may not be news.
A ‘human interest’ feature is a personal story, one family’s experience, a triumph over tragedy, anything that is centred on a person or people who have experiences to which readers can relate. An analytical feature could be an opinion piece, a survey based on in-depth research, or a look at the background to current statistics.
When you want to promote a forthcoming event try to make sure it is mentioned in the ‘forthcoming events’ sections of all local papers. Contact local radio as they will often cover an event if they know about it in advance and can send a reporter down.
If your organisation has relatively little exposure in the local media try thinking up an interesting story to feed them. Rack your brains and try to think:
Is there a local person associated with your organisation doing something unusual or interesting?
- Has something you’ve come across while working for your organisation moved or intrigued you? If so, then it’s likely that other local people will be interested too.
- Are there ways in which your organisation can localise national issues?
- Another useful method of hatching ideas for stories is to identify those anecdotes which you yourself would use to describe what is lively and interesting about your organisation. These stories will probably work well for the local media.
- Identify whether your story is exclusive as this may affect the type of coverage it receives. Bear in mind, however, that giving an exclusive to a reporter may mean that other journalists and publications may not cover it so it may not be a risk worth taking.
It is important to remember that once you have created a story you need to keep the momentum going. Editors always appreciate a regular and reliable source of ideas or information and they will not hesitate to approach you when they need a story.
Which media should I approach?
You or someone in your team should become familiar with the local media: the main newspapers and magazines, the free press, the local radio and TV programmes. But ensure that your success story is briefed to deal with the attention they may receive after media coverage.
You need to identify all possible outlets for your story, from mainstream local papers to the trade and free press, and all public and independent radio and TV stations.
Remember, no outlet is too small. Often the freesheets circulated in residential areas are more widely read than national dailies.
Agree on the key messages you want to communicate through the media. This will inform your media output. Choose a maximum of three messages. The key to news coverage is to think of the story first – what the journalist needs – and then find a way to get a key message in there. Remember, it is not often that your organisation itself will be the story.
When do I want this to go out?
Newspaper deadlines are extremely tight – ring up your local newspapers and ask what the deadline for copy is. Television local news requires a fast turnover ñ make sure you are ready with the right people to be filmed that day before you approach them. It is important to get the timing of stories right ñ anything too old, even a great story, just wonít get used. Editors want to know as soon as something has happened, not a few days (or weeks) later.
Getting to know the media
Get to know your local newspaper journalists, they depend on you for their news ñ stories about the local community. Identify the contact name of the right person for your type of story. This is not difficult: just looking through your local paper you will see stories about similar themes to yours – make a note of the section and the writer, and try to place a similar story in the same section yourself.
If you are ‘cold-calling’ a newspaper or local radio, just ask for the name of the most relevant person to your story: the News editor, Features editor, Environment Correspondent, Picture Editor for photos.
Make sure you read, listen or watch the publication or programme and are sure that their target audience matches yours. Look at the type of stories they cover and most importantly, where they stand on certain issues. You may find one newspaper more open to your organisation if they have previously run campaigns on the same subject you deal with.
Getting in touch
Start with a phone call to the newspaper or broadcast outlet to find out which department or journalist deals with your type of story.
The first time you call, introduce yourself and ask whether it is a good time, or if it would be better for you to call another time. Once you have them listening ask about their deadlines – when do they go to press, when do they have a news meeting, when would they like to be contacted. Ask what kind of stories they are interested in – and listen.
Make sure you get their direct phone line if they have one and their e-mail address. Be ready to email them immediately with your press release or another clear, snappy document.
Keep a note of the journalist’s responses – it might be worth making a file. Then, each time you call them make a note of when it was and what was discussed. When you call again, remind the journalist what you discussed before. This helps build the relationship. Invite them to any event your organisation might have – once you meet face-to-face they are more likely to remember you. If you know a journalist personally, do call them first and offer your story or ask their advice about placing it.
Do I have photos?
Are there good quality photos available, or a photo opportunity for the press? Photographs can make all the difference, especially in local newspapers: a story is much more likely to be printed with a good photo. Even just a photo with a caption is a good way to get coverage. Get to know a local photographer with news experience, and build up a bank of good pictures. Good visuals are central to successful television coverage too so think about a good visual if youíre targeting television.
It is important when you have a story to run in the local media that you are accessible. When contacting the media, always give your contact numbers including your home or mobile phone – being accessible out of office hours may prove the difference between a story being run or pulled.
If your story gets dropped from the broadcast, or gets bounced from the front page to half a column in the paper’s bowels, don’t despair. It doesn’t necessarily mean your story is not newsworthy. Agendas change all the time. Editors have a range of pressures to juggle and stories often get overtaken by events and dropped. Therefore if your story does not succeed at first, and can stand the test of time, get in contact with newspaper or broadcaster to try and find it a new angle or slot.
Establish your expertise
This is a more long-term approach. You can establish yourself with local media as the first port of call, the expert on your issue, whom journalists will want to consult again and again.
If a big story breaks (nationally or locally) in your organisation’s sphere, the most knowledgeable member of your team should call the media to offer a quote or an interview immediately.
If you have done some new research on a local issue, let the media know. Always give full contact numbers (including home and mobile telephone) for easy access to the relevant expert.
Keep up the effort!
Don’t forget – you are not going to get every story you suggest to the publication or programme covered – don’t take it personally!
- Identify who will deal with the media
- Identify your best spokesperson – make sure they are comfortable in front of a camera
- Find an articulate, friendly, well-informed and easily reachable person you can field to the press for interview. This will not necessarily be your Chief Executive. Always give their home or mobile number for easy access (they will only be called at home if a story is likely to go ahead, so it’s worth it).
Be ready – Have back up photos, case studies and people prepared for interview. Identify your story and your media outlet? – Who, where, when, what are you doing? Do you have photos to go with the text? Which media should you send it to?
Be creative – Find a way to link up local events with the ‘buzz’ of a national issue. Organise events with local people or in a local venue if you possibly can, but if not, focus on some appealing aspect of what you do and the people you work with.
Write a news release and follow it up
Be persistent – When you are rejected, keep working down the list of possible outlets. It is more satisfying to get a nice story in a small local freesheet than nothing at all in the Sydney Morning Herald.