In this presentation we explain what constitutes “the media” and how it operates; the basic information journalists will seek to report a news story; how to develop a communications plan; how to write documents aimed at the media and how to pitch reporters.
Who Are the Media
The term “media” is used to describe a variety of information outlets such as newspapers, television networks, radio stations and web sites, which disseminate information to the public.
These outlets differ in size and scope, breadth of readership and the audience they target.
They are populated by professionally trained journalists and self-taught writers and producers.
With the advent of New Media there are many outlets to pitch your story to and they focus on a range of different subjects.
Although media outlets may be structured differently, there are some common features in the way they are organized to cover the news.
What is a “Beat”
A beat describes the issue, community, or professional sector that a reporter covers. Additionally, there are reporters that employ beat reporters to varying degrees.
Depending on the size and scope of the outlet, there may be highly specialized beats such as poverty or parenting.
An alternative to beat reporters in seeking coverage in print or online media are columnists and bloggers. Newspapers employ a team of writers with leeway to express their opinions and the blogosphere is filled with opinionated writers who similarly enjoy the freedom to express their views about issues that are important to them.
Some outlets organize their columnists in specific sections of the paper such as Metro, Finance or Style sections. Political and social issues columnists are featured on the op ed pages.
Bureaus and Desks
A news bureau is an office for gathering and distributing news. It may describe geographic location or scope of coverage. For example, many mainstream media outlets maintain a bureau in Washington DC to cover “beats” such as the White House or State Department.
A news desk refers to the location(s) within a media outlet where reporters receive their assignments and the coordination of news stories begin. For example, the New York Times has a metro (local) news desks, as well as national, foreign, sports, business, arts and entertainment and culture desk.
For spot news or media events, Assignment Editors should always be on your lists of people to contact.
Types of Media
Print -- National, Local and Alternative Newspapers, Periodicals, Blogs
Broadcast--National, Local and Cable Television News and News Programs, Radio, News and News Programs.
Web--On-line News Sites and Blogs
A “wire” is a news distribution service that produces news reports and sells their copy or video to subscribing media outlets.
Wire services transmit information on a rolling basis, including a significant amount of breaking news. The large services have offices in major cities throughout the country and across the globe.
The distribution of wire service content can allow you to get your story in a paper or on television or radio that is not able to assign their reporters to cover the story because of limited resources.
Wire service stories generally appear on-line even if they are not picked up and they are updated as more news in the story develops. EXAMPLES: Associated Press, Reuters, Inter-Press Service, Dow Jones, Agence France Presse, EFE (Spain’s Wire)
National papers in this country include The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal
These papers report on news that impacts the country and the globe as well as stories local to their home base
These publications often have at least one reporter, if not an entire bureau, located in other major media markets including internationally.
Local Newspapers focus on the city or township where they are located in and o the neighboring suburbs or cities. Depending on size, they may have limited international news coverage. Mid sized papers such as The Baltimore Sun may rely on freelancers (“stringers” ) to cover stories in far flung markets.
Alternative Weeklies such as New York’s Village Voice or Washington D.C’S City Paper are newspapers that report on local news and events. These papers tend to run longer stories with more analysis and are generally progressive editorially. Many of these publications focus on cultural activities and are a good place to seek free listings for public events.
Periodicals are magazines and can generally be broken down into the categories news, trade or general interest.
News magazines like Newsweek, Time and the Economist report on current events and/or provide analysis and opinion.
Trade magazines report on a particular business sector or professional community, such as the Chronicle of Philanthropy or Crain’s Business .
General interest magazines tend to target a specific audience such as women, men or progressives and inform the reader about a variety of products, services and issues that would be appealing to that particular group of people
Broadcast media refers to both television and radio.
Television is a visual medium and as a result requires pictures to help tell the story.
Radio requires audio and in general due to the prevalence of talk radio programs allows for more discussion than other types of news programming.
Radio can be a great resource when you do not have a specific story but rather have a perspective you would like to vocalize.
Radio and television programming often follows up on stories that appear in print media.
Historically television news in this country was confined to the 3 big networks: ABC,CBS and NBC
These networks distribute news across the country through affiliates who pay the network for content.
With the advent of Cable Television and CNN’s introduction of the 24 hour news cycle the game changed. Now broadcast networks also own cable stations.
The networks are based in New York with large bureaus in Washington DC and smaller bureaus in large cities such as Chicago or Los Angeles and a limited number of bureaus globally. CNN is based in Atlanta and also has a global presence through CNN International
National networks may also have specialized units such as the Law and Justice Unit at ABC News , which develops legal stories for network news shows.
The networks also produce news magazine shows, e.g. 60 Minutes (CBS), talk and morning shows such as Good Morning America (ABC). Cable offers a bevy of talk shows such as Countdown on MSNBC and Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN.
Radio news is structured like Television with news desks, assignment editors, and beats
The major television networks all have their own radio networks.
In addition, there are publicly supported networks such as National Public Radio, American Public Media and Public Radio International.
A great resource for progressives is the listener sponsored stations associated with the Pacifica Radio Network and Free Speech Radio, which supply programming to stations across the country.
The New Kids on The Block in the radio world are subscription-based satellite networks like Sirius XM radio which carry commercial-free programming.
Many people use the web to access their news. As a result, news organizations are developing a larger and more diverse presence on the internet.
Most news outlets have websites which often break news as well as recycle updated content from their print or broadcast editions.
There are a news websites which are exclusive to the web, such as AlterNet, Salon, Slate , Politico The Root and TruthOut.
Blogs (we b log ) is a website with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Many news organizations have now created blogs and reporters will augment news stories with commentary addressing particular aspects of an issue addressed in the news.
Getting Press: How to Get your Stories in the News
Make a plan.
Find a Hook. Examples: filing a lawsuit, staging a compelling event or issuing a report that breaks new ground.
Build a narrative with compelling characters.
Advance the story by adding something new.
Make the Plan
The purpose of a strategic communications plan is to integrate an organization’s programs, public education and advocacy efforts with your media outreach
By planning a long-term strategy with shorter-term benchmarks, you will be positioned to be proactive, rather than just reacting to the existing environment.
A plan will also help you to asses your capacity as an organization to execute media events and related activities.
Communications Plan Checklist
What are your goals?
Who is/are the audience(s)?
Who is/are your target(s)?
What is your frame?
What is your message?
What is your story?
Who will do the work?
Typically your audience will include a range of people and institutions including affected parties, stakeholders and decision makers.
In identifying your audience consider who has the ability to affect the change you seek.
Identifying your audience will help you refine the media outlets to target, the spokespeople you choose as well is what language you use for your messages.
Identifying Media Targets
Your media targets should correspond to your audiences. What media does the audience you want to reach, read, watch or listen to?
However, keep in mind our earlier discussion of how the media works. Sometimes your story will not meet the standard for placement in the publication that might influence your audience the most.
But remember : you can build your story and your visibility with a series of placements in smaller venues until the big media if forced to take notice.
Stories, Frames and Messages
News always includes a frame and a story. The story is the news. It’s the subject’s or source’s role to supply the messages.
The frame is the context in which the story is presented. The frame determines how the story and the interaction between characters in the story is reported.
The message is what the audience will be left with from each character. Messages are conveyed in the form of quotes.
Getting the word out to Reporters
In the case of legal filings, first ascertain if local media assigns reporters to cover the Courts and approach them first. However, it is also important to consider that your case might be of interest to non-legal reporters or columnists based on the facts, or the political context, etc. If your client has a very compelling story there may be an opportunity for a feature piece. In addition, the case may raise tangential issues that merit stand alone stories.
Regardless of what the story you need to provide them with succinct written materials. There are several different types of written documents that can be used to reach out to them and they are described on the next slide.
The Written Word
A Pitch letter or email- A pitch letter is an individualized request to a journalist to cover a particular story, to interview a particular person or attend an event. Short and sweet, the pitch should be an attention grabbing missive that also provides the journalist with enough information for them to want to hear more.
A Media Advisory/Alert- - A media advisory is designed to draw media to events by communicating the Who What Where When and Why of your activity.
News or Press Release- - We like to use the term News Release in order to reinforce what should be obvious, you shouldn’t be sending such a document out unless you have some NEWS! The format of a news release should mimic that of a newspaper story. That is, it should have a headline and, when necessary, a sub-headline and then your text. As for the text we recommend you use the inverted pyramid style favored by journalists that places the most important and recent news up front. The format is valued because readers can get the point of the story in the first three paragraphs.
The Press Statement-- The press statement is a useful tool to respond to breaking news. Typically it is a reactive piece that lays out your groups position on a story in the news.
Available for Comment/Interview – The purpose of this document is to alert journalists that you have opinion and expertise to relevant to breaking news.
Getting the Word Out
Timing– the timing for distribution of press materials is not something you will always have total control over. In general you want to give journalist adequate time (especially with complex stories) to review the material and write their story
Tools – there are a number of different tools for distributing media documents. The distribution process should always be streamlined. All persons distributing press material should be in contact so that reporters do not receive duplicate materials, this will leave the impression that your organization or coalition is disorganized which could impact the reporter’s desire to cover you. Examples of fee-based data distribution tools : Cision, PR Newswire Wire, Vocus
You should also establish your own customized databases of journalists who may be interested in your work.
Pitching Reporters: You Have to Follow Up
To pitch is simply to contact a journalist and try to persuade them that a story is worth writing about, an event is worth covering or an individual is worth quoting. Often (particularly if you are unfamiliar with the reporter) your first pitch to will come via a press release, media advisory or an email pitch.
However, always consider a follow up phone call
A productive phone conversation can give you insight into what journalists think is most interesting about the story you are seeking to tell. And, a successful call, is a great vehicle for building relationships
Let’s Play Ball: Tips for Pitching Your Story
Learn about the journalist you are pitching, what they cover, their style, and as much history about them as possible. Read their stories
Find a "hook." Think about how to make the story fresh and relevant and link it to something that is getting coverage in the news cycle or is connected to breaking news.
Be clear about who you represent and the exact reason for your call.
Be well-versed in the subject you are calling about.
Be confident and self-assured.
Assume that the person you are pitching knows the issues well
Call at the wrong time. Journalists have deadlines. Get to know and respect them
Come off as timid, meek or nervous
Make anything up
Pitching Scenario 1 What if you called a reporter three times and he/she still does not return your call?
Use common sense. Don’t beat a dead horse. But also don’t be discouraged.
Although tenacity gets results, you should exercise judgment to determine if the pitch is falling on deaf ears.
Pitch to your top tier media outlets first and if you get no traction there, go to tier two and make the most of it.
Pitching Scenario 2 What if you’ve pitched an NBC producer and his/her competitor from ABC calls you independently and wants to pursue the same story?
Don’t play games. If you get a commitment from NBC, be up front with ABC. Treat both reporters honestly and they will respect you.
If the pitch with the NBC reporter has not closed the deal, use the interest from the other reporter to force the issue, or move on to the other reporter.
No matter what you do, don’t be dishonest because you will alienate both reporters.