Working with the Media: A Guide for Volunteer Organizations and Commissions

“Tree commission plans to remove 60 dangerous trees.”

“Volunteers work to repair damaged stream.”

“Developer works with municipality and homeowner group to conserve open space.”

Information in the news release should flow from the most important facts to those of lesser significant. The opening paragraph or paragraphs should include the most important facts and answer the “five W’s”—who, what, when, why, and where. They should be accurate, concise, complete, and interesting. Avoid expressing personal opinions or making editorial comments. Keep the story brief and to the point, and use short sentences and paragraphs. Always be accurate when writing releases. Make sure all facts, such as dates, times, places, and spelling of names, are correct. If opposing viewpoints or controversy exist, include a summary in the news release. Controversy makes for a more interesting story.

It is true that “names make the news.” Feature the names of speakers, leaders, officials, and sponsoring organizations. Using quotes from people can also be quite effective. If you use quotes, provide contact information for the people quoted so reporters can contact them. If possible, include a “story within a story” about an involved or affected person: “Bob Miller, age 82, has been a member of the tree commission for over 45 years” or “Sharon Gold has fought to conserve open space for the last 25 years.”

Ideally, the release will attract reporters to the event or to call you for more information, but releases should provide enough information so that a story can be written even if the reporter does not follow up. Re-leases should have a “hook” or “news peg”—something new or unique that makes readers sit up and take notice.

Releases should be distributed by mail, e-mail, and fax about two weeks before any event. Send it to the editors and reporters you have developed relationships with. You may also want to follow up with telephone calls. Many organizations are active with releases, preparing one every month. Although this may be difficult, it helps keep the media aware of the organization and what it is doing.

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