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

Reporters are always looking for story ideas. Increase your chances of being covered by knowing and working with local reporters. The more familiar you are with reporters and their work, the better your chances of having them cover your organization. Know the names of reporters who cover issues and stories of interest to you. Introduce your commission or volunteer organization by sending a pitch letter (see example on page 21) and calling and asking for a meeting to discuss your issues or projects. Award and recognize reporters who have contributed to your efforts.

Always remember that you are competing with other stories for both time and space. There is generally more news and information each day than can fit in the newspaper or on a TV news broadcast. Also, news must be timely. You must ensure that your story is more interesting than competing stories for an editor to grant the space needed to print it. Provide facts and figures. If a controversy exists, educate the media about it. Controversy makes for a more interesting story.

There is a glut of information and news. The stories we see, hear, or read in the news have withstood a drastic process of elimination, and newsroom trash cans are full of unused correspondence. Editors determine what is news and what is not. Public relations material, such as a news release, will be used some of the time, not used at other times, and can undergo considerable editorial change. If your story doesn’t appear in the news, or isn’t exactly what you wanted, don’t go away mad or give up—continue to communicate with editors and reporters.

However, be careful when dealing with stories you feel were unfair or provided misinformation. Remember, reporters can make honest mistakes. Call the reporter directly and use phrases such as, “I’m sure that wasn’t your intention, but I felt that your story.…” or, “I enjoyed many parts of your story, however.…” Tell them nicely if you are planning to write a letter to the editor with your opinion about their story.

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