Telling important, human stories is really the heart of our work, but to do that effectively, we need to cultivate healthy relationships with journalists. Reporters hold the keys to the kingdom; they can decide what is or isn’t reported on, and they have a lot of influence over what we read in a paper, watch on a television, listen to on a radio, or see online.
If you understand the building blocks of a news story, and recognize what kind of information a journalist is looking for, you can better navigate—and even steer—any conversation.
1. Be proactive.
Don’t just reach out to journalists when you need something. Rather focus on building real, professional relationships. Engage with journalists on Twitter or offer to meet over coffee. Establish that you can serve as a resource and are willing to help journalists connect with interviewees.
2. Be clear in your message.
If you’re writing and pitching an opinion piece, make sure your argument is clear throughout. Op-eds need to outline your beliefs and address any opposition. Be punchy in your language and definitive in your stance.
3. Be aware.
Before you pitch to journalists, do your research. Know their beat, know the kind of stories they cover, and know their interests. If you send out a release to every reporter in a newsroom, it will likely be binned before it is ever read. If pitching to a specific outlet, be sure to know its standards, tone, and audience.
4. Be concise.
Your pitch is not your media release—the media release is where you can tell the bigger story, but a pitch is an appetizer. It summarizes the story’s key elements and introduces a journalist to the who, what, and why. Keep pitches short and simple. Try to evoke feeling and always tell why this story is important to the audience. After you’ve pitched a story, follow up by phone or email.
5. Be sure to ask, “Why now?”
Before you ever hit send on a press release, you need to know why you’re pitching this story now—is it timely? Does it add to a current national conversation? A press release is only newsworthy if it offers new information. For example, if you’re releasing a new report, what about this report is different than its predecessors? And always ask yourself, “why?" How does it impact them? What is the real-life results of the information you’re sharing?
6. Be prepared.
When going into an interview, do your homework. What’s the angle for this story? What is it you want people to know about your work? Prepare at least three strong, succinct talking points and be ready to share them. During an interview, keep answers direct, brief, and honest, and keep the interview focused on the messages you want to share. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to say you would prefer to follow-up afterwards.
7. Be responsive.
After an interview, follow up with the reporter, especially if there is additional data or multimedia you can offer. Any information that can help you tell your story and share your message is useful.