Basics of Working with the News Media
Think like a Journalist
One of the first steps in effective media relations is to understand the perspective of the news media. By asking yourself, “What makes my Safe Routes to School program newsworthy?” you are one step closer to seeing your program in the headlines.
If you would like to invite the media to an event or pitch a story to a journalist, first ask yourself, how can I offer the media an interesting story? Gather information you can offer the journalist, such as how the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program impacts the community, the number of children walking and bicycling within the program and the effect the program has had on the children and school. If possible, find out information about the types of stories the journalist writes and offer information to support those types of stories. For more information on finding newsworthy elements within your program, read more about developing your hooks.
Accuracy is Essential
A journalist’s reputation, both in the newsroom and with their audience, is dependent on their ability to accurately report the news. Journalists rely on their sources to provide them with accurate, credible information. If you can position yourself as a reliable source of information to a journalist, then they will be more likely to call you for information surrounding a story and also respond to your story ideas.
If you are unsure or unaware of the answer to a journalist’s question, it is best to say “I don’t know, but I can find out” and follow through on that promise. After an interview, if you realize you misspoke or gave false information, call the reporter right away and give them the accurate information.
Being a Journalist is not a 9 to 5 Job
Understanding the difference in a journalist’s deadline and your own is important. News is happening 24 hours a day, and the media works around the clock to cover it. A journalist does not call at 4:50 p.m. on a Friday afternoon to annoy you. They simply may have just started their “day” or just been handed the assignment. If you are able to work with the media under their tight deadlines, you will be seen as an asset.
“No Comment” is not an Option
It is never a good idea to answer a question with “no comment.” In the eyes of the reader or audience, “no comment” is an automatic assumption of guilt or wrongdoing. It is important to anticipate difficult questions that could potentially be asked, and prepare sincere, honest answers. For example, if it is a school’s policy to not discuss pending policy, then let the reporter know this instead of saying, “no comment.”
“Off the Record” is off the Table
Always assume that anything you say in an interview will appear in the story. There is no binding agreement that requires a reporter to honor an “off the record” comment, so even if you were to give information off the record, there is no guarantee it will stay off the record. In addition, if you are an employee of the government or some other public agency, any information you provide is public record.
Work Together as a Team
Media organizations are increasingly promoting their own worthy causes. Approach your local television, radio or newspaper about the possibility of working together to co-promote Safe Routes to School. Many times, news anchors or other media personalities can record public service announcements surrounding SRTS issues such as pedestrian safety or Walk to School Day.