Getting some media attention can take you from zero to hero. It doesn’t have to be CNN or The Washington Post, either – local elected officials, from town council to Congress, read their hometown newspapers (or someone from their office does, anyway). That means that no paper or blog or tv or radio station is too small. Follow this guide to launch the issues you care about into the conversation.
Name check: The catch-all word for a newspaper, tv station, radio station, or blog is “news outlet.” We’ll use that phrase here.
Alert the Presses
Planning a protest? Organizing a community service day? Bringing a crowd to a town hall? Let the media know. You might just get some cameras and microphones there. A few things to know about reaching out to journalists:
- They truly want to know what readers, viewers, and listeners are doing in the community. Don’t assume you’re not interesting enough for media coverage.
- Journalists are busy – really busy. Between scouting stories, talking to sources, and writing or producing, it might take a little while to get a call or email back. Local news outlets are working with fewer resources these days and their journalists are juggling long to-do lists.
And the Pitch!
Now you’ll want to draft a strong pitch to show why you’re worth covering. Here are some tips for making a good pitch:
Get to the Point
You’re busy, this reporter is busy, everyone’s busy. Make your point as quickly as possible, ideally in the first sentence or two. A long introduction is a surefire way to get your email deleted.
Make It Matter
What you’re doing is important, so write like it. “Ohio’s drug sentencing laws are unfair” is a good start. But “Increased opportunities for rehabilitation would give more people a chance to turn their lives around. And ultimately, these changes would lead to lower recidivism rates, resulting in less crime in our communities.”? Nailed it. (That’s from a 2019 op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch written by two elected officials, one Republican and one Democrat).
Say you think your state legislature should spend more money on a program called Nurse-Family Partnership, which offers at-home nurse visits to first-time, low-income mothers. Be sure to write about how the program results in 67% less behavioral and intellectual problems at age six, a 56% reduction in emergency room visits for accidents and poisonings, and a 59% reduction in child arrests by age 15. Not too shabby.
Include All the Details
Any journalist worth their salt will cover the news using the Five Ws (who, what, when, where, why), so make sure that information comes through in your pitch. Dates, times, locations, speakers, and a short, punchy sentence on why it matters.
Buddy up with bullet points and short sentences. A pitch that’s easy to skim is more likely to get read.
We Need to Talk
An email is great because it can get a journalist’s attention and give them details to refer to. But a conversation is where you’ll really shine. Whether on the phone or in person, here’s how to make sure your voice comes through:
Stay on Message
We should probably call this whole article “Stay on Message.” You know when you listen to an interview and the journalist asks a question, but the person being interviewed answers a different question? That’s staying on message. Before you talk to a journalist, write down the one, single sentence that sums up the reason you’re having this conversation. Come back to it as often as you can, especially if you feel that the discussion is drifting.
Stop When You’re Done
When you’re passionate and knowledgeable about an issue, it can be easy to ramble. Nerves will do that, too. There’s no need to fill space and time – just say what you want to say and stop when you’re done. Remember: you control your message.
Bring a Story
Nothing hits home like an anecdote. It illustrates your point and demonstrates that the issue is worthy of attention.