Know your media market
News organizations usually do not think of their coverage areas as being a particular city or county but as a marketing area that can be as small as a single neighborhood or as large as a dozen counties.
In large media markets such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and other major cities, the market extends out beyond the suburban areas and includes millions of households. Even though there are dozens of media outlets in these major markets, it is much more difficult to get local coverage of small events because there is so much competition for the limited newspaper space and radio and television airtime. Many large daily newspapers have localized editions targeting specific geographical parts of the metropolitan area. And, these local editions often have space regularly devoted to neighborhood news and calendars of local events that provide opportunities for coverage. Large newspapers may have special sections devoted to local education or arts coverage each week. Major metropolitan areas also may have neighborhood or suburban newspapers that are entirely devoted to local news coverage and these publications are often eager to receive local news items. Because radio and television stations are unable to localize their coverage, it is much more difficult to get their attention or receive coverage for small events or school news. The best approach to obtaining television coverage in large markets is through feature or human-interest stories that provide an opportunity for interesting video and audio to accompany the story.
Smaller media markets usually present better opportunities for obtaining local news coverage. They also provide a better opportunity for you to develop an ongoing relationship with an editor or reporter who covers education news. Even so, you need to be aware that there is competition for space and airtime and newspapers and stations will try to balance their coverage to include news from every part of their market area. Your news items still must be newsworthy and don’t expect to receive more than your share of coverage.
Regardless of the size of your market, you should do a comprehensive search and make a listing of all the news sources that cover your area. Don’t limit your search to just traditional newspapers, radio stations and television stations. Seek out community bulletin boards, local calendars of events, special interest publications, local web blogs and newsletters.
Know your news organizations
Before making any contact with a news organization, do as much research as you can about each one. The best place to start is the organization’s web page. These web
3sites usually include contact information and directions on submitting news items but they rarely tell you everything you need to know. After you have gathered as much information as you can from the Internet, you will probably need to call each organization for more detailed information.
Here is a list of information you need about each news organization:
- What is the deadline for submitting local news items and events?
- How do they prefer to receive news releases -- by mail, fax or email?
- What is the phone number or email address for submissions?
- Should news releases be directed to the attention of a particular individual?
- If they prefer email submissions, do they want the news release in the body of the email or as an attachment?
- If the news release is an email attachment, do they prefer a word processing document or a .pdf file?
- Is there a specific editor or reporter assigned to cover education or fine arts news?
- Is there a feature editor or reporter assigned to human interest stories?
- Do they accept photographs or only use those taken by their own photographers?
Most news organizations are glad to provide this information and do it routinely because it makes their jobs easier. Following each organizations guidelines and preferences will increase your chances of getting coverage.
Writing a news release
Always submit your news in writing to make it easy on the news organization and to ensure that the information they receive is correct. Do not call and expect them to take the information down over the phone.
Make certain that the contact person is available to answer any questions or provide additional information. Always return phone calls from reporters as soon as possible because they may be up against a deadline.
News releases should be written in “newspaper style,” that means following the same rules for punctuation, abbreviation, spelling and grammar used by most newspapers. The closer you follow the style rules, the more professional your news release will look. The best-known stylebooks are the Associated Press Stylebook and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Another good resource is the Associated Press Guide to Newswriting. They may be available in your library or from a journalism class at your school and they can be purchased online.
Here are some guidelines for writing a news release:
- Always include the name of a contact person with a telephone number and/or email address at the top of the news release, separate from the body of the release. Do not include the contact name and number in the body of the news release unless you want it published and available to the public.
- Always put the current date at the top of the news release.
- The lead, or first paragraph, should be simple and answer three of the basic news questions: Who, what and when.
- Use the “inverted pyramid” with the most important information at the top and the least important at the bottom.
- Use short sentences and short paragraphs.
- Avoid using professional jargon, abbreviations or terms the average person may not understand.
- If possible, allow someone to read a draft of the news release to check for errors, completeness and clarity.
- Limit the length to one page single-spaced or two pages double-spaced.
- Below the last line of the news release, center “-end-“ or “###” to indicate the ending.
- Keep the format plain and simple using standard type sizes and fonts: Arial or Times Roman.
Smaller newspapers may publish the entire news release word for word but you should never expect nor insist that they do so. A news release is not the same as purchasing an ad. With a news release, you are requesting free coverage and the news organization is free to edit, rewrite and shorten your news release.
After you have submitted a news release, it is acceptable to follow up with a phone call to confirm that the organization received it but do not ask them to contact you to confirm they have received it. Remember, you want to make their job as easy as possible.