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Know the Media

Particularly if you are frequently organizing meetings, news conferences, or other events where you would like media coverage, it pays to make an effort to meet and get to know TV, radio and print reporters and editors, and talk show hosts.  In small communities, this can be quite easy, and the liberal bias may be less of a problem.  Show up at their office (or call and set up an appointment) and ask to talk to the reporters, editors, and talk hosts who deal with local political issues; explain what you are doing or describe your organization, give them some background information, and invite their questions.  Ask how you can help them.  Get their email and fax so you can send news releases, photos and statements directly to them.  The reporters at your all-news radio station will be particularly valuable to talk to or meet.

It may be tougher to actually meet the reporters, editors, and talk hosts at large papers or radio & television stations due to security, schedules and workload--and certainly liberal bias; but the effort can pay off and you certainly can talk to them on the phone.  Study the papers to learn those who write fairly and those who frequently write attack pieces, and act accordingly when you speak to them.  Keep in mind that there are plenty of fair and honest reporters who will gather interviews in good faith, only to have a liberal editor completely change the story--to turn a good story into a hatchet job.  When being interviewed, don't necessarily trust statements such as "this is going to be a positive story" (they actually may say this!) unless you actually know the reporter and the editorial slant of the paper.

The payoff comes later, when you are organizing an event: your news release or phone call may get more attention as they will recognize your name or organization.  "Hey, Joe; we're having a news conference next week" is far better than "Are you the person who assigns reporters?--we're having a news conference..."

Small papers may appreciate having you send them photos and reports about other events of interest, and especially achievements of local residents; and this can further cultivate a good relationship.  Many news websites have an email or "report news" link, so take advantage of it to report news of a conservative nature or even some good news!

Don't necessarily expect reporters to honor "off the record" statements; and act as if they mean you harm, at least until you learn if they can be trusted.  See #12 above for tips on avoiding statements which can be easily taken out of context. 

Countless people have been fooled by reporters saying "this won't be a negative story" or "trust me," only to deeply regret it when the attack piece hits the newsstands with quotes and mis-quotes taken out of context, and text that falsely paints them or their organization/company as 'public enemy number one.' Thus speak carefully, but don't hesitate to describe your project or issue.  You can follow up good or bad reporting with a letter to the editor: offer thanks plus additional information, or state why a hatchet job was wrong and offer the truth.  Call the good reporter and thank him, tell him you'll contact him next time you have an event and ask for his email.

Learn the websites and blogs which cover your community or issue, and correspond, "friend," Tweet or meet with their authors as well.  They'll appreciate you sending them tips and material as well.  Add your comments at existing blogs or start your own.

Communicating to the Media:

Learning how to write a successful news release can make a big difference, as a poorly written one will often get discarded regardless of it's merit.  Basically you want a punchy headline, the most important details and names at the top in concise sentences, a few good, short quotes, and put less important details at the end.  Search the web for tutorials on writing a news release: "how to write a news release" finds many pages of tips.  The more a release is written like a newspaper story, the more likely it will be considered for use at all.

PRweb.com distributes news releases to their lists of media for various fees. I-NewsWire.com is another.

A "news advisory" can be used to briefly announce an upcoming event, book signing, or an availability for interviews.  A "news release" can be used for any event, speech, activity, etc., whether in advance, during or afterwards.  "Citizens deliver 1,000 tax-cut petitions to city hall" makes for many media opportunities; for example: a notice a week in advance, another the day before, a release on the day of the event with photos of it, a follow up release the day after, and a letter to the editor soon after.

Create an "electronic press kit" on your website where you have news releases, photos, videos, bios and background info on your organization and the event. Upload event photos and videos immediately after your event. This makes the reporter's job easier.

Major cities will often have a news "daybook" run by AP or other media organizations, where you can call/email/fax a day or more before your event to place your event on a list of events which editors and reporters check to decide what events they want to cover. Daybook info.

If you are planning a conference, meeting, rally, or news conference near Washington, DC, don't miss out on having a C-SPAN camera there.  They may also send a free-lancer to important events in other cities.  Call them a day in advance and perhaps they will send a camera! www.cspan.org  Name-brand speakers--like a Congressman, author, etc; very timely topics; a large audience; and a convenient location all are factors in encouraging C-SPAN and other media to attend.

You should build up an email and fax list of the media in your area.  Newspaper and radio/TV station websites will often list email addresses and fax numbers.  A press kit can include a news release, photos (better yet: a CD of photos, or the web address for downloading) of your event/projects, biographies of key participants or leaders/speakers at your event, background papers on the organization and the issue(s), and other materials of possible use by the media.  Put the contents of the press kit on your website for easy access by reporters, and include the website page in your news release.

A "news actuality" is a short statement or "sound-bite" of a newsmaker which you email or play over the phone to a radio station for them to run.  By recording speeches or statements at your events, you can select the very best sound bite to use as an actuality.  An MP3 recorder or cassette recorder with a good microphone or wired into your sound system is useful here.  A cheap recorder placed far from the speaker will not give you "broadcast quality" sound.  Smaller or independent TV and radio stations are more likely to use actualities and VNRs due to their limited staff and budget.

A "video news release" (VNR) is a well-edited bit of video footage from your event, which smaller TV stations just might run as-is, or play the visuals while their reporter describes the event.  You shoot, they play.

Blogs and news websites should be a vital part of your communications to the media. You can usually find their email address on their site.

In all cases, get your information to the press rapidly--tomorrow is forever in today's fast-paced news cycle!

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