How To Make The News

Bookmark and Share This is a “how to” for you all you activists out there.

It is for those of you who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.  It is also for those of you who are so caring that you are helping others through efforts in your community.  It is for those of you who realize that one person can FreePressmake a difference and are willing to get off your rumps to make that difference.

You may be involved in something that is currently a minor effort.  Maybe you are assisting senior citizens on your block.  Maybe you are organizing a tea party protest.  Whatever the effort, you could be doing something that involves or could involve more than ones self.

That small effort, that personal goal could become a bigger than life event that gets attention and involves many more people and ultimately creates more help for others,  prompts greater awareness of an issue or cause or expedites positive societal change.

Such efforts begin with getting your word out and there are few better ways to get the word than through the endless opportunities available through what is commonly called earned media or what most people would call “free press”.  The contemporary proliferation of informational sources and news outless is infinitessimal and it is all available to you if you know how to take advantage of it.

So how do you turn your effort and cause into something that hundreds of thousands of people hear about on the radio, watch on television or read about on the internet or in the newspaper?

It all starts with a press release.

Press releases are an important initial step in getting your message out.

Done properly a press release helps to spread your message. However, an effective press release goes beyond what you want to say. A truly effective press release approaches the story from the perspective of the reporters or media outlets that you hope cover your narrative.

A reporter or news outlet is looking for stories that are topical and or controversial They want to write about something that grabs peoples attention. A press release discussing your monthly garage sale or monthly group meeting is not a story that they will consider dedicating much ink or airtime to. For your press release to get any type of significant news coverage you need a good sense of what is commonly called “spin” and you must “spin” your story into something that has greater ramifications than what it may convey on the surface.

Contemporary technology has only helped to exaggerate the long held rule of thumb, “if it bleeds, it reads”. The juicier the stories the greater the coverage. Thankfully and hopefully the press release you wish to distribute does not consists of gruesome mayhem but short of being as dramatic as some acts of violence how can you insure that your story gets covered?

What one can do is craft their press release into something that relates your topic to other newsworthy events at the time.

For instance, if one were to be organizing an event dealing with high taxes, they would be wise to try to piggy back their event to something such as state budget negotiations. The turmoil that revolves around the creation of a state budget is often heavily followed by news outlets. As such your press release could directly connect your tax protest to the newsworthy, controversial budget negotiations. During times like that, a press release with a headline like “TAXPAYERS REVOLT AS THE DEADLINE FOR A STATE BUDGET APPROACHES” will catch the attention of print, television and radio journalists as well as bloggers. For those looking for a good story to tell, your headline provides a new and saucy angle for them to cover.

Once you have your angle and headline, your press release should be as brief as possible and precise as possible.

Reporters often tend to take a news story in their own direction. That makes it incumbent upon you to write a press release that is strong and unambiguous, leaving no room for reporters to interpret your press release in any way other than the way you want. Crucial to this control of the story is selecting a press secretary or group spokesman and there must only be only one. A single spokesman helps to insure that the focus of the story never wanders off into an unintended direction.

The opening sentences of your release should contain the gist of your story. Using the same story example I previously gave it might read “Fed up with the high cost of living and ever increasing taxes, a grassroots network of Georgia taxpayers are banding together and preparing for a massive march on Atlanta”.

This initial statement, after your headline, makes clear what your release is all about and if it sounds important and big enough to the reporter reading it, they will continue to go on and read the details contained in the rest of the release. But before you get into those details, such as time, date and place, now that you have captured the attention of the reporter or news outlet you can begin to embellish the importance of your event.

You can start citing some of the conditions which inspired your grass root movement and then go into details about the group itself. Explain that participants in your effort span a cross section of citizenry ranging from housewives to business leaders and from teenagers to senior citizens.

At this point it would be important to briefly demonstrate some of the organizational capabilities of your group. At some point you should be able to refer to something like your “online headquarters” where members meet and coordinate their efforts. For this you should have a convenient web address that a good reporter will include in their story. This will increase traffic to your site and increase membership.

It is also good to have the ability to refer to a group blog.

One of the best blogging platforms is wordpress.com. WordPress is free and offers a wide range of templates as well as numerous pages and the use of widgets that enable you to provide links to anything that you want observers to have access to.

If you have a blog that contains compelling posts about your cause and that come from the view points of different groups members, this will help add credence to the newsworthiness of your story and offer insightful background to anyone covering your press release. Just be sure to have enough data, blog posts and information on it to impress the reporter. A blank blog that has infrequent posts will only leave the impression of an empty , inactive organization and not lend any weight to the capabilities or seriousness of your effort.

With all this in mind it is important to correctly present your well worded, carefully crafted press release.

Typically the top of your release contains a group image and heading. Below that, on the left, in bold and capital letters is the phrase FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE and below that goes the title, name and telephone number of the contact person for your story.

                                                                                                     ———————

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                      July 1, 2009

       Contact: Barack H. Obama
       Press Secretary 202-666-6663

                                                                                                       ———————

Following that goes your headline centered and in capital and bold print.
                                                                                                        ———————–

      I.e.:

 “TAXPAYERS REVOLT AS THE DEADLINE FOR A STATE BUDGET APPROACHES” 

                                                                                                       ———————-

After the body of your press release is written typically its end is confirmed by the typing of three number signs, below the story and centered on the page.
                                                                                                        ———————-

                                                                                                          I.e.:    ###

                                                                                                     ————————

Once the hard part is done the frustrating part begins.

It is the part involving the development of your media list and getting your press release out and into the right hands. For a list of news outlets in their own state one can go to :

http://www.usnpl.com/

In many cases you may have to call and verify any numbers you get or for a proper fax number to a news desk or assignment editor.

For major daily newspapers one is wise to send several releases to several different entities at the same paper. You may want to send one to the assignment editor or assignment desk, and in many cases, you will want to send one directly to one or two reporters who tend to cover stories similar to the one you are issuing.

In all cases write on a cover sheet or on the top of the press release to who’s attention you want. For example, ATTN: Larry Higgins or ATTN: Assignment Editor

Be prepared to spend more time on trying to assemble an effective media list than on writing your actual release. Also anticipate having to resend your release a few times. If you are persistent, it will be worth it. But you have to be sure to cover all your bases and that includes the many small weekly newspapers that are out there.

For those local weeklys it is best to establish a more personal touch though. If you live in Franklin Lakes and are reaching out to a local newspaper in Cape May, you might be wise to alter your press release and use a Cape May resident as the focus of the story. Local papers are more likely to cover events involving their local readers. By taking this route some weekly newspaper editor is more likely to allow the paper to do a story that can contain a headline that reads “Cape May Man Cultivates Grass Root Tax Protest” than they are to run a story about somebody in Franklin Lakes.

And don’t ignore you local weekly’s. Often times major daily’s will pick up on a story that they come across in those periodicals.

If you present your story properly and professionally and articulate your case in a way that makes a reporter say “this is good stuff” in time, they will be coming to you before you get to them.

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