Reaching out to local media

9 Jan

Whether you have an established, award-winning publication or a start-up paper, with or without censorship, reaching out–to local media, to politicians, national journalism groups, etc–is imperative. In this post, you’ll learn the value of coordinating with your local media; tomorrow, we will discuss how to reach out to other groups.

A quick introduction: I’m the co-editor-in-chief of The Spoke, a nationally-recognized paper in the suburbs of Philadelphia. We have one local weekly paper, and to be frank, it’s not pretty. Last year, during a school budget crisis, the local paper would interview the same residents at board meetings that I did, then quote the interviewees saying “‘the budget is a mess,’ said one concerned community member” without bothering to identify the person.

Not exactly a model of journalism for my younger reporters, to say the least.

But there is still an opportunity to reach out, and beginning some years ago, that is what my editors did. Over the years, many of my former editors have interned during the summer or school year at the local paper, building a lasting relationship with the publisher. When The Spoke faced censorship a year and a half ago, my previous editor-in-chief turned to the local paper for publicity, and the next week, one of the cover stories featured our censorship situation.

Because it was a school board election year, the publisher also offered an open invitation to school board candidates, inviting them to express their views on our situation. Two responded, both publicly supporting us; another did not write in because he did not see an issue with the policy. These two candidates were then elected in November.

This public forum gave us the chance to get candidates on record about their views on censorship, which is important even if you don’t face prior review. If it’s ever an issue in the future, you can then point back to a candidate’s campaign promise.

How to reach out to local media:

This year, I began discussions with the education editor for the local paper, and asked him to publish some of The Spoke’s articles. Each issue, I send him a document with selected stories and photos; he then chooses which stories will run. In addition to broadcasting our content to a wider audience, in my experience it has improved staff morale: having a byline in a “real” paper, distributed to thousands, makes our high school newspaper more fulfilling.

In case of censorship, this practice of running articles can serve as a way to publish articles otherwise censored. Last October, a Catholic school pulled an editorial about homosexuality; the editorial was then reprinted on a local news website. [click for more information]

In addition to printing our articles in the paper, we also invite local reporters or editors to speak to our staff about working in real-world newsrooms. Many of our staff members, myself included, plan to pursue journalism after high school, and this gives the staff an opportunity to hear about various beats and jobs: in the past year, we’ve heard from a fashion reporter turned news reporter, a sports columnist and a reporter with a court beat.

I hope that these guest speakers inspire my staff; at the very least, I’m sure it’s better than my lectures about lead writing and AP Style.

Meghan Morris can be reached at meg.morris3@gmail.com

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