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AEC354 Getting Out the News About Environmental Education Programs1 Ricky Telg2 1. This document is Fact Sheet AEC354, a series of the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: August 2000. Visit the EDIS website at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu. 2. Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainsville, FL 32611. The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. For information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office. Florida Cooperative Extension Service/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences/University of Florida/Christine Taylor Waddill, Dean. To many, the news media are the people we love to hate. Several studies measuring the publics perception of trustworthiness in the job force have found people do not like or trust journalists. So if that is the case, why do you want to learn to effectively relate to an industry that people do not hold in high regard? The reason is that the news media radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and other outlets are one of your best ways of getting news and information about your environmental education program to the public, to consumers. You might not like the media, but you need them. And they also need you; good stories they receive from you help them stay in business. Section 1: What a media relations plan will and will not do Developing an effective news media relations plan can accomplish the following: Enhance the publics knowledge and understanding of your environmental education program. It keeps your message in front of leaders and decision-makers. Build credibility in your environmental education program, since people think that what they see in the media is important. Extend the reach and increase the frequency of your message. Using the media may mean your message reaches people in your community, the state, or around the world. The extended reach helps build self-confidence and pride in your program. However, media relations can't: Eliminate the competition. Other organizations may do what you do. You won't be able to get rid of competitors. Control the media or the medias message. You do not own the television station; you don't have editorial control of what the station says. Eliminate negatives. Media relations will not be a quick fix" if something has put your environmental education program in a bad light. Media relations won't eliminate negatives; however, it can help accentuate positives.
Getting Out the News About Environmental Education Programs 2 Section 2: Developing a media relations strategy You must develop a strategy in order to build an effective relationship with the media. The relationship doesnt happen just by itself. You have to be proactive: go to the media, instead of having the media come to you first. Here are suggestions as you map out your plan: Set goals. It's probably unrealistic to expect that every news release you send out will result in a front-page story. But what do you expect? Set realistic goals. Maybe one story a month? Maybe being placed on the community calendar? Decide on your approach to get your goals accomplished. How will your goals be accomplished? Through news releases? Personal visits to reporters? On-air interviews? Decide who is responsible for fielding media calls. This may be one person (a person in your office or one 4-H member) or several. In either case, you must decide how media contacts will be routed. And all persons in your office or 4-H club must know this routing system. Become a reputable and dependable expert source. Get to be recognized in your community as the expert in environmental education. If reporters trust you and know that you are an expert, you will be called on time after time for comments. Develop a source book of environmental education experts in your geographic region. Keep track of other experts and sources in the area to whom you could direct reporters if the need arose. You also may wish to supply reporters with this source book. Develop a news media source book for your office. Maintain a directory of reporters in your area. Find out what the "rules" are for submitting materials to the local news media, and enter that information in your news media source book. Update this information at least once a year. On a regular basis, provide informational materials to reporters. Examples include news releases, public service announcements (PSAs), photographs, and letters to the editor. Get to know the reporters in your geographic region, and know the beat" assignments of reporters. Who covers your beat"? Depending on the environmental education story, it might be covered by an education reporter, a business reporter, or an agriculture reporter. Contact the reporters personally, and follow-up with phone calls, faxes, letters, and personal visits. Section 3: What do the media do? At this point, maybe it would be good to describe what the news media do. The media pass information to target audiences. They act as filters. They decide what's important and what is actually reported. You also must keep in mind that media are in business for profit. They stay in business by selling newspapers and advertisement space, and these sales are generated by filling newspapers and newscasts with information their audiences want. And where do they get this good content"? Some of it comes from people like you who have developed an effective media relations strategy. Section 4: Understanding the news media One of the components to an effective media relations strategy is to become a reputable, expert source. This also means that you should contribute news items to the media to let them know whats going on in your program. However, what you may consider to be news may not be what news directors consider news. Following are the criteria many news directors use to determine newsworthiness: Is the information significant? How many readers/viewers could benefit from it? Is the story timely? Is it local or does it have local impact?
Getting Out the News About Environmental Education Programs 3 Is the information accurate? Is the information new or different? With these criteria in mind, you may wonder what story ideas you might have that would be of interest to a news outlet. If you want a reporter to cover a meeting you are conducting, you first should ask, Why would a reporter cover this meeting?" If it is a regular meeting and nothing new or exciting is happening, the chances are slim that the reporter would be interested in covering the meeting. If, however, you have invited a special speaker or are doing something out of the ordinary, it is very likely a reporter would come. But notice that the slant of the story would be to cover the newness of the event in the meeting, not the meeting itself. News not olds gets attention. Different media approach stories a little differently. Newspaper reporters want lots of quotations, hard-core facts (numbers), and photo opportunities. You should schedule stories with newspaper reporters in the early afternoon, because the deadline for newspaper reporters to complete their stories is early evening to be included in the next mornings paper. Radio reporters want short quotations (also called soundbites) of 10 to 20 seconds in length and natural (or background) sound. Interviews with radio reporters can be scheduled at any time, because radio news programs air many times during the day. Television reporters also want short soundbites (10-20 seconds) and moving visuals. TV stories can not be as detailed as newspaper stories; TV stories are shorter, usually 90 seconds or less. Schedule TV interviews for early to mid-morning for the noon or 5 p.m. newscasts or early afternoon for the 5, 6, and 11 p.m. newscasts. Section 5: What to know about news gathering As you can see, one way to establish successful media relations is to think like a reporter. Following are some ideas you must keep in mind when working with reporters: Scheduling: Other events are happening; make YOURS count! If you know one of the most popular and longest-running events in the county is going to happen next weekend, don't schedule your activity at the same time as this sure-fire" news coverage event. Know the reporters' deadlines: Remember that reporters have deadlines to get stories in by. Arrange your news events so they can be covered well in advance of a reporters deadline. Reporters are generalists, not specialists. Reporters probably won't know much about the environment or environmental education. Therefore, reporters need a lot of help when developing a story. They need facts presented clearly and concisely, without unfamiliar acronyms, jargon or technical talk. Avoid calling news conferences. News conferences should be held only when new and important information needs to get to many media outlets at the same time. Determine that the event you want covered by a reporter really is "news." Keep in mind the criteria for newsworthiness detailed in the previous section. Reporters are good observers. Anything reporters see or hear is fair game for the story. In other words, do not go "off the record." Media like to personalize a story. Submit story ideas that emphasize people. Make sure the facts you provide the reporter are correct. If you dont know if something is right or not, don't guess. Check it out before you give it to a reporter. Follow trends. Keep up with the events in your own field, and pitch story ideas that are trendy or timely. Lastly, here are a few suggestions on how you can help reporters do their jobs better. Remember, if you want to develop good media relations, try to accommodate the news media as much as possible. Written materials, such as tip sheets, news releases, brochures, and organizational reports can help reporters tremendously when they write the story.
Getting Out the News About Environmental Education Programs 4 Setting: Provide tips on where interviews should be conducted. What visuals and audio would improve a TV story? Most reporters appreciate any tips to enhance a story. Directions/travel: Provide explicit directions to an event, assistance with camera gear, and help with getting from place to place. Several sources/resources: Reporters like to have more than one person to interview. If you know someone who would add to a reporter's story, suggest the persons name. And make sure you are the best person to be interviewed. If youre not, try to help the reporter find the best person. Understandable terms: No jargon or unfamiliar words. Section 6: Free publicity You may be on a tight budget but would like to stretch your publicity dollars" as much as you can. In addition to providing media outlets with news releases and tip sheets, here are a few ways to get some free publicity: Explain your need to local media personally, especially if you need a good deal of exposure in a short time. However, remember that you're asking for free time. Any time that is given to you is better than no time at all. Send information about your event to the public relations person, public affairs director or promotions director (after you've made personal contact with that person, of course). Many TV and radio stations have a calendar of events, which is aired once a day. Newspapers tend to list community events once a week. Be ready to go on the air early. Many TV and radio stations invite guests to discuss their upcoming events. However, these interviews usually are early in the day. Be ready and willing to appear during early morning hours if you're asked. Develop public service announcements (PSAs) A final word This fact sheet presented some steps for you to take in order to develop effective relations with media. To summarize, get to know reporters in your community, and know their beat" assignments. Write tip sheets, news releases and PSAs on a regular basis. And most importantly, become a dependable and reputable source. If you accomplish this, you'll find that media relations is not difficult at all. You may even get to like this group of people everyone loves to hate. Note All materials and fact sheets related to this Extension Enhancement Award program are provided on this Web site: http://envmedia.ifas.ufl.edu