The Inlander/July 2011
Civic organizations are the fabric of our communities. The number of groups and their range of contributions mean editors are routinely approached with requests for coverage. The “asks” range from the Lions Club annual brat feed fund-raiser to volunteer of the year recognition to a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Most all are worthy of attention, but not all warrant the presence of a reporter and/or photographer. Let me explain before incurring the collective wrath of service clubs.
Newsrooms, no matter their size, have finite resources. It’s impossible to produce a story and photo for each event. And, as difficult as it may be for some organizations to accept, all of their work does not merit full-blown coverage.
That doesn’t mean, however, that newspapers cannot promote the many activities. Communicate with the organizations early and discuss the two elements of publicity – promotion and actual coverage. An even better idea is to produce a simple set of guidelines that can be distributed to publicity chairs.
Address the basics so there are fewer frustrations for the organizations and the newspaper. Among the items to cover:
Save the date: Encourage groups to inform you as soon as an event is scheduled; it’s never too early. Newsooms, in return, are responsible for creating a master calendar and routinely reviewing it.
Know who’s in charge: Get contact information, including phone numbers and e-mails, for the event coordinators. At the same time, identify a liaison at the newspaper.
Share story ideas: Local names and faces are the lifeblood of community newspapers, and service clubs provide opportunities for feature stories beyond events. Encourage individuals to pass along ideas, even if a story doesn’t necessarily involve their group. The collective set of eyes and ears is a great resource for newsrooms.
Stick to the news: Proclamations are wonderful for club scrapbooks, but these declarations in and of themselves are not news. If newspapers routinely cover the “news” of organizations, editors should have little problem rejecting routine proclamations that often offer little substance. Newsrooms should be comfortable in setting a standard that a local initiative is a requisite for recognizing proclamations.
Entertain submissions: Submitted stories and photos can be an excellent substitute if reporters cannot be there in person. This is another opportunity to provide publicity chairs a tip sheet on “how to write a press release” along with stating requirements for photos. Underscore deadlines and timeliness of reports. One avenue is to routinely display these items in a section of the newspaper – a Neighbors Corner. Even for this, however, consider developing and publicizing ground rules so the section does not become a free-for-all.
What would organizers of a city festival prefer – a photo of someone slurping on an ice cream cone at the park, or a list of local restaurants that will be offering their food specialties in the Taste tent? The example is oversimplified, but it addresses the biggest sticking point that usually surfaces when groups seek publicity: promotion vs. coverage.
It’s often a far better use of a newsroom’s resources to let people know what’s coming up rather than attempting a detailed wrap-up with story and photos. The approach also meets an organization’s goal of alerting and drawing people to an event. Previews can range from an announcement with a calendar of activities to a feature story.
Certain events warrant a preview as well as coverage. The key is to initiate discussion early so publicity chairs can make their pitch and editors can explain what’s practical to expect. There will be fewer surprises for everyone involved. Being proactive in exploring coverage will go a long way toward satisfying and serving all needs – those of the newspaper, the civic group and, most importantly, the readers.