Targeting the Media
A strong media campaign, using newspapers, radio and television can
reach large numbers of people with the message about career and
technical education (CTE) issues and events. First and foremost, a
school, district or an educator should establish a cooperative
relationship with reporters who routinely cover education in the
When an education issue is reported in the media, offer yourself as an authoritative interview source (if appropriate). Building a relationship with the media is a gradual process. Do not get discouraged if your first few attempts are turned down. Once a relationship is established with a reporter, keep him or her well informed through frequent communications. In addition, invite them to witness the various programs at your school--not just special events, such as back-to-school night or CTE Week, but to observe an especially interesting lab or sit in on a faculty-business advisory group meeting.
Below are some tools to help you prepare information for the media:
What is News
Where to Begin
How to Develop a Media List
Public Service Announcements (PSAs)
Guidelines for Placing Op-Eds
Letters to the Editor
Working with Your Newspaper's Editorial Board
What is News?
Reporters and editors are concerned with informing the public of events and issues that affect their media outlets’ target audiences. For something to have news value, it must, in the eyes of the news media, impact the general community. If it is important to the public, it is important to the media. Education issues are of natural interest to local media. The essential elements of news value are timeliness, local appeal, and interesting subject matter. Ask yourself these questions about your subject matter:
- What is the significance of your school’s services or special events to the general public?
- Is the information timely?
- When education news breaks, is there an angle related to your school or to the profession in general? Are you an expert in that area?
- How does your expertise, special event, or unique service help the community?
- Are trends in society reflected in your school?
There are several kinds of coverage: News—usually noting conflict or change; Features—usually stories of human interest or news that is not time sensitive; Editorials—usually coverage by the media that takes a stand on an issue of relevance to the general public or to a particular constituency; and Op-Eds—also opinion oriented, but generated by individual experts, pundits or opinion makers.
Where to Begin
Get started by reading the publications that you would like to see cover your issues, by watching and listening to news broadcasts, and by becoming familiar with the reporters covering education issues. After doing this, you will easily be able to develop a list of media targets. Cut the job down to your size. If you have only one day a month to work on your public relations program, you need to set your sights for a small-scale result. If your stories are local, concentrate only on local media. If your story warrants regional, state or national coverage, be prepared to give your campaign quite a bit more time.
How to Develop a Media List
If you are concentrating your public relations program in a small local area, you should be able to develop a media list by calling or visiting the Web sites of the newspapers, television and radio stations in the community and inquiring about the reporters who cover the education “beat.” If you are initiating a regional or national media campaign, you should consult a media directory, which can be found on ACTE Legislative Action Center or by visiting the Media Research Center (leaving ACTE's website). You can also use the Internet to search for your local newspaper’s Web site. Many libraries also have local media directories. Sometimes local organizations, such as the chamber of commerce or the convention bureau may have developed a media directory. You can find out if your area has one by calling a local public relations firm and asking them to recommend one.
Whether you use a national directory or a local one, you will have to check all contact names before sending information or making a call to pitch a story. Editors and reporters change “beats” frequently, and a news release sent to the wrong reporter usually ends up in the trash. Simply call the media outlet and ask who is covering your issue area. For schools, the typical issue area is education, but your issue could apply to the metro or business sections. Remember that there are many more news outlets at your disposal than you might think. Do not overlook these important sources:
- Television stations have local news programs, editorial opinions and “talk back” opportunities, public affairs programs, one-on-one interview shows, and public affairs “specials.”
- Community cable stations can offer local news programming, community access channels, and public affairs programming.
- Public television stations provide local news as well as a diverse mix of locally produced public affairs programming.
- Radio formats include all-news stations, radio talk shows, public affairs programming, and editorial comment.
- Newspapers have numerous “beat” reporters covering specialized issues for the main news section, editorial page editors, op-ed opinion pieces, letters to the editor, the business section, consumer reporters, and “style” sections offering soft news.
A news release is an up-to-the-minute summary of the importance of your news. Include who, what, when, and details of why and how. Be sure to type it on your school’s or organization’s letterhead, or provide your professional contact information. If possible, include sharp black-and-white photos of students preparing for a special event that you have planned. Be sure to attach a separate sheet for each photo, identifying the students and explaining what they are doing. Contact your local paper and ask how they prefer to receive a news release and, according to their direction, either mail, e-mail, fax or hand deliver the news release. Don’t forget your own school newspaper and other special publications.
Often when your news is not pressing or significant enough to warrant a news conference or media briefing, you should still send out a news release. Keep in mind, however, that the newsrooms of America are inundated with news releases. The average editor may receive several hundred news releases in a typical week. Although no precise data has been collected, general opinion and observation indicate that only 10 to 20 percent of news releases submitted to the media are used in some way. If the news release is to survive as a conveyer of information, it must be issued with discretion—only if the information is really news. Your news release must be written as skillfully as possible and directed to the appropriate person.
Sample News Release
Sample Media Alert
Public Service Announcements (PSAs)
PSAs are brief messages that provide helpful information to the public, solicit support for a particular cause, and/or offer an organization’s free services. Unlike paid advertising, PSAs are carried free of charge by publications, radio and television stations in an effort to educate an audience and to encourage people to do something such as participate, call, write or contribute. Before attempting to place a PSA, determine whom you want to reach with your message. Then identify the publications and stations in your area that service that particular audience. Once you have determined the media outlets you want to target, contact the head of either the community development or public service department to find out the proper procedures for submitting PSAs.
Guidelines for Placing Op-Eds
Many newspapers provide a forum for opinions opposite the editorial page (“Op-Ed”) that address issues of concern to your community. Pitch letters can be effective tools to propose an op-ed column to a national publication. When your local education association or school is involved with and has a point to make on a major, newsworthy issue (such as trends in career and technical education), the op-ed page provides you with the chance to illustrate the value of the profession. Papers will occasionally publish a philosophical piece that may comment on a continuing problem, such as funding for education or an observation on society.
If you are planning to submit your op-ed to a national publication, such as the Washington Post, send a pitch letter first to a handful of editors with the op-ed outline and then follow-up with a call. However, keep calls to the editor at a minimum and do not call during the end of the day when they are on deadline In a pitch letter, you should indicate the subject matter and proposed author. Although you could simply send out the op-ed piece to all the editors on your media list with a pitch letter, it is better to approach them first so you can tailor the piece to a specific publication’s needs.
Here are five general steps to follow when preparing an op-ed:
- Find opportunities - Review all publications in your region to determine which accept op-eds and which formats are preferred. Are they generally about current social issues? Are they in a pro/con format?
- Decide on a topic - In general, try to relate your topic to a current issue. Samples include the role of the educator in the school system and the reasons why career and technical education has to be an important part of the education and economic development agenda.
- Approach editors - If you are planning to send your op-ed to a national paper send a pitch letter to appropriate editors outlining the proposed topic and author. If you have established a relationship with a particular editor, make a call instead of writing. If you are sending your op-ed to a local paper go ahead and prepare a draft to send. Keep in mind that the person whose name appears on the op-ed need not be the person who wrote it. The byline should be that of a person prominent in your organization, community, or with a recognized expertise or specialty.
- Prepare a draft - Determine what your paper’s guidelines are for submitting an op-ed. Your paper may have a specific format in which you have to send it in order to be considered, (e.g. length, double spaced, etc.). Op-eds can run between 350-800 words depending upon the paper. If you are preparing an op-ed for your local paper, be sure to localize your op-ed with statistics and examples of your point within your community. The byline should include the author’s current professional position. In addition, be certain to identify the author as an educator, if appropriate.
- Submit a draft - Adhere to deadlines. If you promise an editor you will have a draft by a certain date, do so. A cover letter or a short paragraph at the end of your op-ed should be used to tell the editor exactly who you are and why you are qualified to write this op-ed. Be sure to include your full name, title, address, e-mail and phone number so that you can be contacted. Remember, an interest in reviewing an op-ed does not necessarily mean the publication will use the piece, even if it is particularly well written. You may have to adapt the op-ed to the editor’s wishes or to provide backup for points you make in the piece. If the editor ultimately declines the piece, try reworking it and begin the entire process again. Persistence is the key.
Keep in mind that some large newspapers may ask that an op-ed piece be on an exclusive basis, meaning no other publication can simultaneously print the piece. Smaller papers generally accept multiple submissions, as long as competing papers in the same city do not run the same pieces. Check each publication’s particular policy. Also, remember that a letter to the editor is always a great way to promote the value of career and technical education programs.
Letters to the Editor
This newspaper section is an excellent vehicle for you to express your views on the value of career and technical education to policymakers and to educate people in the community. You may also use a letter to the editor to correct inaccurate facts, promote your issue or to praise/condemn a recent article. Write persuasively; include local statistics and personal stories to make your point. It is important to find the newspaper’s policy for printing the letters. Most newspapers require that letters be no more than one page.
Sample Letter to the Editor (Responding to an article)
Sample Letter to the Editor (Concerning ACTE position statement on high school reform)
In other sections of the toolkit, you have read about what appears on the editorial pages of most daily newspapers, for example op-eds and letters to the editor. Here, you will learn who decides what goes on these pages and how you can influence them to consider writing about your issue.
Every daily newspaper has an editorial board that determines which opinions are expressed in its editorial pages. This board meets regularly to consider topics and opinions for editorials. As a member of the community you may request to meet with the editorial board. Who you will be meeting with depends upon the size of the newspaper. Typically the editorial board consists of the editorial page editor(s) and editorial page writers. Some large papers may have several editors and numerous reporters in attendance, while smaller local papers may not even have an editorial board. If that is the case, you may request a meeting with the editor, who may bring along a reporter.
To schedule a meeting with the editorial board, call or email the newspaper’s editorial department expressing your interest in scheduling an editorial board meeting and ask them for the appropriate person to contact. Remember timing is everything. Be sure to call at least a week in advance as the editorial calendar tends to fill up quickly. Also, it is important that your pitch for an editorial is timely and relates to current events. Once you find the correct person he or she may ask you to send a letter explaining why you would like to schedule a meeting, outlining your issue and how it impacts the community. Just as if you were pitching a story to a reporter, keep your letter concise and to the point. Don’t overwhelm them with information. If they accept your request for a meeting you will have an opportunity to present additional information during that time.
Once you have confirmed a meeting day and time with the editorial board, you need to be sure you are prepared. In planning for your meeting you will need to decide who from your organization will attend. You may want to bring the president or CEO of your organization, someone from within the community who is directly affected by the issue, someone knowledgeable about the legislation surrounding the issue, and a communications professional. Everyone in attendance should be an expert on the issue and prepared to answer any questions asked by the editorial board.
During the meeting you will be asked to present to the editorial board information on your issue and why they should provide it editorial coverage. Prepare about 15-20 minutes on your issue and the rest of the time will be slotted for a question and answer session. Be sure to bring along a kit of information for each person on the editorial board. Include facts sheets, charts, and/or any articles about your issue that ran in another publication.
After the meeting, be sure to follow up with the editorial board by sending a thank you note.
Sample Pitch Letter to the Editorial Board