ACTE serves its members by raising awareness among media professionals about the benefits of CTE along with relevant policy priorities and initiatives. ACTE also works to provide tools and support to members to help them in their own efforts to raise awareness of the latest news in CTE. Whether you are a seasoned professional or just getting started working with the media, ACTE is a resource to help you tell your CTE story.
A strong media campaign, using a variety of mediums, including print, online, radio and television, can reach large numbers of people to communicate CTE issues and events. Some campaigns are organized into a series of promotional events and interviews called a media tour. To learn more about planning your own media tour, click here.
Below are some other tools to help you prepare information for the media:
What is News
Where to Begin
How to Develop a Media Distribution 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 target audiences. For something to have news value, it must, in the eyes of the news media, be relevant or of interest to a publication’s audience. Education issues are often of particular interest to local media. The essential factors to consider when determining news value are timeliness, local appeal, and the compelling nature of subject matter.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What is the significance of your school’s services or special events to the general public
- Is the information timely? Why does the story matter now versus a later date?
- 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, change, or a noteworthy event or development; 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 in your area. After doing this, you will easily be able to develop a list of media targets. Cut the job down to your size. Concentrate your efforts on local or regional media outlets.
Be the Source
When an education issue is going to be reported on in the media, CTE educators may be contacted as an authoritative interview source. If a reporter contacts you, do your best to answer their questions in an informative and professional manner, or refer them to a source that you believe may be helpful. In addition, do not hesitate to contact an ACTE staff member for assistance in media interactions.
It is often helpful to proactively establish a cooperative relationship with reporters who routinely cover education in the community. 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 them 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.
How to Develop a Media Distribution 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.
Periodically, you should check the contacts in your media distribution list. Editors and reporters change ‘beats” frequently, and a news release sent to the wrong reporter usually ends up in the trash. To verify that you have the correct contact, simply call the media outlet and ask who is covering your issue area. A typical issue area is education, but your issue could also 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 media advisory is a message sent in advance of an event that provides reporters with the information necessary to attend, as well as ideas about how they might frame their story. Media advisories should be concise, and explicitly answers the five w’s (who, what/why, where and when).It is considered best practice to send two media advisories before an event to local press outlets and targeted reporters that might attend. One should be sent approximately one week prior to the event and another the day before the event. Media advisories should be sent early in the week if at all possible to ensure that the event is included on reporters’ calendars. Be sure to include RSVP and/or sign-in information.
A press release is an up-to-the-minute summary of the importance of your news, which may include some variation of answers to the five w’s (who, what, when, where and why) in paragraph form. Be sure to type it on your school’s or organization’s letterhead, or provide your professional contact information. Don’t forget your own school newspaper and other special publications.
If your news is not pressing or significant enough to warrant a news conference or media briefing, you may want to still send out a press release. You may also want to send out a press release after conducting a conference or briefing. When sending out press releases, keep in mind that newsrooms are inundated with press releases. The average editor may receive hundreds of press releases in a typical week. Although no precise data has been collected, general opinion and observation indicate that only 10 to 20 percent of perss releases submitted to the media are used in some way. If the press release is to survive as a conveyer of information, it must be issued with discretion only send a press release if the information is really news.
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. Also keep in mind that some schools will play PSAs on morning announcements. This may be helpful if the goal of your PSA is to increase awareness of CTE programs within the student body.
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. 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.
If you are planning to submit your op-ed to a major publication, consider sending a pitch letter first to a handful of editors with the op-ed outline. 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, you may want to approach them first so you can tailor the piece to a specific publication’s needs. Note some publications do not accept pitch letters. Defer to the op-ed instructions given by a publication on their website, if applicable.
Here are five general steps to follow when preparing an op-ed:
- Find opportunities – Review publications in your region to determine which ones accept op-eds and which formats are preferred. Are they generally about a specific type of issue? Are they in a pro/con format?
- Decide on a topic – In general, try to relate your topic to a current issue. Perhaps write about the role of the educator in the school system, the reasons why career and technical education is an important part of the education and workforce development agenda, or any other CTE topic.
- Approach editors – If you are planning to send your op-ed to a national paper, consider sending 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 short paragraph at the end of your op-ed should be used to tell the editor exactly who the author is and why he or she is 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. If the editor ultimately declines the piece, try submitting to another outlet or reworking it and beginning the process again. Persistence is the key.
Keep in mind that virtually all large newspapers ask that an op-ed piece be on an exclusive basis, meaning no other publication can simultaneously print the piece. Be sure to only submit to one publication at a time, and do not submit it to another outlet until your piece has been declined. However, some outlets will not tell you that they are not running your submission. In this case, it is generally safe to submit your piece to another outlet after 10 business days.
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. In addition, it is important to remember that a letter to the editor is a vehicle for expressing your own opinion, and that it must take a clear stance on an issue. It is important to find the newspaper’s policy for printing the letters. Most newspapers require that letters be no more than 250 words.
Working With Your Newspaper’s Editorial Board
Most daily newspapers have editorial boards that determine 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. In addition, remember that 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 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 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 plan for a question and answer session. Be sure to bring along information you can leave behind 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.