Tuesday, July 14, 2015

News Release Suggestions for Bernie 2016

I am in no way affiliated with or paid by the official candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont who is running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. President. I started a Facebook group called South Hampton Roads for Bernie and network with other grass-roots groups, primarily Northern Virginians for Bernie Sanders 2016 and Bernie Sanders for President--Virginia. This week I appeared twice in our regional paper, the Virginian Pilot, with positive words for Bernie, so a member of another group asked  me to write up a few  suggestions for getting positive words about Bernie in traditional media. I am hardly an expert, but I promised to write up a few thoughts for the good of the cause.

My experience is that the easiest way to get published in local media is through a well-written and timely letter to the editor. Many newspapers also publish these letters online as well. The smaller the newspaper, the easier it is to get a letter published, but the narrower the readership will be. The instructions for writing letters to the editor are printed in the opinion section of the newspaper and can often be found online. For example, the instructions for the Pilot are available here.

Read these instructions carefully. For example, letter-writers to the Pilot are only allowed to be published once a month, so writers should make the most of the opportunity to write. Keep track of when the letter appeared in order to have a better idea of when you are eligible to be published again; there's no point in wasting time submitting something that has no chance of publication. Members of the group might want to space out their submissions to keep Bernie's name in the publication. One writer might focus on Bernie's record on the environment, another on family values, etc., and submit them in successive weeks. But any letter-writing is better than none, as long as it is positive for Bernie, interesting, well-written, and well informed.

If you are new to writing for publication, have a trusted friend help you proofread, and remember to use grammar- and spell-check. My experience is that letters that are short (150 words our less), timely, and related to something written recently in the newspaper are most likely to get attention. Be sure to follow any instructions on putting your contact information with your letter. Newspapers will often contact letter-writers for confirmation before actually publishing the letter, and they may want to follow up for stories, so accurate and thorough contact information is a must.

Click here for my letter the Pilot published if you need a sample letter. Notice I finished the letter with something interested readers could do: the name of our group they could join on Facebook to connect with other Bernie supporters in our region. Other letters might end with an upcoming Bernie event (online or otherwise) or other ways readers can find out more about Bernie or otherwise support him.

Don't assume reporters will contact you using the information you left with the newspaper, however. Bill Bartel's article, featured in Sunday's Pilot, came half as a surprise to me. He actually contacted me through Facebook, and I was lucky to spot his message in my "Others" folder, which we all need to remember to check regularly. Reporters often work under the heavy pressure of deadlines, so be sure to return calls or messages in a timely manner. If you feel someone else in your group would be better-equipped or informed to handle the media or this particular reporter, give the reporter that person's contact information or have the appropriate person from your group promptly contact the reporter. But don't ignore or delay the reporter, at least not for long.

When talking to reporters, keep in mind that they are people, too. I am unfailingly polite to them, and I try to be energetic and well-informed enough to answer questions to their satisfaction. But if I don't know something, I say so. I will direct them to other sources or resources if I can. I am also *extremely careful* about what I say. Watch some of Bernie Sanders' own interaction with the media to see how this is done. When a hook is baited with an opportunity to talk negative about an opponent, for example, he won't do it. He sticks to the issues and talks about them convincingly and energetically. Please be aware that there are a few bad-egg reporters who have an axe to grind or are careless and who will misinterpret or misuse what you have to say, but my experience is that these are rare. Nevertheless, it behooves you when speaking to them to remember that anything you say can wind up in the media, and to choose your words carefully. Give him or her a story. Have a list of talking points to lean on as needed. Think about how he or she might want to slant it for the publication's readership and give information that is useful. Be willing to invite them to upcoming meetings or events if interested.

If the reporter reports about Bernie well, be sure to follow up with a few quick words of thanks. An email will suffice. The contact information is usually easily found online through the newspaper. Believe me, reporters hear constant complaints if they even get the most minute details of a story wrong. Appreciation is much more rare, and they will remember it, and you, if you give it. If they make an important or egregious error, politely let them know and ask for a correction, but I generally don't sweat the small stuff (like if they misspell my name).

My experience from working on other efforts is that television coverage is harder to get. When a call comes from a television reporter, it often follows from interest that arose through a newspaper article. The same caveats and suggestions apply with television reporters. Remember their deadlines are even tighter. If you are going to be on television, think carefully about what to wear.

The easiest way to invite the media to an event is through a news release. They are simple to write. Again, brevity and clarity are important. Click here for instructions and a sample news release. Please realize that the media get flooded with these; it doesn't matter (at least as far as I can tell) whether you deliver them by email, by FAX, or in person. The bigger the news media, the more of a flood of these they get. If you already have a relationship established with a reporter at the media you are targeting, it might help to send it to his or her attention and ask that they forward it to the appropriate person, or to ask them for a name to send it to. I would only send a news release for the most news-worthy items that I or my group can come up with. Less important events, like monthly meetings, I might consider submitting for free through any available local or regional events calendars such as this one for Hampton Roads.

Keep a list of your media contacts, where they work, and how to contact them. Keep the list updated (I must admit I'm terrible about this). About two to three weeks' lead time is about right to send your news item. Any earlier, and it will be sure to get lost. If you send it too last-minute, it will be less likely that a reporter will have time to cover it. I find this mostly luck of the draw, but it doesn't take a lot of time to send out a news release, and they sometimes work, especially on a slow news day. If I take the trouble to write a news release, I send it to all the local and regional media I can think of. If one outlet doesn't take interest, maybe another one will. Again, instructions on how to submit to each outlet can be found online. Organize these contacts so they will be easier to find next time you need them.

Don't be offended if a reporter shows interest and then drops your story or event, especially if it's for television. The reporter may have the best of intentions, but a more news-worthy (to them) event came up last minute, like a shooting in a neighboring town. Stay polite and keep the reporter who showed interest informed, and he or she may find time to include you next time.

When you get positive media coverage, be sure to share it as best you can on social media. This draws even more members to your group and generates even more excitement for Bernie. If there is a comments section, have members of your group leave positive comments for Bernie with the letter or news item. I have seen people scan newspaper articles and then post that online, but I suspect that's a potential violation of copyright law. I would look for the article online and post a link directly to that. Give it a day or two if you can't find it online right away. An amazing amount of content gets published, although not all. If you are having trouble finding it, email the reporter who wrote it for help. Sometimes they can help you, sometimes not. Remember to be polite and not a pest about anything you need. Again, the reporter will remember next time.

I hope these ideas help. Comments or further ideas or experiences are welcome.

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