Why is important to communicate effectively
with the media?
In order to be effective in carrying out NRCS’s
mission, we need the informed support of people in our communities. What better
way to reach people in your community than through your local media. To keep the
public informed of NRCS and your local district's plans, work, and
accomplishments, you need to be able to communicate information to newspapers,
radio stations and sometimes even television stations serving your community.
Remember, you are a conservation expert, and you have important conservation
information and messages to share with people in your community.
Do's of working with the
Visit/call to introduce yourself to your
local reporter. Provide your contact information. This works best if you're
pitching a story. Leave them with a news release or background information
on a story idea. Discuss deadlines, policies, circulation, broadcast range,
copy format and photo format, etc.
Work hard to develop a good working
relationship with reporters. You are a conservation expert. You want local
reporters to call you when they have a question in your field. You can be an
ongoing resource for reporters.
Return reporters’ telephone calls promptly.
Even if you don’t know the answer, call back to say you’ll find out.
When leaving a phone message, give your
name, field office, and a phone number where they can reach you.
When they answer the phone, ask if they have
time to talk. If they are working on a deadline, and your story can wait,
let it. Have them call you back. Be sure to leave your phone number.
Every reporter is unique. Find out how he or
she prefers to receive articles/story ideas— phone, FAX, or email. Find out
when their deadlines are and when they prefer to receive calls. Get to know
the kinds of stories in which they will be interested.
Credibility is key. Always tell the truth
and always do what you say you'll do.
Plan ahead and always give advance notice of
Don'ts of working with
Don't contact the media one week before an
Don't criticize a reporter for not writing
your story or for not doing it to your satisfaction. If you think there's a
pattern of no coverage or poor coverage developing, meet with the editor.
Ask how you can improve your procedures to make their job easier.
Don't play favorites. Give all reporters
equal access to the same information.
Don't lie or make up answers. If a reporter
asks a question that you can't answer, tell them that you don't know the
answer but will get back to them. Make sure you get back to them soon.
What is news?
News is anything NEW, including:
NEW information about an event, ideas,
programs. For example, EQIP has changed, and here's how.
NEW interest. The story must affect the
reader somehow, make a difference to them. The 2002 Farm Bill created a new
program, the Conservation Securities Program, to assist landowners install
conservation practices on private lands.
NEW impact. The story must be presented in a
way that grabs readers' attention. $8 million is now available to help
Washington landowners restore wetlands.
News Values. What makes a
Before you call the media, you should think
about the newsworthiness of your story. Here's some questions to consider.
Timeliness. Is it really new or current? If
there was a continuous CRP signup July 1-30, you don't want to send the
story or make the media contact on August
Proximity. If a storm caused thousands of
dollars of damage in LeMars and you live in Sioux Center, you probably don't
pitch the story in Sioux Center, unless you can make a tie to it. For
instance, we had a similar storm in Sioux Center last year, but there wasn’t
as much damage, due, in part to the conservation practices that worked–
Importance. Tell them how it affects your
community, Who's involved and who will be impacted. A watershed planning
meeting is open to everyone who lives in the Raccoon River Watershed,
because we all have a stake in having clean water to drink.
Progress. What's going on with the project,
what's changed? Results of projects. Since the Iowa River Corridor Project
began in 1996, we have restored wet - lands on 500 of acres.
Unusualness. The odd event, situation, or
idea that is interesting because it is different. What's special? The Louisa
County Soil and Water Conservation District
hosted a 2 day conservation camp for kids
and teachers interested in caring for our soil and water.
Prominence. If a well known person, such as
a legislator or agency head comes to a conservation tour in your county,
that's news. The draw may be the individual, but you still get to tell your
story. Like: Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Bruce Knight was
the keynote speaker at a wetlands tour hosted by the Whatcom County
Human interest. People often can relate to
stories about others' struggles and successes. As a landowner, if I read
about how the Jackson family down the road is implementing conservation
practices on their farm, and receiving financial as well and environmental
benefits, maybe I'll be more likely to give it a try myself. After all, the
Jacksons are a lot like my family.
How to get media coverage
Once you've decided, yes this project is
news worthy—and people in our community should/would enjoy hearing about
it-- how do you get media coverage?
Contact the reporter. Some reporters want to
write the stories themselves. Give them story ideas. Other reporters want
you to write the story. (How to write an effective news release is covered
in another section.)
Pitch the story's news values. Your story
idea doesn't have to cover all seven areas. Remember, these areas are just a
guide to use when determining if your idea/story is newsworthy. Timeliness
Proximity importance progress unusualness prominence human interest.
Provide background information that
summarizes your key points or a news release (how to write a news release is
covered in another section). If you choose to create a background
information sheet, put the most important facts first. Include your name and
phone number, and the phone numbers of others involved in the
project/program. This is especially important if the information is
complicated. Having written information will help the reporter, who is often
writing against the clock, to be more accurate.
Provide photos/photo ideas.
Provide photos if you have them. Suggest
shots their photographer or TV camera person could take.
Elements of a good news
The best press releases have these things in
are one page long
are typed and double spaced
cover one subject
include the spokesperson's name and
are interesting. To make your news release
interesting. Ask yourself "Why should the newspaper print it? Why would
anyone want to read it or hear it on the radio?"
Writing a news release
Focus on the one thing you want people to
remember after reading/hearing your press release. Start your press release by
stating that one memorable item. Complete instructions and tips for success can
be found in another section entitled How to write an effective news release.
Basics of media
Media interviews are an excellent way to get
your message across. Look at them as a good opportunity.
Be prepared. Know your subject and the one
thing you want people to remember. When you really care about the subject
and know it well, you will feel most comfortable. Remember, you are a
conservation expert, and speaking on behalf of NRCS and the conservation
Remember to be yourself--that’s when you're
at your best. Everyone is capable of speaking clearly and distinctly, using
eye contact, and holding an audience.
Do your homework and go
Preparing for an interview
Know the publications and reporters. Get
familiar with articles of the reporter to whom you’ll be speaking. Check out
the magazine or newspaper--read some articles.
Be prepared with key messages/talking
points. Prepare two or three key points about your project. These sound
bites are the facts that you want the reporter to remember even if they use
nothing else from the interview. Include these messages in your responses in
clean, short phrases, and repeat them frequently.
Do your homework. Review NRCS materials, on
the subject you'll be discussing, as well as other broad topics, which may
During the interview
Stick to the story. Get to the point right
away, then fill in the details. Use your key messages as foundation for
Remember the 5 Ws, who, what, when, where,
why and sometimes how.
Stay positive. Smile.
Remember the C's. Your
delivery should be clear, complete, colorful courteous, cautious, concise
credible, confident, consistent.
Use plain language. No
Remember you are an NRCS
employee. Whatever you say will be interpreted as representing NRCS. Don't
discuss your own opinions with an interviewer. Only give your professional
Make your point. If it
appears the reporter isn’t going to ask you a question that you really want
a chance to answer (a point that you want to make)— answer the posed
question briefly. Then transition to make your point. Be clear and concise.