The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

Always a work in progress--welcome to my blog...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An Easier Way to Get a News Story

Reaching the Right Person

            Recently I've put forth some new challenges and discussed promoting yourself through the media.  If you haven't read these two posts yet, you might want to go back to look at these if you are interested in promoting yourself and your products.

             I realize that the concept of writing a press release and getting to a media contact may sound intimidating to some.   In my next post I will return to the topic of the press release, however today I'd like to look at a method that is in reality easier once you've made the right media contact.

             Take a look at the opening lines of a story by noted sports news writer Ted Riggs that appeared in the Sunday February 5, 1967 edition of The Knoxville News-Sentinel:
           
LEE JACKSON, 16, finds football about as exciting as a game of Chinese Checkers.

             He is just mildly interested in baseball and has a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward basketball.

              Lee, an Everett High sophomore, delights in watching television but is nothing more than a casual viewer of sports events.  He prefers comedy and mystery programs.

              Would you believe, then, that Lee Jackson has quicker hands, sharper reflexes and better balance than most first-rate high school athletes?
          You can read the rest of the story in the clipping below.   The person of whom the writer is speaking is yours truly (yes, Arlee Bird is a pseudonym and one day I'll tell that story).  Why did this reporter interview me and my family?   It's because my father talked to someone at the newspaper about us and suggested that they might want to do a story.  My dad was always trying to get our name in the paper because he wanted to promote our juggling act.  He wasn't at all shy about self-promoting to newspapers, television, or wherever he might get our name mentioned.   It's part of the business of entertainment.

click image to enlarge
              My dad just called the Knoxville paper and told them he had a story for them.  After they heard his pitch they apparently decided this would be a good story for the sports pages since the local sports scene was slower in February and they were always looking for something to fill the pages during the lull in the season.  They gave the story to award winning sports reporter Ted Riggs, who was known for his ability to be able to put a unique spin on any story.   And that he did.  That story gained me a bit of a reputation at school and got our family name out in the local scene, where we had recently relocated to six months earlier.

           Shortly after my father made his pitch, Mr. Riggs drove the twenty miles to our house and brought along with him the noted photographer Bill Dye.  Not only had we scored the coup of a story in the newspaper, we were going to get the added bonus of an accompanying photo (as seen below).   A photo almost always guarantees that readers will be more drawn to a story.



The extra added bonus of a photo
Click on image to enlarge
            My father did this often.  He would walk into a newspaper office, call them, or snag a press person he met at an event and tell them about the great news story that he had for them and more often than not he'd get a story in the paper.  He didn't have to write a word.  He would just make the story known and then talk to the reporter who would write the story for him

I'm Not Like That!  I Don't Have the Nerve!

           I realize not everyone has the chutzpa to just walk up to somebody and start promoting themself.  You may feel a little shy or embarrassed about doing this.  So why not get somebody to do it for you?  I'll bet your mother, spouse, kids, or some other friend or relative would be willing to do it.  Let someone who's gutsy who cares about helping you know what you'd like to do and I'm sure you can find somebody to help.

         You can also ask someone who has experience submitting press information.   Think of someone at your church, in the local PTA, in an organization you are part of, on your kid's sports team, or what have you.  Most organizations put someone in charge of submitting announcements or other news.  Ask that person how they go about it and who they contact.  They might even be willing to go with you and introduce you to their contact.  

          Some of you may even know someone who works for a newspaper or radio or television station.  Or maybe you know someone who knows one of these people.  You can start anywhere--even the person who delivers your paper. 

            Back when I was managing a touring stage show I was looking for an actress to play the lead in a production of Snow White.   The female lead that I had hired dropped out at the last minute and rehearsals were due to start in a couple of weeks.   I was at home in Tennessee on a break before we were to start.
In desperation I put an ad in the local newspaper for a week advertising the job opening.  When the ad appeared a light bulb came on in my head about a story for the paper and my search for "Snow White".

           I went back to the newspaper office and asked the lady who had sold me the ad space if she could help me get a story in the paper.  She was agreeable, but asked if I could write one.  Having thought ahead of time, I handed the story over to her.   The next day the following story appeared in the paper just as I had written it:  A few days later I had my ideal Snow White, who incidentally is now a writer.

Spinning my advertising
click on image to enlarge


A Final Word of Encouragement

            Come up with your story and put a spin on your story.  Think of why the story is interesting.  Make a list of the relevant information that you want to deliver to the public and the story that goes with it.  Then get that story into the hands of the person who will see that it is delivered to the public you want to reach.

           Just remember that the people who work in the media are just people and it's highly unlikely they are going to laugh at you or slam a door in your face.  They are probably more than willing to help you  and you should approach them with the attitude that you are helping them find a good story--which you are!    Be ready to answer their questions.  And definitely be as positive and confident as you can be.

           It's similar to trying to pitch your book or a product you're trying to sell, except it's a lot easier and has a much higher rate of acceptance.  Once you start doing it, trying to get press coverage gets easier and you learn what works and what doesn't.   Don't forget to keep track of the names of the contacts you make--you made need them later.

          Have you ever submitted a story idea or piece of news to a newspaper or other news venue?  What was your experience?   Do you belong to an organization or work for a company that has a press person or department?   What do you think is the best medium to use for getting free publicity?


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25 comments:

  1. Hi Lee, what a fantastic post. I love your suggestion: "Just remember that the people who work in the media are just people and it's highly unlikely they are going to laugh at you or slam a door in your face. They are probably more than willing to help you and you should approach them with the attitude that you are helping them find a good story--which you are!" Not something most of us would realize, I think. Bookmarked :)

    Hugs,

    Rach

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  2. I do freelance for some of our local newspapers. At first I was way intimated, not sure how it all worked or even that I was worthy. It's worked out kind of nicely, though. I've met lots of people and people are starting to know my name.

    Thanks for sharing about your family. So interesting.

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  3. I've submitted 6 items to the local paper over the years; 4 were printed. Most of the time they are helpful, unless there are space considerations, egregious typos (yes, apparently it still happens!), or the editor just doesn't think it's interesting (subjective). I HATE putting myself out there, but as Mom always said, "It never hurts to ask."
    Hey Lee...I didn't realize you really were (are?) a juggler! How cool!

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  4. Definitely great advice! A friend of mine freelances for some of the big papers here in Australia, and I've learned a lot from the way she pitches her articles. Editors have space to fill, and if you have the right pitch (and a little bit of nerve), then you could be the one filling it!

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  5. What a coincidence. I was just reading an email from Short Story Book net, letting me know they have accepted my story, and it's now being featured on their "Guest Story" section.

    I guess the main quality for us is to be persistent and patient.

    Great post, Lee.

    Doris

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  6. A wonderful post Lee, enjoyed every last word.

    When I was doing charity work which consisted of poetry postcards I did that through a weekly newspaper here in the UK, raised quite a tidy sum.

    Yvonne.

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  7. Rachael -- And if you make that good press contact, you might be making a friend who can help you in the future.

    S. A. Larsen -- When you're new to something it often seems intimidating and a bit confusing, but once you're used to it, it's not that bad.

    Li -- Don't juggle professionally anymore, but I can still juggle--it's like riding a bicycle. Your Mom's advice is good. Too many of us are afraid to try and in the end miss a lot of great opportunities.

    Amie -- Exactly! There's always someone wanting to take advantage of an opportunity--might as well be you.

    Doris -- Great news about your story. Patience and persistence pays off and sometimes good timing get you in ahead of others.

    Yvonne --The influence of newspapers in dispensing news is diminishing, but they still do other things very well.

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  8. Love the pic of you and your family! And your little brother juggling - what a fabulous keepsake! Self-promotion, however, is something I just don't know if I could do. I'm far too self-concious...but, I do like your suggestion about getting someone else to do it for me. I'll have to think about that... :)

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  9. Lee--this story about your family is fascinating! And your advice for getting the word out is marvelous. Great post. :)

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  10. You know, I never have yet explored that possibility. And, as you have now with much good entertainment enlightened me as to the distinct and probable value of it, I may just give the old college try!

    marvin D Wilson

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  11. this was a delightful post, Lee!

    I did work as a journalist, both during college, as a film editor in a magazine, and then later on in my local newspaper. It is quite an interesting job since it keeps you constantly informed about everything.

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  12. Hi Arlee, new follower here. I've signed up for the A to Z challenge. Feels a little like signing up for a double shift at the factory. Heck, who needs sleep. Bring it on.

    You can find me at Bards And Prophets on Blogger

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  13. Local e-newspapers are fabulous. Some (like Trib Local in Chicago area) let you enter an article right in, and they occasionally take from there for the print edition. Also, after pestering another local e-paper about various promotional articles, the editor gave me my own column. :)

    My column is about fashion, but I have a feeling the editor won't mind one little bit if I submit something about the A to Z Challenge...would it be okay if I used some quotes from your blog posts? If so, please either e-mail me (elson.nicki@gmail.com) or drop me a comment at my blog. Thanks!

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  14. I can only say I got so mad female sports were not be covered in the 70's that I just started my own newspaper. That landed me on the evening news :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  15. Your dad reminds me of the father in the book Cheaper by the Dozen (NOT the movie) Lovely tips on being courageous- you really never know who you know until you step up and ask.

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  16. Love the articles Lee!!! Awesome :)

    I'm the first to admit I'm a total coward when it comes to this sort of thing. I drag my heels at querying too - gotta work on that!

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  17. Alex -- Fleeting fame in the local community perhaps.

    Donea Lee -- If all else fails, you can usually find someone who like to do things like this.

    Alison -- Thanks for stopping by today.

    Marvin -- I'm surprised that you haven't done something like this. By all means try it. You could certainly come up with a good story the paper would like to print and if you sold a few books out of the deal that wouldn't be bad now, would it?

    Dezmond -- And you are aware then about the constant need for new stories and the value of word of mouth.

    L.G. -- Start preparing now and it will be easier.

    Nicki-- We'll be looking forward to your story. Use all the quotes you want.

    Jules - There you go! You already have the experience and you probably have some contacts in the news industry. We'll be looking for your story too :)

    Michelle --It seemed like my father always found a new friend wherever he went.

    Jemi -- If you plan on querying in the future this is a good way to get a start in a similar process so you get used to it. I remember when my sister was a teacher she got a few stories about her in the local paper. Can you get A to Z some Canadian press?

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  18. Lee, I just wanted to stop by and say that 490 participants signed up for the April 2011 A to A Challenge is AMAZING! I had no doubt we could get to 500 and it looks like we will exceed that number. Thanks for all your hard work!

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  19. Should probably hit 500 today (Wednesday 3/16)--Thanks to you and all of our A to Z Team for some great work.

    Lee

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  20. I'm so impressed by your father!
    My mother-in-law is the perfect person to promote me. Even though my Chicken Soup story is one of a hundred in a book, she's been taking it everywhere and showing everyone! I've not been entirely comfortable with it, but now I see how valuable she is and how lucky I'll be to have her when/if I have an actual book of my own to promote!

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  21. Brianna --Show you mother-in-law my press series and ask her if she would help you get something in the local paper. If you write up a press release that's best, but just presenting the facts to a reporter can work too. It's a worldwide challenge that you're in and your're already a published author--that's a worth story for your hometown paper. Please share it with us when it gets in print. You and your mother-in-law can do this!

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  22. I never knew about that story that was written about you in High School. That's so cool!

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  23. Lee these were wonderful stories about you and your family. You've led a very interesting life!

    Question: Who did you finally cast in the role of Snow White? :)

    To answer your question: I have written press releases and generally get them published verbatim so I am always cautious about submitting the same one to more than one local paper. Editors like to think they have priority and will often publish without a byline as if staff had written it.

    The world of journalism has changed considerably, I still submit client releases by individual e-mail to editors and these days there is always the Internet and several free PR distribution sites that one can target their release.

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  24. Emilee -- Yes we had several cool articles written about us. You'll have to look at my scrapbook if you never saw it before.

    Paula --the Snow White role was filled by a young lady with acting aspirations who had worked in the local passion play. A few years later I hired one of her younger sisters on a tour of Pinocchio.

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Lee