Focus

In Dealing With the Press, A Nose for News Can Help

MEDIA RELATIONS by CINDY HORCHEM and G. KENT STEWART


Relationships between school executives and members of the news media must be complementary. Each side has a job to do and a role to play, and these are conducted most successfully in a climate of understanding and cooperation.

The best approach for school administrators is one where everyone feels like a winner: The news media receives interesting and newsworthy stories, the school district receives accurate and generally positive publicity, and readers, listeners and viewers receive the information they want and need. Here are a few strategies for making that a reality.


A Natural Development
  • Know your reporters.

    School administrators need to be proactive in establishing relationships with media professionals, especially reporters. Begin by calling on reporters on their turf and invite them later to your turf. Be genuine, and avoid acting as if you are crusading for publicity. You are not. Rather you are seeking ways to bring the school story to the public eye and ear.

  • Develop relationships naturally.

    Positive relationships with reporters are eased into over time. Let the relationship develop at a natural pace that is neither forced, faked nor aggressively staged. If the school administrator is doing a good job, the reporter will notice. Reporters are trained to be perceptive. Respect the skills, discipline, commitment and professionalism of reporters. Remember, they too are trying hard to make a living.

  • Recognize what reporters require.

    Reporters have desires, needs and expectations. They desire newsworthy material, they need that material to be on time and they expect the material to be reasonably complete and accurate. What school administrators consider news may not square well with what reporters desire. You can receive guidance by simply asking reporters what they want. Weekly newspapers and small radio stations have needs that differ from large metropolitan dailies and TV news operations. So ask rather than guess. Generally, reporters want information that is timely and leads that present an unusual or fresh angle. They want news that relates to their local readers, listeners and viewers. They often look for controversy. (Don't try to sidestep or play this down. Be open and truthful and show genuine concern.)

  • Realize that news is relative.

    News is judged in relation to other available information. Something considered highly newsworthy may not be printed or broadcast if something more important happens that day. Often the relativity is not something that can be controlled. However, the more familiar you become with news media, the more aware you are of slow days or times when reporters are particularly glad for information to fill space or time. Holidays can be such times. Timing can be the key to getting your information out.
  • School administrators need to be proactive in establishing relationships with media professionals, especially reporters. Begin by calling on reporters on their turf and invite them later to your turf. Be genuine, and avoid acting as if you are crusading for publicity. You are not. Rather you are seeking ways to bring the school story to the public eye and ear.Positive relationships with reporters are eased into over time. Let the relationship develop at a natural pace that is neither forced, faked nor aggressively staged. If the school administrator is doing a good job, the reporter will notice. Reporters are trained to be perceptive. Respect the skills, discipline, commitment and professionalism of reporters. Remember, they too are trying hard to make a living.Reporters have desires, needs and expectations. They desire newsworthy material, they need that material to be on time and they expect the material to be reasonably complete and accurate. What school administrators consider news may not square well with what reporters desire. You can receive guidance by simply asking reporters what they want. Weekly newspapers and small radio stations have needs that differ from large metropolitan dailies and TV news operations. So ask rather than guess. Generally, reporters want information that is timely and leads that present an unusual or fresh angle. They want news that relates to their local readers, listeners and viewers. They often look for controversy. (Don't try to sidestep or play this down. Be open and truthful and show genuine concern.)News is judged in relation to other available information. Something considered highly newsworthy may not be printed or broadcast if something more important happens that day. Often the relativity is not something that can be controlled. However, the more familiar you become with news media, the more aware you are of slow days or times when reporters are particularly glad for information to fill space or time. Holidays can be such times. Timing can be the key to getting your information out.

    Credibility Counts
  • Communicate regularly.

    After becoming acquainted with the editors and reporters and beginning to build a positive relationship, the administrator has penetrated the first level of a two-tier audience. The second tier is the reader/listener with whom school administrators are trying to communicate. Quite obviously, the attention of reporters must be captured first in order to gain any access to the public.

    Once confidence is established with the reporter, administrators should try to serve as a resource to reporters rather than simply a source of news. Provide copies of weekly or monthly newsletters and share regular tips to the media, alerting them to upcoming school events that will have news appeal.

    By soliciting feedback from reporters, you can remain alert to their requirements and interests. Everything will not be published or aired, but enough will so that the general public will be better informed and more supportive than otherwise would have been possible.

  • Earn respect for good work.

    Your ability to achieve positive relations with the news media begins with your credibility and your reputation as a school administrator. These are earned through doing good work. The old adage that you can't sell from an empty wagon rings true. Good publicity alone will not make a good organization or a good school. Bring about good results and positive publicity follows. School administrators must do what they say they are doing, and the quality of their assertions must be readily observable. Otherwise the whole media relations effort will soon collapse.

    Cindy Horchem is an instructor of mass media at Washburn University, 1700 College Ave., Topeka, Kan. 66621. E-mail: zzhorc@washburn.edu. G. Kent Stewart is a professor of educational administration at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.
  • After becoming acquainted with the editors and reporters and beginning to build a positive relationship, the administrator has penetrated the first level of a two-tier audience. The second tier is the reader/listener with whom school administrators are trying to communicate. Quite obviously, the attention of reporters must be captured first in order to gain any access to the public.Once confidence is established with the reporter, administrators should try to serve as a resource to reporters rather than simply a source of news. Provide copies of weekly or monthly newsletters and share regular tips to the media, alerting them to upcoming school events that will have news appeal.By soliciting feedback from reporters, you can remain alert to their requirements and interests. Everything will not be published or aired, but enough will so that the general public will be better informed and more supportive than otherwise would have been possible.Your ability to achieve positive relations with the news media begins with your credibility and your reputation as a school administrator. These are earned through doing good work. The old adage that you can't sell from an empty wagon rings true. Good publicity alone will not make a good organization or a good school. Bring about good results and positive publicity follows. School administrators must do what they say they are doing, and the quality of their assertions must be readily observable. Otherwise the whole media relations effort will soon collapse.