Dealing with Your Local Newspaper

Steve Dennie, Communications Director
Last Thursday I attended a Communications Roundtable in Indianapolis. It’s a bi-monthly group of people who do communications for large churches. The sponsor is Fishhook, a really wonderful Christian communications/branding firm in Indy.

The topic for this meeting was “Media Relations.” We had several speakers, including a religion reporter for the Indianapolis Star newspaper. Here are some of their comments and suggestions:

  • Newspapers are in a time of change. They are trying to do more (like adding websites) with fewer people.
  • If you want them to cover an event, give two weeks of lead time.
  • Be understanding if they can’t cover your church event. Newspaper people aren’t able to get out as much as in the past.
  • Newspapers are reducing the size of their printed papers, and writing shorter, more tightly-written stories.
  • Understand that editors and reporters get scores of phone calls, emails, and voice messages while working on strict deadlines. It’s easy for things to slip through the cracks.
  • Leave short voice messages, and identify yourself and your church clearly.
  • They like photo features.
  • They are always looking for digital material, such as video and photos, that they can use on the web.
  • They appreciate when you suggest stories and story angles.
  • They prefer stories about people, rather than about institutions.
  • Understand that their main responsibility is to their readers. They are looking for the angle that will make the story most interesting to the bulk of their readers.
  • Develop a relationship with reporters and editors. Don’t just pitch them information to get free publicity. Relationships will serve you much better in the long run.
  • Don’t bombard them with information about every little church event. We get excited about what’s happening in our church and want to throw it all out to the public. But before long, they’ll just begin ignoring your submissions. Be strategic in suggesting stories. Once a quarter is good.
  • A good story angle: how something your church does ties into trends, topics, and issues of interest to the entire community.
  • Help the reporter by providing people who can talk about the issue or event, and suggest visuals (like photos).
  • What reporters see as fair and objective may not seem that way to you. Trust their judgment. They’re not out to get you. They’re just ordinary people who probably attend a church near you.
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