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Getting started with the media

A basic introduction covering what journalists are looking for, timings, the elements of a good news story and tips for writing strong press releases.

Press coverage is still one of the best ways to spread the word about your charity on a budget. Yet getting to grips with the media can be time consuming and daunting. This guide sets out some key principles and insights into what journalists want. By following these simple pointers you can give your story the best chance of gaining media coverage.

Broadly speaking, your press work is likely to fall into two categories: proactive (as in planned in advance campaigns) and reactive (commenting on other stories).

Before you even get started with the media you’ll need a great story. Read our guide How to write a brilliant press release.

Timings

How far in advance should I let journalists know about my story?

It really depends on the nature of the story, but it’s good to alert journalists two weeks before a launch. A short email to key journalists that you think will be interested in the story is fine. The idea is to ensure your story is in journalists’ and news outlets’ planning diaries.

For other long lead-in publications (such as monthly or quarterly magazines, or TV programmes) you should think about calling the planning teams well in advance to gauge interest.

What is the best day to do a media launch?

In the days of print media different days of the week increased your likelihood of press coverage. The 24 hour rolling news cycle and social media have changed this. However, a PR professional told us that the first half of the week is still better for getting press coverage.

Many weekend newspapers have supplements and these include columns or feature opportunities on human interest stories that could be appropriate for your charities. To get these secured, you may need to contact Saturday journalists quite a few weeks in advance. A former newspaper editor swears by selling a story in on a Sunday to be run on Monday, and says that a strong visual story is more likely to be covered on Thursday or Friday.

Should I put an embargo on a press release?

Am embargo means that the press are not allowed to run a story until a specified time and date. This is written at the top of the press release so that journalists can start planning stories before they are in the public domain. We would advise doing this if you are planning a big campaign in advance.

There is an unwritten rule about embargoes and not breaking them. For example, if a journalist decides to run with a story that clearly has an embargo; they lose credibility not only with you but with others in their profession. Similarly, if you put a story out and allow a journalist to break the story the day before, you have broken your side of the agreement.

Dealing with journalists

Which journalists are most relevant for which stories?

Many organisations subscribe to media list building software – such as Gorkana or MediAtlas, which allow you to find journalists with interests in specific areas. If you don’t have access to this, one of the best methods is to keep a close eye on the media and see who is reporting on what, and build your own bespoke list on an Excel spreadsheet.

Quite often it’s best to approach a journalist personally who you know has written on similar topics – rather than sending a generic email to the newsdesk. 

National, broadcast and local media.

For national broadcast outlets, as well as sending information to specific journalists, you should also make sure planning desks are informed of your event/launch well in advance. This ensures it is in planning diaries and the relevant journalists will pick it up.

Make sure you send press releases to the Press Association and other agencies who offer a syndicated service. If your story is picked up here, journalists will be able to access it and it has a much stronger chance of being covered widely. The Press Association has journalists covering specific topics (see here for the Press Association who's who list). It is also worth sending press releases to the two main addresses:

  • news@pa.press.net
  • lobby@pa.press.net

Community Newswire is another good outlet to upload your press releases –and it’s free for charities.

Don't forget about local media. Read more tips in our guide to getting your story covered by local media.

How should I go about approaching journalist?

A personal email is always a good way to begin. If you look at the standard email addresses for the paper the chances are you’ll be able to work it out for the journalist you want to email, eg:

  • Guardian: firstname.surname@guardian.co.uk
  • Independent: initialsurname@independent.co.uk
  • BBC: firstname.surname@bbc.co.uk

If possible refer to a recent article they’ve written on a similar topic – and make it clear who you can offer to talk to them in advance and who they should contact for more information.

Social media is another good way to build relationships with journalists. Read our guide on pitching to journalists.

If you don’t hear back, wait a day or two (depending on how soon your story is launching!) and then follow up with a phone call. Don’t be put off if you get a brusque response. Journalists are busy people!

Should I give an exclusive?

You can offer a journalist an exclusive if it’s a big story and the outlet could help you reach a large swathe of your target audience.  You can then send out a press release to the rest of the press after publication as long as the journalist who covered it is happy with that.

Constructive journalism

Constructive journalism is a solutions-focused approach to news in which reporters don’t just concentrate on problems but also examine solutions. Rather than merely investigating what’s going wrong in the world, they explore what’s going right – and why.

To find out more about this approach, and the organisations and people driving it, read our Express guide to constructive journalism.

Constructive Voices is an NCVO project aimed at encouraging constructive journalism by linking charities with journalists to tell positive stories about their work. Visit the Constructive Voices pages on NCVO to find out more and sign up.

Useful links

Page last edited Sep 18, 2017

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