• Working with the Media

    One day, if it hasn't happened already, a reporter will want to talk to you about something happening at your school or with your students. Please contact the district's communications team for assistance with your media questions, particularly in crisis or emergency situations. (» Tip sheet: Handling media inquiries)

    But as part of your own work in communicating about great things going on at your school, you will sometimes want to seek out media attention yourself. Keys to successful media relations are knowledge—knowing the media, knowing the information you need to communicate, knowing how to match media and message to reach the right audiences—and the right tools to put that knowledge to work.

    Read below for a primer on media, messages and audiences, and then visit our tip sheets on such things as writing an effective press release, giving a strong interview and responding to the reporter at your door.

    Knowing the Media

    Myth: The media only report negative stories. They never look at the positive things our students are doing. And they don't care about getting it right—they just want to be the first to report bad news.

    Lots of things happen in and to schools—some good, some bad. Yes, reporters are quick to cover many of our negative issues. But they cover positive stories as well.

    Most media outlets have four goals:

    • To inform
    • To advise
    • To entertain
    • To be successful, profitable businesses

    Keep in mind that reporters are not public relations consultants—they are interested in covering news, not in promoting your school. But that doesn't mean media shouldn't be part of your own promotion plans. If you have a newsworthy story to tell (see the next section for more on this topic), enlisting the media is a great way to get the word out. (» Tip sheet: Making media contacts)

    Remember, too, that there are many different media outlets. The Baltimore Sun, City Paper, Urbanite and The Afro cover different stories in different ways, and the same is true of radio and TV stations. Familiarize yourself with the media, get to know the outlets that your audiences rely on—and then think about how your school's story will or won't fit with each one.

    Knowing Your Message

    Key question: What is news?

    Definitions of news are as diverse as the people attempting to define it. But news does have certain consistent elements that reporters have in their thoughts as they try to determine the newsworthiness of an event:

    • It has significance for the general public.
    • It is timely.
    • It has a human interest angle.
    • It is unique or represents something new to a community.
    • There's not much going on, it's a slow news day...and I need a story.

    Within news, there are two categories:

    1. Hard news, fast-breaking items or events with civic or political importance—the sort of thing that leads the evening news broadcast on TV or appears on the front page of a newspaper or the top of the news website homepage. For City Schools, these things might include a teacher or student arrest, lawsuits or release of test data. Almost always, hard news about City Schools will mean contact with the district communications staff, rather than staff at the school.

    2. Soft news, often feature-length, "feel good" stories about students, programs or issues—for example, coverage of award-winning teachers or students, an innovative program or a schoolwide community service activity. These are great stories you can pitch to the media directly. (» Tip sheet: Writing an effective press release)

    Be mindful that something that seems newsworthy to you may not be newsworthy in the opinion of a reporter. Reporters (and their bosses) are interested in stories their audiences want and need to know about—and you may have to convince a reporter that your school's story falls into that category. To determine whether you have a chance, ask yourself these four Ws and one H:

    • Who is involved?
    • When did it or will it occur?
    • Where did or will it happen?
    • Why is it important?
    • How did it evolve?

    Occasionally, the answer to just one of these questions will be important enough to generate a news story—for example, if the "Who" involved is a well known celebrity or community leader. But, more often, your event will need to answer all these questions in a substantive way in order to attract serious attention from a reporter. And be careful about timeliness. A story about an event that happened last week isn't likely to hook a reporter's interest.

    Knowing Your Audiences

    The key to getting publicity is having something to say and then choosing who to say it to.
       —Robert Cummings, reporter, Maine Sunday Telegram

    Internal audiences for schools and the district include staff, students and their families. Of course, these large audiences can be broken down into smaller groups—high school students, for example, or cafeteria staff. You have many tools available to communicate with these audiences (browse this toolkit for recommendations), and you should use them all. Internal audiences are vital as ambassadors for your school—and as important stakeholders in your school community, they need to have correct and up-to-date information.

    Reporters' primary interest won't be in helping you reach these groups. But these internal audiences may include people who read, listen to or watch the news channels where reporters work—and reporters definitely want to reach them.

    External audiences are members of the larger community, including people you may want to enlist in the work of your school—city officials, local religious leaders, retirees, local businesses, families with babies and toddlers or those who have chosen options other than City Schools, and many more. The more people your news story is likely to interest, the easier it will be to convince a reporter that the story should be covered.