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Tips for Working with the Press
EITC Awareness Day: The Value of Hard Work January 30
There are certain principles common to working with the press, whether it's an editorial writer, news reporter, or radio host.
Persistence. Journalists have hectic schedules and competing priorities. They often don't return phone calls, but don't take it personally. Keep trying to reach them. They won't be annoyed if you leave several messages, as long as you are polite. Once you make contact, if they express interest, keep after them until they follow through. If they don't express interest, ask them if they could recommend a colleague for whom your ideas or resources would be useful.
Relationship. Like all of us, journalists respond to personal relationships. Try to meet him or her in person. Let them know you liked a particular piece or program they ran, even if it's unrelated to hunger issues. Continue to be in contact with him or her, even when you don't have a specific request. If you can feed the journalist useful information, he or she will generate coverage for you on a regular basis. If your relationship results in an editorial or story, be sure to call, email, or send a handwritten note of thanks.
Education. Most journalists are responsible for covering an enormous number of issues. Except for a few who specialize in particular areas (such as an international development), journalists know far less about hunger and poverty issues than a well-prepared Bread activist. It's your job to educate them. If you're articulate and have useful information to give them, they will appreciate having you as a resource. Make full use of background information, current press releases, and new resources on Bread for the World's website.
Substance. Never call any journalist without proper preparation. When you're making a phone call, develop a concise talk—no more than one minute—that communicates the essential points you want to make. Repeat your "pitch" aloud several times until you are comfortable with it. Doing a role-play with someone—another Bread volunteer, your organizer, a spouse, or a friend—before making a phone call can be helpful. Anticipate questions the journalist will have or what he or she will need in order to sell the story idea to their news editor. Answer the "so what?" question sufficiently—how will your story idea better serve the journalist's audience?
Sensitivity. Journalists receive many phone calls and deal with constant deadlines; they don't have time to waste. When calling them, always begin by asking if they have a moment to talk. Don't keep them long, unless they want to have an extended conversation with you. Be prepared with a succinct talk that simply and clearly explains what you want them to cover. Always be polite. Be sure to spell their names correctly on anything you mail or fax. Learn as much as you can about them, including what issues they cover, their format, and when their deadlines are.
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