Making A Difference
When contacting media with a story idea, you may use one or more of these methods:
Even if you call first and find that a reporter is interested in your story, it is always good practice to provide the reporter with your written press materials as follow-up. This accomplishes two goals: it makes the reporter's job easier, and it ensures that the reporter receives your message in the language you hope will be used in the final story.
When Do You Know It's News?
An upcoming "open house" where patrons can receive a tour of the library and demonstrations on how to access different reference materials is news. If you are participating in a health fair at your local hospital next week, it is news. It is also news if you have been involved in an unusual situation. For example:
When Should You Contact Media?
If you are hoping to be a guest on a radio or television talk show, you should contact news directors, producers or assignment desks three weeks ahead of time.
Most large television stations have planning and assignment desks. The planning desk has a file of interesting news happening each day. The assignment desk makes assignments the day of the event, depending on other news of the day. In smaller markets, this task might be handled by the same person. Plans to do a story on your news can change from moment to moment depending on "breaking news."
For example, a television assignment editor who expresses interest in your story a week before it takes place may plan up to the last minute to send a crew to cover it because of the great visuals and human interest appeal. However, if, as the camera crew is leaving to cover your event, a small plane crashes in a cornfield outside of town, the crew will rush out to the plane crash site and your story will be forgotten.
Since radio depends only on what people can hear, you could be interviewed live or on tape, or someone could come to the library and interview visitors who have toured the library and learned about using the Internet. For a call-in show, you could go into the studio and answer caller's questions about how to find health care information.
Because radio news is broadcast so frequently, a news story can be on the radio almost instantaneously and run more often, compared with newspapers that have to wait until their next edition, or television news that usually has to wait until the next scheduled broadcast, with the exception of programs such as CNN or catastrophic "breaking news" that usually "breaks" into programming.
What Should You Say? When Should You Stop?
You should take into consideration reporters' busiest times and not call during those times. If reporters say they are "on deadline," find out when you can call back and get off the phone quickly.
In general, the busiest times for television and radio are an hour or two before a broadcast. Print reporters are usually available from 9:30 a.m. until the middle of the afternoon. Of course, there are exceptions.
If you call reporters on the phone, tell them your news or story idea and then stop talking. If you reach their voice mail, ask to have them paged, or verify that they are in the office but unavailable. If so, pitch your story on voice mail and follow up the next day if you haven't heard back. Don't continue to leave voice mails. If, after one voice mail and a follow-up call you haven't received a call back, assume that the reporter is not interested and call another time with another story.
Even if you have a good, long conversation or leave a detailed voice mail, you should still follow up with written materials. If it is breaking news, fax your materials (four pages maximum).
In many cases, reporters prefer to be contacted by e-mail. Make your message as brief as possible and provide the reporter with a phone number where you can be reached if they are interested in the story.
Media Contact Worksheet
Using PR Newswire
For chapters that have statewide news to distribute, PR Newswire may be the most cost-effective way to reach the most reporters quickly. If you have news in a single market, it is probably as cost-effective to fax and call local media on your own.
Costs for distribution on PR Newswire vary depending on the word count of your materials and how many people you want to reach. Costs typically range between $100 and $300 for local or regional distribution of a one-page news alert or two-page news release.
You should look in your local telephone yellow pages to determine if there is a PR Newswire bureau in your area. You also can call the national PR Newswire number at 800/832-5522 and talk to them about your distribution needs. Make sure to confirm the cost before you fax them your release or news alert.
Public Service Announcements (PSAs)
For example, if MLA members are participating in a free health fair for seniors at your local mall, a broadcast station might be inclined to let the public know beforehand as a community service at no cost.
Public service announcements allow organizations to take credit for the good they do in serving the public. They usually are not meant to draw attention to for-profit activities or commercial ventures.
Stations are no longer required by the Federal Communications Commission to fulfill a quota of public service broadcast hours, and as a result, some stations do not use PSAs Others use only professionally produced PSAs. Some air PSAs only on an exclusive basis, acting as a co-sponsor of an organization's public service message; others create their own scripts using the information you provide. Before planning a campaign using PSAs, it is important to determine the policies of the radio and television stations in your area.
Radio PSAs may be pre-recorded and submitted to stations on audiotape. The alternative is to provide an "announcer-read" script that is recorded or read by program hosts or others at the station. To be accepted by a radio station, audiotapes must be high quality and professionally produced.
Guidelines for Placing PSAs
Five weeks prior to airing of PSA:
Four weeks prior:
Three weeks prior:
One week prior:
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2007 July 13