Top tips to get your story into your local paper
Hold the front page
Local papers are still one of the best ways for you to publicise your group, event or occasion to a wider audience.
Most are weekly, but some are daily, or evening meaning there is a growing demand for news. Many of them also have websites that are updated each day, so even if a story is too late for the printed paper, it can be put online immediately.
- If unfamiliar with the paper you want to send a story to, buy a copy. See how stories are laid out, the length of the articles, and who to contact. Most papers have a list of who to call about what items, and give phone numbers and emails and deadlines for sending information to them.
- If it is a regular item you want included, for instance reports of a meeting, see if the paper runs a community news section. Check how and when to get your article to the paper to make sure it goes in.
- Many weekly papers have ‘group of the week’ or ‘district news’ sections. It means you can send in your own report of your meeting to the paper and ask them to consider using it. Read your local paper, make contact with them, check the deadline and submit your information. They may even give you the chance for more publicity by sending a photographer to a meeting.
- Remember, only the most compelling stories stand a chance of getting in the paper if they arrive in the newsroom an hour before the weekly deadline.
- Ask if you could meet a reporter for a quick coffee to tell them a little about the scope for potential stories about your organisation. Overworked, underpaid local reporters can often be tempted by coffee, cake, a quick break from the office and a potential story.
- Building a personal relationship with one reporter, through a face to face meeting, can increase your chances of coverage. It will also help you develop a clearer sense of what interests a paper.
- Ideally have something original and visual to report.
- Newspapers and their readers love something which is a little different and interesting to look at.
- Who? What? When? Why? Where? How? These are the simple questions reporters have at the back of their minds. When speaking to a reporter or writing a press release make sure you think in the same way.
- Provide contact details including daytime and a mobile phone number if possible. Email addresses are useful but there is always the worry that the recipient will not reply for several hours or days.
- Contact people should be available to answer queries. Do not make sending in a press release, one of the last things you do before going away for a two week holiday.
- Have you any figures or a strong quote to firm up a story? e.g. figures on how many using your food bank. A release which is vague and anodyne stands less chance of a good spot in the paper.
Kenneth Speirs, a senior reporter on the Paisley Daily Express newspaper said: “I like all the information I receive to be clear and brief. If information is too long-winded or confused it can lead to errors that could make their way into publication, which would not only be giving the readers the wrong information but it could also destroy their trust in the newspaper.
Accuracy is paramount he added: “For example if a press release talks about Rev John Smith and subsequently refers to his as Rev Smith rather than Mr Smith (as is correct) then that's when I press the delete button.”
It’s worth remembering if you have a very good story, that it will be picked up by other media including national newspapers, tv or radio.
Three golden rules to liaise with Journalists
- If a journalist calls, then be polite but don’t feel pressured to speak to them. Always check their name, contact details and deadline. Buy time, say you will call in five minutes or ten minutes – they will almost always agree.
- Don’t make off guarded comments when interviewed by a reporter in person or over the phone. The flippant, perhaps offensive or what you thought was a jokey remark, is the one that will be quoted.
- Don’t speak off the record to reporters. Many journalists these days have little or no true understanding of what the term means. Don’t say anything you would not want to see appear in print and attributed to you.
Look out for other media where you can gain publicity. If there is a local radio station in the area, make sure they receive your releases and establish contact with them. There could be a chance to being invited in for an interview which is great free publicity.