Tips for Successfully Working with Local Media

by Mary Ellen Marnholtz, Community Relations Coordinator, Wausau School District

Why do I have to talk to the media?”

That’s what many school administrators think when they get a call from a reporter. It’s hard to carve time out of a busy day to work with the local media representative. Yet, if we don’t answer the call, there’s a chance the reporter is going to do the story anyway. If they frame it from their limited perspective, their report (good or bad) is what we and our school are judged against. It isn’t fair, but it’s true.

Why is the media so interested in schools? In national surveys, education news usually ranks in the top three areas of public interest. Schools are a microcosm of what’s happening in the broader world, so reporters take great interest in how issues play out in the educational setting.

Sometimes your’re looking to makes news for a positive classroom activity or program. When you’re submitting items for media coverage, ask yourself, “how is this story important to me, to my parents, to our neighbors?” or “why should a broader audience care about this news. If you can’t answer those questions, maybe your story isn’t really news. That’s why it’s so important to share your story ideas with your communications department or someone at your central office.

Sometimes, out of the blue, your telephone is ringing and a local reporter is on the other end trying to get a story. Here are the simple steps you should consider when talking with the media:

  • Be open, honest, and accessible
  • Communicate plainly and clearly
  • Tell your story?proactively, not reactively
  • When under scrutiny, don’t abandon those behaviors; be even more faithful in practicing them

These are good thoughts for us to keep in mind in any communication:

Board Policy

Have a board policy that details the parameters within which reporters can work when they are following a story in your district.

Dealing with Reporters

When you’re dealing with reporters, you want to keep your message simple, brief, and clear. A good rule of thumb is to develop two or three key messages about an issue that you are comfortable telling. Know those points and in an interview situation, use and re-use them. Even if you prepare to speak with a reporter, it can be tough. The very nature of what is consider “news” makes it so. For example:

  • issues that happen hundreds of miles away can come knocking on your door as reporters try to “localize” the story.
  • When trying to share your school’s story, remember, there is no news unless it is fresh. If it’s old, it ceases to be newsworthy. Because of the need to keep stories current, reporters are always under deadline pressure.
  • Reporters are pushed to show conflict. Let’s face it: negative stories sell papers and get people to tune in to broadcast news. Just remember, there are two sides to every story. Even though that’s true, it takes one person on the other side to create “negative news” for your school.
  • Every story needs a face. That’s why news media representatives want access to your staff and students.
  • There is a human element to reporting the news. Sometimes those beliefs can turn into bias in their reporting.

To ensure that you remain a credible source to area, never play favorites with reporters or news sources. Building credibility with new media may not be a top priority of your job description, but doing wo will ensure tht you command a place in the community as a trusted educational leader.

About the author

The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA) is a professional association representing schools, school districts, educational associations, consulting agencies and organizations. WSPRA is a state affiliate of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). 4797 HAYES ROAD | SUITE 103 | MADISON, WI 53704 | PHONE: 608-241-0300 | WSPRA@AWSA.ORG