Local Organizing

Tips From Journalists: How To Build Great Connections with Media


In our past resources, we've covered some of the basics of how to pitch reporters to cover an event, how to build a media list, and how to give interviews.

As your Indivisible group sends down roots and becomes an institution in your community, it's worth putting some time into developing strong long-term relationships with the media in your area.

Building relationships with reporters takes time and work, but the benefits are huge. It helps you build your power to shape the narrative about your member of Congress (MoC.) It helps you make sure that the news coverage in your area reflects how constituents are really thinking about an issue.

The Indivisible network is lucky to have some great group leaders who have professional backgrounds in media themselves. We've gotten their personal takes on what makes someone a great and easy-to-work-with “source.” (That’s you!) We also asked them how they've incorporated that knowledge into their work as media points-of-contact for their Indivisible groups.

Thank you to all who contributed!

In this resource, we'll be covering these main pointers:

  • Be easy to find when reporters need you.
  • Before you pitch an idea for a story to a reporter, do some research about them.
  • Once you’ve connected, find out reporters’ preferences. Every reporter is different.
  • Pitch ideas thoughtfully.
  • Keep in touch.

Important Reminder on Press Interactions
Your interactions with the media can become part of the story. Journalists can use the information in your emails or on social media to help shape their story. Even your phone calls are something that a reporter could report about if they felt it was relevant. Always be mindful of the tone and content of your interactions with reporters.

Most reporters are not going to be “out to get you,” but trust your instincts. If you don’t feel confident that a reporter will give you a fair shake, proceed with a little extra caution when interacting with them.

1. Be easy to find when reporters need you.

One of the number one things you can do to make sure you’re not missing any opportunities to get your story told is making sure that reporters can reach you easily when they need you.

Post an email address on your website and social media where a reporter can reach you.

When news breaks, reporters scramble to cover the story and find sources to offer reactions from all sides. Being one of those sources is all about being in the right place at the right time. For example, if a reporter knows that there are two or three groups in the area they could get a constituent reaction from, if your group is the first to respond, then there’s a very good chance it’s your group that will be featured in the story.

For all kinds of reporters, time really is of the essence! Print reporters covering breaking news typically need to write and file their story ASAP, so they are probably looking to talk to sources within an hour. Broadcast reporters typically work on very tight timelines and often the assignment editors at TV stations don’t make final decisions on where they are sending cameras until an hour or less before going live. TV reporters typically work on one day’s worth of news at a time. You may be asked at 5 PM if you can do an on-camera interview for the 6 PM news.

If you have already been working with some reporters in your area and have made a couple connections, then thinking through ways to make sure you’re accessible quickly is a great goal. If you haven’t had much luck making connections yet: now’s a great time to start off on the right foot!

Time is of the essence.

“Reporters, especially those who focus on news or broadcast, can have very tight timelines. I've seen reporters sit down and bang out their article right after an event, and TV segments often go live the same evening or the next morning. That's why it's especially useful if you or a member of your media relations team can be easily reachable for most of the day of and day after any events.

When I check in with reporters at the end of Indivisible SF actions or at events where we have an organized presence, I give them a business card with both my email and phone number so that they can get in touch whichever way they prefer. In addition to offering help them with fact-checking, share photos, and provide any background information and numbers, I make it a point to let reporters know that I'm available to speak all day. All of these things can make reporters' lives easier—which goes a long way in establishing trust and a good rapport.”

Christine Wei, Indivisible SF
Former magazine reporter and editor

Being Accessible: Develop a system that works for your team
In an ideal world, Indivisible groups everywhere would have a single media point of contact who’s accessible 24/7, by phone or email, at a moment’s notice. In reality, Indivisible groups are run by real people with real jobs, real families, and real commitments.

Having one single point of contact for media is a best practice that has lots of advantages if it is doable. However, if there isn’t one natural person with the availability to fill that role, multiple people can share the load.

Being able to respond to a reporter’s inquiry roughly within 2-3 hours from 9am to 8pm every day is a good goal. Communication and awareness of people’s schedules are going to be key, whatever the arrangement is. Here are some ways that groups are making it work:

  • Consider creating a dedicated press account, like “indivisyourgroup.press@gmail.com.” You can set up it up to forward to multiple people. Discuss with your team what people’s schedules are, what times people can be the point person for, and what the expectations will be. Is there a media lead, who’s supported by a backup media person who helps keep an eye out for urgent inquiries? Is there a media team who are generally available at different times? Whatever the arrangement, clarity is key.
  • Out of office emails can be a useful tool. If covering an email account is going to be an ongoing challenge, you can have this set up all the time to say something like “Thank you for reaching out! If you are a reporter on a deadline between 9 and 5, please contact ____. If you are a reporter reaching out after hours, please contact ____. We will be in touch within 24 hours.”
  • Being a point of contact for the media and being a person who gives interviews with the media do not have to be the same thing. Your group may have someone who’s a great point of contact logistically and has the time and skills to keep up a good rapport with reporters—but isn’t the best spokesperson to go on camera. Your group may also have multiple members who have great personal stories and are prepared to share them with the press, but aren’t great points of contact.
  • Media monitoring is also a task that can be shared. Make sure that a few members of your group have Google Alerts set up to monitor your Member of Congress. If there’s been a big development in the news that relates to your Member of Congress or an issue you have been working on, have them check in and make sure someone is reachable.
  • No matter what, when you’re in touch with a reporter, the best thing you can do is be clear about your availability and schedule. They know you have other commitments and they’ll appreciate it when you’re communicative. “I would love to tell you more about this event! I’m picking my kids up right now. Could we talk in 45 minutes? What’s your deadline?”

2. Before you pitch an idea for a story to a reporter, do some research about them

Before reaching out to a reporter for the first time, Google them and find out how what kinds of stories he or she covers. (See this training for tips on how to build a media list.)

For example, a newspaper reporter may have written a long front page story about your MoC’s visit to an elementary school last week. That may make her seem like a natural person to reach out to. If you take the time to look up other stories she’s written, however, you may find that they’re all about parenting and elementary school education. She’s probably not the right person to invite to your upcoming health care rally. But read around the newspaper’s website further, and you should find the person who is.

Look up the reporter’s past stories to get a sense of his or her “beat” and what he or she likes to cover. Doing a little extra homework like this is essential to pitching stories the reporter will care about

When introducing yourself to a reporter, a little flattery can’t hurt, especially if it’s genuine.

“Hi [reporter], I saw your story about Congresswoman Smith’s role in the recent education bill—very thorough piece! I wanted to let you know about an event we’re having outside the Congresswoman’s office to urge her not to vote for public school funding cuts in the upcoming FY18 budget…”

Knowing who you’re pitching is key to making a good first impression.

I can always tell the difference between a blind pitch and someone reaching out who knows my writing and the issues that I am concerned about.

If your Indivisible group is doing a Town Hall on the economy, I would not be the reporter for the story. If the focus is the environment or women's reproductive rights, than that would be a click.

Marcia G. Yerman, NYCD16-Indivisible
IDC Action Group, Writer

3. Once you’ve connected, find out reporters’ preferences. Every reporter is different

Reporters vary in their styles, preferences, and needs. The best way to find out how to be a good source for a reporter is to ask!

Here are some questions to ask:

  • How would you like me to reach you about future events? Call, text, email, Twitter?
  • What’s your day like? Are there daily deadlines or weekly meetings that I should keep in mind when I reach out to you?
  • What kinds of stories are right up your alley? Are there certain types of stories you’d especially like us to keep you in minds for?

“When I worked as a journalist, I couldn’t stand getting phone calls to follow up on press releases or pitches. I preferred getting follow-ups by email. But I know other journalists appreciate follow-up calls. Keep in mind that every reporter is different, and by getting to know them as individuals, you can cultivate mutual respect and ensure they’re more likely to respond to what you have to offer.”

Emily Morris, Indivisible SF
Former online/print news reporter

4. Pitch ideas thoughtfully

Once you’ve identified which reporters to pitch ideas to, it’s time to craft your pitch

You want pitch emails to be brief, timely, and clear on why the reporter should care about your event.

When you’re pitching a story, think about what the final product could be.

"When I was a staff journalist/editor, more than a hundred pitches landed in my inbox each day. The ones that caught my eye not only told me why I should care (the timely hook), but they also gave me an idea of what my story could look like. Could this be a feature about an event? A profile with the organizer of a big campaign? An anchor for a larger, perhaps even national, trend story?"

Christine Wei, Indivisible SF
Former magazine reporter and editor

Pitching a story doesn’t always have to be formal. 

“After I’ve met a reporter at an event and I have their contact info, sometimes I will reach out and say, 'I don’t know if you’d be interested in this, we’re not releasing this to anyone, but we’re doing this thing. Would you like to come?'

It could be, 'Hey, we go to these offices all the time. Would you want to go with us?’

We have a lot of young reporters in our market. They come here right out of college, before going on to a ‘real’ market. They’re building a portfolio. So it really is like, what’s in it for them? What’s an angle that’s interesting to them, that’ll get their attention? Because they’re very self-directed."

Sarah Herron, Indivisible East Tennessee
Former newspaper reporter

It’s OK to follow up. 

“Inboxes are always full but a gentle reminder is okay. Sometimes things that would resonate get overlooked by mistake.

PR is not a science. You never know who will respond or when an event will be the narrative a writer was looking for.

Be Polite! Everyone is stressed out in this time of Trump.”

Marcia G. Yerman, NYCD16-Indivisible
IDC Action Group, Writer

 

“There are a lot of times you reach out, and they never follow up. It’s not personal. Don’t stop calling. Reach back out.”

Sarah Herron, Indivisible East Tennessee
Former newspaper reporter

Don’t get discouraged!

“When you have a story that you think would be of interest to a reporter, contact them in their preferred way and let them know you have something new and newsworthy for them.

Even if they end up not covering the story this time, they'll keep you in their back pocket for next time.

We've had several reporters come back to us on a few stories we didn't know were happening because we established ourselves as good sources, even on timely issues that aren't our #1 topic.

For example, earlier this summer when the redistricting hearing was happening in San Antonio, a local Austin outlet wanted to speak to someone about why the case was so important for Austin. They interviewed three people for the story: Rep. Doggett (whose district is involved in the case), Rep. McCaul (whose Republican district might be altered in redistricting), and me. They had my number because we'd been a credible source in previous stories.”

Lisa Goodgame, Indivisible ATX
Non-profit communications professional

5. Keep in touch

To build good relationships with reporters, you’re going to want to be in touch in other ways, not just when you’re pitching them on a story.

Here are a few ways to stay on a reporter's radar and keep up a good rapport.

“ICYMI” emails

ICYMI stands for “In Case You Missed It.” Putting “ICYMI” in the subject line of an email is a way of saying to a busy reporter, “No immediate action needed here, but I wanted to be sure you saw this.”

“ICYMI” emails can be a way of sharing gossip about yourself or others. You might send around a roundup of photos from an event. You might share a news story about your MoC in Washington, one the reporter may or may not have seen yet. You might send an ICYMI email if you get a big story written about in another media outlet. Either way, use these sparingly—when you think you have something genuinely of interest.

Great story!

Every now and then you want to check in with reporters and put yourself back on their radar. An easy way to do this is to let them know you’re reading their work, even if it’s not about you. An occasional email is nice, though too much can be a little obvious.

“Hi [reporter], I saw your story this morning on XYZ and I thought it was really insightful and added a new angle to the debate. I shared it around with my Indivisible group!”

Follow them on social media—and share their work. 

Another easy way to help a reporter out is to share their stories on social media. When you see a piece you like or find useful—whether it mentions your group or not—share it on Twitter and tag their handle, and on Facebook as well.

Reporters today are often under pressure to produce stories that get lots of “clicks” online. If your group has a large social media reach, reporters may send their stories to you in the hopes that you’ll share with your social networks.

Meet up for coffee. 

Meeting up with a reporter in person for coffee is a great way to build a real bond.

When you connect with a reporter you’re going to be working with frequently, and you feel that their coverage of your issues has been fair, reach out and see if they’d like to meet for an off-the-record coffee. It’s a great opportunity to talk about what your group is doing in a more relaxed way. It’s also a great way to learn about their daily life on the job. Bring your genuine curiosity. Use the questions above as a guide.

One note of caution: remember, even if you’ve agreed that a conversation will be “off the record,” it’s important to watch your tone and be thoughtful about what you share. “Off the record” is a convention, an agreement that something is not designed to be printed, but it’s not legally binding or anything.

Keep in touch without forcing it.

“It’s a good idea to keep in touch with reporters while avoiding too much correspondence—they’re really busy, after all. Follow them on Twitter, retweet their stories, maybe email them when you really liked a recent story of theirs.

At Indivisible SF, we make an effort to regularly update our media list. That means keeping in touch with reporters and paying attention to their career moves. Reporters frequently change beats, locations, etc. and that information is critical to know. While there are paid services out there that can help you update your media list, it’s free to email reporters about what kinds of stories they’re currently chasing or to follow reporters on social media, where they’re likely to announce career moves."

Emily Morris, Indivisible SF
Former online/print news reporter

 

“Get on the reporter's radar by following them on Twitter. This also helps you to see what they are thinking and writing about.”

Marcia G. Yerman, NYCD16-Indivisible
IDC Action Group, Writer

Keep trying new things!

Ultimately, the best way to learn what builds connections and gets media coverage in your area is to keep trying. Keep reaching out to new reporters, keep asking good questions, and find the approaches that work for you. Check out more of Indivisible’s Media Training Resources.

Keep posting any coverage you earn on Facebook and Twitter and keep us posted on your successes at stories@indivisibleguide.com.