September 2006 Vol. 11 Issue 3
Lunch your way into the newspaper
Q&A with Steve Cain

Good news media relations requires a constant effort. Educators often share their experiences of having a difficult time getting specific information into their local news media — perhaps the many who don’t complain are doing something right. This issue’s question is a follow up to the question I addressed in “Why you should never ‘use’ the media” from the March On Target.

Question: How do I develop a better partnership with the local newspaper to get Purdue Extension items of interest into print?

Answer: My answer begins with a question: When was the last time you went to lunch with the editor (or another appropriate person) at your newspaper?

I’ve gone to lunch with a few local newspaper editors and Purdue Extension educators and was encouraged by the dialogue — which had not taken place before. Usually, local editors know what Purdue Extension does, so spend a little time making sure editors know about all the programming you offer.

You can start with a one-page handout of who does what at your office, but quickly tell editors where and how your staff have improved the quality of life, made an economic impact, or improved the community through education.

Don’t talk about how many people attend meetings. Instead, focus on the audiences both the newspaper and Purdue Extension serve. Explain what motivates those audiences to seek Purdue Extension education, and what they have been able to do with what they’ve learned.

Make life easier for editors

After that, ask editors what you can do to make it easier for them to get that information into print. Find out:

  • What newspapers are (and are not) willing to print. Get a clear view of this. Remember: it isn’t the news media’s job to educate, it’s to sell newspapers. Education is a detailed process that the news media are, quite frankly, not set up to handle. However, the news media are very capable of making people aware of issues and where to get more information. You may have a little room to negotiate here, but remember, it is their newspaper and editors have to run their businesses profitably. They are responsible for what works and doesn’t work for them. For example, if they can’t print a list of all your events, maybe they can provide a short notice periodically that suggests where readers can find out more about Purdue Extension events in your county.
  • What deadlines work best for your newspaper. Ask them when they want materials handed in, and make certain you get your submissions to them on time.
  • What style of copy, word count, and format for copy work best for the paper. If you can submit materials in a format that’s easy for them to use, they will be more likely to use it.
  • What it takes, within reason, to get your information into the newspaper.


Make new friends

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a lunch meeting may be worth a thousand news releases — or at least, the beginning of getting them read. If your editor is not enthusiastic about going to lunch, see if you can meet at his or her office.

Newspaper editors and reporters are interested in providing their audience with information, and you can help. If you can provide insight into a new or different audience or topic, that conversation might be useful enough to garner more attention for your information.

I know some of you have tried working more closely with the local news media to no avail. Continue your efforts and look for new opportunities. For example, when new, young reporters start at a newspaper, they are often looking for sources. If you can provide new reporters a list of local sources on current hot topics, you may grab their attention and make some friends. The sources you provide can be volunteers or key people who can address local topics. Of course, never give reporters a person’s contact information unless he or she gives you permission to do so.

Look for other outlets

Finally, don’t forget the editors of local newsletters.

A survey we conducted in Hendricks County showed that people often read local faith-based bulletins. If you have information that is helpful to that audience about health, youth development, or even gardening, find out who puts the newsletter together, and see how you can provide information that can go with the newsletter.

Reaching out through company newsletters may also provide an avenue to new audiences. But just like working with newspaper editors, find out what you need to do to make the information more usable.

Steve Cain,

Do you want On Target to cover a topic that interests you? E-mail your ideas to Kevin Leigh Smith