Off the Record
Last week I had the privilege to speak to a roomful of librarians and library board directors from across central Alberta about how they can improve communications with their hometown newspapers. It was, I hope, an entertaining and informative afternoon for all.
It got me thinking on the drive back to the office from Lacombe (is that distracted driving?) that the information I presented would be useful to provide to the community groups we deal with at the Ponoka News. I’ll compile that information in a handout we can present to clubs in town.
We try hard to get to every newsworthy event we are aware of in the Ponoka area — and some outside of town we feel our readers would benefit from reading about. Typically, we have to juggle our schedules to make it to events we are invited to at the last minute. Last Monday alone we were called to four press conferences or photo ops that came out of left field. To my thinking, none of these was a breaking news event and with some forethought and respect for the participants — and our reporters — the organizers could have provided us with better notice and the opportunity to do more for them than to run in, grab a photo and dash off to the next event.
Community newspapers depend on the relationships we have developed over decades with our readers and advertisers — and sports teams and service clubs. We understand you expect us to be available during normal business hours, and then again when you don your vest or fez at your service club’s regular meeting to make a donation to a deserving recipient.
Oddly enough, our families expect us to be home for supper on occasion, weeding the garden on weekends, and helping to raise our children.
We can’t get to all events in the community so we sometimes need to rely on you to take a photo or send us a press release.
Some groups will want to give the newspaper notice of an event and we’ll then write a story about it. Some may want to submit a full-blown story. That’s OK too — as long as it meets the Ponoka News’ guidelines for length and style.
We need to know the Who, What, When, Why, Where, and the how many, how much of the story.
Keep your releases to 200 to 300 words.
We’re always looking for art to include with your stories. Something as simple as a mug shot or logo helps to attract readers’ attention. Send your digital photos and art as big as possible. We need photos five inches wide at 300 dpi.
Perhaps the most important tip I can offer is to give us a few weeks’ notice of your event. Consider your press release to be a resumé. It’s a means of introduction, a first contact with the editor. Make sure your release is strong enough to get you coverage without any further communication.
Here are some tips to help you communicate with our news staff and get your events in the newspaper.
• Make sure your event and the information you provide is newsworthy.
• Tell the editor the information is intended for him and why he should continue to read it.
• Write the release in the third person. Start with a brief description of the news. Add insightful, informative quotes and attribution.
• What’s your angle? Ask yourself, “Why should residents in my community care about our event?”
• Make sure the first sentence of your release is an attention grabber.
• Write in the inverted pyramid style, with the most important information at the beginning, leading to lesser facts at the end.
• Do not use superfluous adjectives and jargon.
• Just the facts, please.
• Do not try to sell tickets, product or thank your volunteers or sponsors in your release. Buy an advertisement.
• Provide as much contact information as possible: spokesman or individual to contact, address, phone, fax, email, and website address.
• Write –30– at the bottom of the release, which means ‘The End’ in newspaper writing.
• Proofread your copy before you hit the “send” button.
And don’t forget to advertise — that’s what pays the bills.