You won’t be surprised to know that your favorite weekly newspaper is barraged with news each week.
That is a good problem to have. In the time I’ve been here, I have not had one single week where I scratch my head and wonder what I’m going to put in the newspaper. My problem is the opposite: I scratch my head and wonder how I’ll get everything I should get in the paper that week.
Coverage decisions are based on, first, what is news for this area (defined as southern Grant, northwestern Lafayette and western Iowa counties, or the Platteville, Belmont, Iowa–Grant and Potosi school districts, plus Dickeyville and points in between), followed by timeliness. Stories lose their timeliness, but sometimes what gets sent to me has to wait because of more pertinent or more timely news. We end up printing a lot of news that we’d rather not print due to the nature of the news, but every edition of a newspaper contains what readers would consider “good news” and “bad news,” and some weeks have more of the latter than the former.
The reason for coverage criterion number one is simple: People buy The Journal to read about this area. Any story we run should therefore be relevant to this area. People don’t read The Journal to read about national or world news (unless it has a specific local impact); they read The Journal to read about Platteville, Belmont, Potosi, Dickeyville, Livingston, Rewey and so on. (The staffers for non-local politicians who send us news releases on a daily basis seem to not understand this.)
About two decades ago (pause while I blow the dust off myself), I went to a Wisconsin Newspaper Association conference that included a newswriting workshop. The workshop conductor suggested putting a question on the top of our computer monitors: “What does this story mean to the reader?” It’s stared me in the face ever since then, and for organizations seeking publicity it’s a good question to ask yourselves, too.
Perhaps I should have done this before now, but it occurred to me that we should take time to establish the ground rules of how to get coverage of your news, including events, and help out both reader and editor. (The list that follows is in addition to directions elsewhere in your favorite weekly newspaper. And most of these apply to other media too. It is based on my quarter-century in the media, and particularly in the seven years I spent in institutional public relations.)
• First: Ask us what we need. (The answer to that question will usually come in what follows, but not always.)
• Answer, as completely but succinctly as you can, the five Ws and one H: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. This is particularly important in publicizing events in advance of the actual event. (The When for events needs to include a rain date if it’s outdoors, because, well, this is Wisconsin.) When in doubt, give us more information than you think we need. We cannot use information we don’t have. On the other hand, realize that we probably won’t use every bit of information you send us, because we just don’t have room.
• Keep in mind when you’re writing that The Journal delivers information via print, the SWNews4u.com website, our Facebook page, and Twitter. If you have a website for more information, include the address. That means, as well, Facebook pages and YouTube video addresses.
• If possible, email. (That would be firstname.lastname@example.org for me, and email@example.com for sports editor Jason Nihles.) Anything that is faxed, mailed or brought in has to be retyped in our office. We use Microsoft Word, but we can use other text formats. We prefer not using PDFs because sometimes text or photos can’t be readily pulled off PDFs.
• Whenever you have names, make absolutely certain they are spelled correctly. Few things are as irritating to read as incorrectly spelled names. I speak from experience on both ends. (Our electronic media brethren would prefer phonetic pronunciations too, because just as we don’t like to misspell names, they don’t like to mispronounce names.)
• When sending publicity for an event, send it to us four weeks before the event. Remember, we’re a weekly newspaper, so we need lead time. Sometimes we can get something if we get it a couple days in advance, but that is the rare exception. We have more than one place in The Journal to list events, so that four-week window is helpful for you and us.
• When sending photos, send us a horizontal and a vertical photo, if possible, at as high resolution as possible. Sometimes one photo fits better on a page than the other. The photos you see in The Journal are all 200 dpi, so keep that in mind when you email us a photo. And please do not send blurry or out-of-focus photos. Photo software can only fix so much.
• Photos of people work best when they are vertical-format photos.
• Don’t call attached files just “Press Release” and “photo.” We get a lot of “press release”s and “photo”s. When I’m doing layout, it’s hard for me to tell who sent which “press release” and “photo.” File names should include either the name of your organization, the name of your event, or some other sort of identifier that a media type will be able to discern.
• Always include a phone number and/or email address in case we, or a reader potentially interested in what you’re doing, wants more information.
• Following up via email or phone is useful, but only once. Junk mail sometimes catches email that isn’t spam. On the other hand, calling every couple of days to ask when something will get in the paper isn’t helpful, if for no other reason than the fact we come out once a week.
• Any more questions? Ask. I usually don’t bite, except possibly just before lunch or on Tuesday mornings.