Given the complexity of many research projects, it is better to spend time establishing your own media contacts and building relationships with just one or two specialist journalists, rather than adopting a scattergun approach.
In this way, journalists are likely to become more familiar with your topic and cover it more accurately in their reports. They are also more likely to use you as an impartial expert, helping to seal both your and your institution’s reputation.
Building a list of contacts
Following media debate on issues relating to your project will help you to become familiar with which journalists are likely to be interested in your work.
It is worth making a database of contacts of the journalists who cover your subject area, along with the frequency and deadlines of their publications or programmes.
Targeting the right people
It is important that you target the right person. Typical roles include:
- editor, who has overall say on the content and style
- news editor, who looks at what needs to be covered
- letters editor, who takes letters for publication, usually covering stories that have already had some coverage
- features editor or programme producer, who focus on extended coverage items
- forward planners and planning desks, who log upcoming events
- correspondents, such as specialist writing staff and freelancers
- picture editors, who allocates photographers and selects pictures
- reporters, photographers, cameramen and soundmen who are involved in news gathering.
Approaching the media
When approaching the media you should:
- make contact with the journalist or forward planning desk in advance – do not leave it until the day of your press announcement or launch event
- ask what aspect of the story they might be interested in – most journalists are happy to be approached directly on the phone
- suggest ideas so that the journalist can give an indication of what they may be interested in
- find out if the specialist press will supply you with their forward features lists so that you know when they may be interested in covering your story
- find out how journalists prefer to receive press releases and briefings – for example by email or uploaded to a website.
No matter how good the journalist, you should expect your work to be simplified if it is appearing in the mainstream media. The general public will not be familiar with specialist jargon and journalists will rarely have more than a few hundred words to explain the findings of a lengthy 20,000-word research report.
If minor inaccuracies do creep in, you can normally overlook this if the overall thrust of the story is balanced and accurate.
Where you can expect to make more of an impact is in the specialist press, where there may be more space for the topic and where the readers may already be familiar with the subject.