A Handy Dandy Guide to Working with the Media

Basics

Who Are These Guys?

Understand the different nature of print, radio and TV — but please remember, these folks offer us a strong link to the community.

Radio people work on very short deadlines – and these days seldom come to a school to cover a story. Their advantage is they can get news on NOW. Once upon a time they didn’t want photos, but with the era of the Web they’ll often use photos you have taken. Radio is generally looking for sound bites – often very short sound bites.

TV folks work around three newscasts: noon, late afternoon and evening. Their stories are often very short, 30 or 60 seconds. And in Lincoln these reporters are generally younger and less experienced, so be careful. Take time to explain more. If they want an interview, ask if it’s live or taped. But do remember: by the latest count more than 70 percent of Americans get their news from TV. The newest trend: They like to do live broadcasts from school sites.

Newspapers: Newspaper stories are more indepth. Once upon a time they had a late afternoon/evening deadline. But, again, in the era of the Web, everyone is trying to get their news online first. Newspaper reporters are always looking to find out more information, because that is their advantage over electronic media – longer more indepth stories.

What Is News?

Defining news may seem like a simple task. News is what happens.  News is what people are talking about.  News is new or current issues.

Choosing what is considered newsworthy is often more difficult.  Reporters choose stories from the flood of information and events happening in the world.  Most importantly, these stories are selected because of several specific qualities:

  • Importance/impact: a student, a class, a school, a community?
  • Timeliness: luck
  • Uniqueness: Is this unusual or rare?
  • Human interest: Telling stories

How to Handle GOOD News

What We Can Do

  • We can contact the media (weekly media tip sheet) – newswatch
  • We can use in our publications – add to our Web site
  • Add to EdNotes
  • Add to LPS Message Board (month’s notice)
  • Come take photos/write a story
  • Facebook, Twitter, etc.

What You Can Do

  • Call us: Mindy Burbach (402-436-1619), Jason Keese (402-436-1478) or Mary Kay Roth (402-436-1609)
  • Spread the word yourself
    1. Contact the media: call or e-mail (media contact sheet)
    2. Community calendars
    3. Channel 21 message board
  • Create your own messages
    1. Add to your school Web site
    2. Take photographs and share with:
      1. LPS Communications:  Publications; Web gallery and headlines
      2. Neighborhood Extra/Journal Star
      3. Ask radio, TV outlets (for Web sites)
    3. Stories on our Web site – publications
  • After the interview or story, let us know
    1. We can further promote positive stories

How to Handle NOT SO GREAT News

Best Advice

  • If there is a problem, please notify LPSDO and have a conversation with the appropriate person. In addition, be aware of the rules of privacy, legalities, etc.
  • Simple as it may sound, the best approach with the media is to tell the plain truth – as much as possible –and tell it promptly. Deal with a crisis head-on.  If you act like you’re hiding something, people think you’re hiding something. If you’re evasive or difficult to reach, media folks push harder.
  • Create a communications plan – a very simple plan
    • Who are the audiences you need to reach?
    • How will you reach them?
    • What are the messages you want to share?  A few brief talking points
    • If necessary, make sure you apologize – or express sympathy, feelings.
  • Don’t wait for others to frame the story, act:
    • Create a press release/Communications creates a press release
    • Connect-Ed
    • Your Web site/LPS Web site
    • Answer/phone media
  • Make this an opportunity to “turn” the story – how has this opened opportunities for teachers/students/staff – to do better, improve.
  • Establish a relationship with media folks before a crisis event.  Be prepared.

An interview with the MEDIA General Guidelines

Preparation

  • When a reporter calls, clarify exactly what they want and for what purpose.
  • When you are tempted to decline an interview, remember that the reporter will go elsewhere – perhaps even turn to someone less qualified.  This is your opportunity to have your say and put your spin on the issue.
  • Reporters are always haunted by deadlines.  The shelf life of a story is very short – especially in this era of online news.  Try to respect that.  However, you do have rights.  It is perfectly reasonable to ask for a little time to collect your thoughts. Ask if you can call back in 10-15-30 minutes.
  • Do a little homework.  Take a moment to develop the main message(s) you want to convey.  Create two to three main messages/talking points – keep them simple and consistent.
  • If it’s a TV interview, take a moment to make sure your hair is combed, etc.

Take the Panic Out of the Interview

  • Remain calm, relax and try to have some fun – this is an opportunity.
  • Don’t forget:  Your facial expressions and body language convey just as much as your words.
  • Keep your answers short and to the point.
  • Silence is golden: Do not feel obligated to fill in the moments of silence.
  • Always, always show concern for the situation, for students, for staff members.
  • Listen: Listen closely to each question, pause, gather your thoughts and give a simple answer.  Don’t ever rush.  If you encounter an especially difficult question, take your time. Never hesitate to ask a reporter to repeat or clarify the question.
  • Be relentlessly and aggressively positive. “We have an excellent record.”  “We’re going to look into further safeguards in this area.” It’s easy to become defensive; don’t do it.
  • Control: Stay cooperative and calm, and always answer the questions, but then lead into what you want to say…Here are a few ways to transition back into your talking points: …”But you should also know this..” “It would be helpful to know this..”  “But the most important thing to know is…” “The most important thing to remember here…”  “I would add this..”
  • It’s OK to not always have an answer.  “I’ll get back to you on that..”  Then DO get back to them.  Another possible answer:  “That’s a question I have also been thinking about…” then answer as best you can, and transition into your talking points.
  • Learn how to illustrate your point with a story:  It helps the listener to visualize, and is often more memorable than numbers or facts.
  • At the close of an interview, a reporter will often ask, “Is there anything else you want to say.” Be ready and have something to say.  Or…even if they don’t ask…be ready to summarize.

Never, Never Ever

  • Never, ever lie – or even fudge. (Remember Nixon.)
  • Don’t say “no comment.”  Listeners do not hear “no comment.”  They hear:  “Ohmigosh they’ve found out.”  They hear, “Yep, it’s true, but I’m trying to hide something.”  They hear: “This is an organization that is not transparent.”
    • The rule of thumb is to explain why you can’t respond:  “I can’t respond because it will violate the privacy of our children/staff members.  However, I can tell you…”
  • Never go off the record.  In most cases off-the-record only adds confusion.
    • Best rule of thumb:  If you don’t want to read it or hear it – don’t say it!
  • Don’t use jargon/education-ese/abbreviations or alphabet soup.
  • If you don’t know an answer, never guess or speculate.  It’s OK to say that you don’t know. Offer to get back to them with the answer.
  • When you’re finished with the answer, stop talking.  Do not ramble to fill space.

TV Interviews are Special

  • Keep your voice calm and clear.
  • Make sure you have a pleasant expression on your face (though it doesn’t have to be a smile)
  • Speak naturally and conversationally, and talk in simple language.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Stay friendly, confident and relaxed.
  • Watch your hand movements, because they can distract from your words.
  • Wear simple, classic clothes:  No to small stripes, dots, squares and fine designs.
  • Do not wear sunglasses.