Contacting the media

Knowing how to attract media attention is critical when promoting an event or raising awareness about the importance of afterschool in your community, but reaching out to the media can seem daunting at first.

Generally speaking, most news stories have to do with conflict and events and issues that affect the readership or broadcast audience. National news coverage in local newspapers, on local television, and on radio news programs is often provided to the station by national wire services or broadcast news services.

Most local markets have at least a handful of radio (and sometimes television) talk shows. Many of these are excellent outlets.

Try these activities to reach a media audience:
  • Plan newsworthy launch
  • Write letter to the editor
  • Outreach to community papers and editorial boards
  • Op-eds from grasstops or community leaders
Type of Media Print TV Radio
Timeline Usually daily Usually daily, even hourly with late-breaking news Usually daily for news, but varies
Who to contact about stories Reporter assigned to cover local schools, otherwise an editor Assignment desk editors route incoming news releases and decide who, if anyone, will cover a given story Assignment editor decides whether a local station will cover a story and who will cover it
Length Varies from a news brief (a few paragraphs) to a feature story (which can be several thousand words) Typically less than a minute or two long Very brief, often less than a minute or two
Important notes Emphasize newsworthiness, such as local angles on national trends, "new" information, conflict, etc. Must have images to go along with news Typically do not gather their own news, but report from other news sources

Letters to the Editor

Sending a letter to the editor is a great way to disseminate your message to a wide audience and one of the easiest ways to get published. In many cases, letters are your best shot at getting published, if only because newspapers print more letters than editorials each day.

Letters to the editor are widely read and well worth submitting.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Letters to the editor pages differ from newspaper to newspaper. You will need to take a look at your own newspaper to get a feel for what they do and do not publish.
  • If the paper writes reports on anything related to afterschool or education, use those articles as a starting point for your own editorial; the paper is more likely to print a letter to the editor if it responds to its own coverage.
  • Though most letters to the editor are opinionated, you can also write them just to raise the issue of afterschool, especially as it relates to the community.
  • Send a copy of your letter to as many publications as you can in your area; you never know who will pick it up, and you can never have too much publicity.
  • Make sure to use your database to reach out to high-profile members in the community who are sympathetic to your cause. Encourage and work with these individuals to place letters to the editor or op-eds in the local and regional news outlets.
Sample Letter to the Editor
[Date]

Letters-to-the-Editor
[Organization contact information]
Anytown, USA 12345

To the Editor:

Just in time for the new school year, [your school/organization name] has answered the pleas of local families by providing an affordable, quality afterschool program for students in grades six to eight. The demand for supervised afterschool programs is great. More than 30 million school-age children have both parents working outside the home. Furthermore, 11.3 million “latchkey children” go home after school each day to a house with no adult supervision, and without the opportunities to learn that afterschool programs can provide. 

The juvenile crime rate triples between the hours of 3 and 8 p.m., with violent crimes by juveniles peaking between 3 and 4 p.m.—the hour at the end of the school day. Why? In part because an increasing number of our children are on their own during these late afternoon hours while parents are at work. What these children need are engaging activities that will keep them safe and out of trouble.

Afterschool programs provide that needed alternative while helping children with their studies and providing a range of enrichment activities. [Insert examples of how your afterschool program is helping your community. Example: Just For Kids provides three hours of supervised afterschool activities, including homework assistance, arts and crafts, and recreation. Rivertowne Student Success is proud to take a leadership role in the burgeoning afterschool movement and excited about the chance to provide our children with a positive afternoon alternative to the streets.]

Sincerely,

[your signature]
[title, school/organization name]
[phone]

Editorial Board Meetings

Most newspaper editorials are written by editorial writers, not reporters. These writers are part of the newspaper's "editorial board," usually made up of the editorial page editor, editorial writers with responsibility for specific issue areas and other ranking members of the newspaper staff.

Find out how to engage these writers at meetings with members of the public. Editorial boards frequently meet with representatives of local organizations, elected officials, candidates and anyone else they think might be able to inform them on issues that matter to their readers. The meetings generally last about an hour, and they are usually the occasion for a vigorous give-and-take between the editorial writers and their guests (and sometimes among the editorial writers themselves).

Newspapers rely on advocates to propose meetings. It is important to reach out to editorial boards to put ideas about afterschool–related articles on their radar. Here's how to proceed:

  1. Put together a group of three or four local afterschool advocates, including a representative of an afterschool program and perhaps a community-based organization leader, parent and business leader who has partnered with an afterschool program.
  2. Write a brief letter or email to the editorial page editor of your local newspaper requesting a meeting, laying out what you'd like to discuss and why it is important and timely.
  3. Follow up your letter a day or two after it arrives with a telephone call to the editorial page editor. Be prepared to offer suggested dates and times; steer clear of afternoons, if possible, and Fridays altogether.
  4. Have a preparatory meeting with your group before meeting with the editorial board at the newspaper, should they agree to meet with you. Practice answering questions and decide who will take the lead in answering questions about specific topics.
  5. Each member of your group should be ready to offer a three-minute opening summary of important points. Be sure each group member addresses a different aspect of the benefits of afterschool programs.
  6. Know your material and be ready to answer questions.
  7. Do some research to find out which editorial writer covers this issue. You may want to get back in touch with this writer in the future.
  8. Leave materials (fact sheets, information on your program, etc.) with the editorial board writers when you leave.
  9. Send a thank-you note after the meeting, highlighting key points you want to be sure editorial board members remember and addressing any questions you left unanswered.