Media organizations operate on many fronts, including print, digital, video and social media, to get information to consumers. If you’re trying to get your information to those media organizations, and those readers, it helps to know how they work.
Almost every newspaper has a digital presence. One good example of how they work is The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer, a 30,000-circulation newspaper recently cited by Editor & Publisher as one of “10 Newspapers That Do It Right” in the digital world.
The Observer has a three-person digital team – a digital editor and two producers, said executive editor Matt Leclerq. Together they work with reporters to not only post stories but create online presentations including video, graphics, social media and tracking analytics, among other duties.
The newspaper created the digital team as a response to the company’s ownership consolidating copy desk and design functions at another location, a common practice among newspaper chains in a shrinking market.
Each day at a morning budget meeting The Observer editors look at the entire day and all content across all platforms, plotting content for online and when it will run and where, in addition to what will go in print.
“We look at everything and we space it all out, almost like a TV schedule,” Leclerq said.
If a reporter goes to a news conference, for instance, he or she will come back and write up a short story for online, then develop the story throughout the day for print. If there are visual or online presentations that could be used with the story the digital team works with the reporter to create those.
“We are focused on social media and breaking news, so if it’s important we might send a member of the digital team with the reporter and go live on social media, or shoot a video,” Leclerq said.
While they chase daily breaking stories they are always working on long-term investigative or feature pieces as well.
“We’re looking for the high-impact daily story but also wanting to go after the bigger stories in addition to the daily mix,” Leclerq said.
Apart from breaking stories or ideas arising from beat reporting the paper still relies on press releases. In The Observer’s case they usually come to one central email address that everyone has access to. If it’s a short-fuse event the digital team or reporter will write a quick story to post, then follow up.
Story ideas come from other media sources as well.
“We’re always scanning social media, TV, other websites for breaking stories,” Leclerq said. “There is a strong emphasis on engaging with readers and finding out what is important to them.”
In terms of what works for a press release, Leclerq recommends short and to the point.
“You don’t need a feature lede on your press release,” he advised.
As with a news story, the important information should go up front, starting with the subject line.
“When you’re scanning your inbox even the subject line of the email should include important information,” he said. “Get straight to the point, make sure important information is up top, tell us why it matters, especially if there’s a local angle. Make it clear if it’s an event when and where it is.”
And do some thinking for the reporters or editors. If there might be an online facet to the story – a video, a timeline, a map, a graphic – pitch that in the release as well. Think about it from the standpoint of the news organization. Think about the audience and why the story is important.
Once you get the media organization’s attention, make the most of it. Offer interviews, tours of your business, anything that might make an appealing hook. If you do schedule an interview, remember some things have stayed the same. Digital team members generally don’t report on stories directly or do interviews, so if you’re prepping for an interview even for an online story prepare as you would for a traditional interview.
“The most important things have not changed, we approach stories the same way, now we’re just also thinking about presentation and platform,” Leclerq said.
Jim Washington is an award-winning journalist who worked just about every newspaper beat possible before joining Vox Optima in 2009. He serves as the primary media training and simulation guru for our U.S. Fleet Forces client. His 18 years in newspapers offered the chance to interview Willie Nelson on his tour bus, write about crime, politics, sports, and medicine, spent time with Sudanese refugees, wrote about education, some obits, about the military, music, as well as shooting and editing online video. He also rode a bike 300 miles around North Carolina, just for a new perspective. He earned a bachelor of arts in journalism and English from Averett University in Danville, Va., and lives in Norfolk, Va. with his wife, Michelle; twin sons, Joseph and Jesse; and newcomer, Patrick. When he can tear himself away, he likes to ride his bike, sample the local restaurant and brewery scene, and enjoy live music. You can reach Jim via email, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.