How to Get in the News
Blog by Skilled Volunteer, Jamsheeda Ahmad Young | Nov 2023
How many times have you thought, “my organisation does amazing work, so how can we get media coverage?” But I’m here to tell you: that’s not quite the right question. If you really want to get into the news, it’s time to start thinking like a journalist. But don’t worry – it’s not that deep!
The mind of a journalist
The first thing to know is the difference between journalism and PR. If you really want to annoy a reporter, accusing them of writing a puff (free publicity) piece on anything should do the trick. News is many things: but it should never be confused with PR, publicity, campaigning, activism or propaganda. We all have lots of opinions about how well journalists actually do their jobs, and no one is perfect. But news should always be underpinned by facts, evidence, context, a range of relevant viewpoints and expert analysis. Proper journalism is vital in a world of opinion masquerading as fact, disinformation and spin.
Ultimately, journalism should be about the truth. And organisations like yours offer the added bonus of being all about authenticity: real people and their lives. So journalists should be jumping for joy about being able to tell those stories.
What makes it news?
There always needs to be a “News Peg” – the angle or hook to a story: something that justifies the story, that makes it something that people care about or is relevant to an issue that’s already important to people’s lives, such as trying to survive in the cost-of-living crisis. It could be a story because of the number of people affected or a new development. A journalist will be trying to assess the following: “is this really new information?” “why should people care?” or simply “is it a good story?”
What’s the story?
Businesses often go on about the bottom line but for journalists it’s all about the “top line” – the most important aspect of the story, the heart of the issue or the most compelling fact that you’re trying to convey, whether it is newsworthy. How significant is it? Why does it matter? Are you offering a new perspective or a hidden truth? Are you exposing an injustice, are you highlighting an issue that few are aware of? You don’t need to write the headline, but it’s useful to know that the journalist’s mind is always focused on what the top line of your story is, which often turns out to be the actual headline as well.
A trick that rookie journalists learn when they’re getting training in how to write a news story is to sum it up as if they were telling a mate down the pub, or telling their aunt or granny about it ie distilling it down to the most important, compelling part of the story – in essence its the TL:DR version of something or “to cut a long story short.” We think in terms of the 5 Ws: what happened, when, where, how (we can gloss over the fact that it doesn’t start with a w) and why?
Packaging your story
Once you have identified your story, packaging it to appeal to the journalist will make it more likely that they’ll run with it. For example, if part of the story is that you’re launching a new service or holding a fundraising event on a particular issue, and you want people to know about it, always contact the newsroom or reporter in advance, not afterwards. It gives them time to plan coverage or at least put it in the diary and if you are contacting a local news site, at the very least they’ll include it in their listings.
Secondly, data is king: having some compelling stats will make a journalist prick up their ears – it might even become a headline in the vein of “ten out of ten cats….” or “every six seconds, one in three men do this…” – you get the picture!
Offer the evidence, facts or research that you already have at your fingertips about the work your organisation does and best of all, a case study or two, or three. Depending on whether you’re dealing with a radio, tv, print or online reporter, they’ll already be thinking about how to illustrate the story with a case study, and what pictures, footage, or sound they could use in their report. So, if you’re able to facilitate a crew to come down to film or record something or take pictures on-site, or organise access into someone’s home or daily life, the journalist will love you! You will also be able to ensure compliance with safeguarding if you’re the one who finds the subjects of the case studies through your organisation, and ensure they are treated with dignity, respect and kept safe.
In the digital age, “first-person stories” are also a very effective way of showing a case study – similar to a video-diary or when the report only focuses on the point of view of the subject. A news report doesn’t always have to provide all the details or the whole picture as it may only be the “set-up” item in a TV or radio programme ahead of a longer interview or panel discussion.
The best journalists will want to work together with you and your organisation. It’s all about collaboration. As someone working in the NGO/charity/3rd sector, you can help guide the journalist towards the important work you do and find the best case studies to bolster the story you want to tell. In turn, a good journalist will want to get background, context, evidence and find the best way to make the story compelling.
Choose your spokespeople well: news should be trying to reflect and include the whole of society in all its wonderful diversity, but like so many industries, it doesn’t always have full representation. So, if you can put forward a spokesperson who happens to be from an under-represented part of society or community, you can bring about subtle and incremental positive change and visibility – and news outlets will be thankful too, because they will be fulfilling their important remit to fully reflect society.
A good journalist will also brief you before a live interview, to get your details, find out what you may be saying and give you an idea of what the interview will be about. Your answers in the pre-interview briefing will help the presenter find the direction or focus they need to do a good job.
If you end up doing a recorded (not live) interview for a piece, a five minute or longer conversation will often end up as a 20-30 second clip. That’s normal and don’t be disheartened. You and your organisation will still get a name-check and you’re building a relationship with that journalist or newsroom and you’re getting some part of your message out there, no matter how small. It may lead to a longer report or interview the next time. That might not be for a while: no editor wants to keep telling the same story or interviewing the same organisation regularly – but consider broadening your scope to work with local or specialist news outlets or different media platforms.
You are absolutely entitled to use any news item in which you’ve appeared in your own social media or publicity – ask the journalist to help you get a clip or a link. (Some journalists hate being asked this, but it helps them and their news outlet too as well so if they won’t help you, it’s their loss).
Staying in the news
News organisations are always featuring charities/NGOs/community organisations in their reports or as live guests/contributors. If you keep an eye on what’s in the news, you’ll be able to find the peg that will get your organisation on the air.
For example, while big charities like the Red Cross and Save the Children get airtime during conflicts or natural disasters, small hyper-local charities get on air too as often they’re usually the ones with the best access, local knowledge and understanding of the issues and factors facing survivors or affecting aid distribution.
If the British government announces a new policy or bill, for example something that affects refugees, newsrooms will be looking for a wide range of views including organisations that support refugees or from refugees themselves. If a high-profile court case has ended which raises issues around VAWG (violence against women and girls), NGOs that work in that sector will be in demand. If there’s a new piece of socio-economic research that’s been published, then that’s another opportunity for a charity to connect with a journalist to offer case studies or a different perspective or lived experience.
There are many possibilities and ways to keep coming back into the news if you just keep an eye open for what’s already going on. Your organisation can build a reputation as having the go-to expert voices on a particular issue – even better if your spokespeople broaden the on-screen representation of different groups in society.
You’re worth it
Journalists love collaborating with organisations such as yours. You are part of the rich fabric of society that should be seen and heard. You offer hope to viewers/readers/listeners because you are tackling injustices and trying to make our imperfect world a better place. Getting into the news will lead to greater awareness, support for the people who need it and could even result in policy change. You already have all the information and tools that you need to get into the news at your fingertips, and it’s just a matter of slightly adjusting your thinking.
Whether it’s specialist trade publications/websites or the big established news outlets, if you can frame your messaging as a news story, rather than as a PR op, bring in elements that a reporter would need to tell the story as truthfully and accurately as possible, you are well on the way of getting your story out and into the news.