The 1-2-3s of a Healthy Relationship with the Media

#1: Get to know your local press people

It can be beneficial to view newspaper reporters, bloggers and radio/TV news persons as part of your communication team. If you wish to establish an ongoing relationship with them, you can aid them on doing their job by reporting what’s going on in your church. 

#2: Know what is considered newsworthy

It is vital to consider what constitutes as news. News must be something new or unusual.  It is important to point out that publicity or promotion isn’t really considered new-worthy.  A rule of thumb is to always put yourself in the shoes of an editor ask yourself: “Is this news?  Who would be interested in this?”

Again, it's the new and the unusual that will grab an editor’s attention, not the normal and status quo.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Timeliness: One thing that can be hard to understand is the immediacy of news. It is vital to understand is how quickly news can become old and not of interest to media outlets. If a press contact isn’t interested in your news event, don’t take it personally.

Prominent names:  Simple, but true -- the bigger the name, the more coverage you can count on.

Variation from the normal:  To an news reporter or editor, your regular Sunday morning activities are not considered news unless something new and unusual happens. 

Proximity: News media are always looking for the local angle to a story. When a couple went on a biking trip through the state raising money for the United Methodist Children's Home, they received coverage in each town they stopped in from that town's media.

Widespread interest: One major ingredient concerning news is whether it will be of interest to people in the community.  If not, the chances are slim that anything will be disseminated. 

Magnitude: Perhaps your church just surpassed the 5,000 mark in membership or you raised $1 million in one day to build a new sanctuary—that’s big stuff.

Conflict Struggle:  Our congregations are full of stories about people overcoming odds or reaching out a helping hand to someone who is struggling.  These are great human interest stories that people love to hear. 

Here are some suggestions--but utilize your creative juices and you'll come with a lot more.

  • Changes in church staff
  • Awards received by church members, the church itself or volunteers who have performed distinctive service
  • Visits from well known personalities
  • Construction and remodeling of church buildings
  • Relocation of a congregation or start of a new one
  • Programs addressing societal issues, such as help for homeless families, and resolutions on public issues of interest to the community, nation or world
  • Innovations in worship or youth and children's activities
  • New programs of interest to the community, such as a day care program for children or start of an older adult group
  • Ecumenical cooperation in events or programs
  • Damage to church property through fire, vandalism or theft.
  • Local angles to national religious stories

 #3 Know how to put together a news release

Now that you have identified the press people you want to communicate with, and understand what constitutes as news, the next step is writing the story and sending it to your local media.

One way to ensure a lack of press coverage is to irritate news editors with a poorly written news release, misspellings, inaccurate information, or poor grammar. If someone in your congregation has a journalism background, try to utilize that person. 

Also, keep these helpful tips in mind:   

  • The golden rule of news writing is to answer who, what, when, where, why.
  • When you write a news story, remember the inverted pyramid. Have essential facts at the top and details of lesser importance at the bottom. 
  • Always check your facts for accuracy. Double check names and dates. 
  • Make the release factual and objective--no editorializing.  Don't say "outstanding event;" stick to the facts.
  • Be brief and concise. Use short paragraphs. Avoid church jargon. Use strong verbs rather that flowery adjectives. Shorter stories usually have a better chance of being published.
  • Never submit anything handwritten. Paste the story in the body of an email to save the editor from having to open an attachment.  

Some additional tips concerning press relations

  • The hallmark in good media relations is helpfulness. Don't bug reporters, but make it clear you are readily available when needed.  If media people call concerning your release, answer their questions immediately.  If you don't know the answers, find out, and call back right away.
  • One of the best ways to earn reporters' respect is to abide by their deadlines. 
  • Once your story has been published or broadcast, take time to say thank you--a brief phone call, an email or a written note will pave the way for future coverage and establish good relations with the news agency.
  • The "publish and perish" principle: You may be as open and prolific with your news as you wish, but if you feel the need to face every issue with an open mouth or a ready news release, your media relations will perish from overexposure. More than one editor has admitted that e-mail and mail from certain organizations ends up unopened because the source has long since outworn its welcome with a series of trivial news releases.
  • The "seize the moment" principle: Secular news media don't exist to preach the message you proclaim, so don't thrust it on them. But occasionally moments come when the content of that message intersects with news.

Knowing What to Say and What Not to Say ...

Please note that once you have built rapport with a reporter or news person, they may contact you for your opinion concerning a current event issue.  Or, due to the nature of tight press deadlines, press people may also contact you to receive fast information or verify facts about an issue not related directly to your congregation. Be careful of this, and remember the following:

There is no such thing as “off the record!”  It is safe to consider that everything you say could be used—even if a press contact says that it won’t. 

Most importantly, please remember that you may not speak on behalf of the North Georgia Conference or the United Methodist denomination.  If an issue doesn’t relate to your congregation, please refer them to the Bishop’s Office (678.533.1360) or the Conference Communications Office (678.533.1377). 

If there is a crisis situation that relates to your congregation, please contact one of the offices above and we will assist you in communicating with the media.