Editor’s Notebook: On conveying information

Working with media

Last week, Minot Daily News enjoyed our annual visit from participants in a Chamber of Commerce leadership program. It’s actually fun, in part because of the nice folks in the program and in part because sharing information about the newspaper and industry is inspiring to us. Maybe it’s human nature for one to only really think about his career, why he does it and why he loves it when discussing it with people from other industries. In any event, it was a nice visit and thanks to our friends at the Chamber for including us once again.

Today I thought I might share an abbreviated version of the presentation I made to the group about how to best foster successful relationships between a business or institutional entity and the newsroom. After all, at one point or another, virtually every business is going to want news coverage of something or other and someone is going to be tasked with liaising with reporters and editors.

Here are a few tips I shared that might benefit you if you find you’re the one tapped with engaging with news staff.

– Know well what you are pitching

– Study the newspaper you are pitching to. Who does what? Who is your appropriate contact? What kind of material does the paper generally publish? What are the sections, the departments – where do you see the most community-contributed material?

– Don’t be intimidated. MDN is a community newspaper which means, among other things, that we openly solicit and rely on community contributions. If you are a regular reader of this column, you know how actively we solicit news tips, story leads, letters to the editor, calendar items, news from your business/organization, community columnists, etc. The relationship between MDN and the community is symbiotic – we want material from you and many want coverage from us.

– Relationship building is important. Once you’ve developed a relationship with the MDN newsroom, your job becomes much easier. Why? Because for every locally-submitted release, brief or inspired story, there are dozens that don’t make it in print. We do have limited space and our focus is local news generated in-house. But relationship building means learning our needs and processes, understanding the nuance of what we need and also understanding why we can’t possibly satisfy every request we receive. Understand that you might pitch us something one month that we are excited about, but another month a similar type item doesn’t catch us. It isn’t random, it isn’t personal, it isn’t a policy statement – there will be an internal reason, such as we published something similar recently. Don’t give up, don’t despair, don’t feel rejected. Building relationships with staff members will allay these concerns and help you understand.

– Don’t overwhelm editors or reporters with material. On an average day, I might receive 75-100 requests for coverage or to print a submission. Get out key information via email, follow up with a phone call and then leave it to us. Some make the mistake of thinking the more they push, the better the chance of coverage. Most times, the opposite is true. Either something will strike us as a good match for that moment, or it won’t.

– When submitting press releases that you hope either we print or that inspire a reporter’s call for a news story, remember the key to press releases is simple. Include the most important, most newsworthy, most interesting part of your pitch up high in the release – in the first graph or two. If you don’t catch our attention in the first couple of graphs, we may never read further on. It’s simply a function of the speed at which journalists have to operate and evaluate.

Working with a news team really is as easy and self-evident as that. You could take a whole class on writing press releases for example, but in the end, it will still boil down to the first couple of paragraphs in a press release or email pitch catching our attention, the appropriateness of the material, and having developed a relationship with staff.

Talking Trinity

Beginning this week on our op-ed page and perhaps occurring periodically in the months ahead, we’re introducing a temporary new facet of Minot Daily News. The exciting new fountain of information is dubbed Talking Trinity, published irregularly but exclusively on Sundays, the commentary is a result of an exclusive partnership between Trinity Health and Minot Daily News, in which MDN will act as sole conduit of updates and information directly from Trinity Health and in regard to the the new Trinity Health Healthcare Campus and Medical District.

The Trinity Health Healthcare Campus and Medical District is a huge and community-shaping project, a complicated development project that will shape our region’s access to medical care for generations to come. As a result of the complexity of the project, questions abound, rumors circulate, speculation abounds – all while there is new information developing constantly. We can tell here at the newspaper because not a week goes by during which we don’t receive numerous inquiries from readers about the project and its progress. Recognizing this, an agreement was made tapping MDN as exclusive conduit for ongoing progress reports and analyses of the project. Our hope is that this permits us to keep our readers informed with comprehensive details and information you won’t find in any other media.

Talking Trinity does not, however, affect our news coverage of the project, which will continue unabated in the News sections of the paper; nor any editorial positions related to the project which appear on our Opinion page. It’s an addition, not a substitute, and another component of our goal of bringing all important local news to our readers, seven days a week and from right here in Minot.

Michael W. Sasser is the Editor of the Minot Daily News. He can be reached at msasser@minotdailynews.com