I had an interesting experience the other day that may prove instructive for anyone wondering how to get your message out to the media. The Memphis Commercial Appeal had a story on a project by the Corps of Engineers. The Corps is spending millions to fix a project on the Wolf River. Of course, the project they're fixing is their own, from 20 years ago. We had a reporter who needed a story that day, so we thought this would be an interesting one to do. First it's visual, it's accessible, it's tax dollars at work, and it could probably be turned quickly (logistics being a ruling fact of life for local television). I know there is an active land trust that works along the river, The Wolf River Conservancy. No one from the conservancy was quoted in the article, just the Corps spokesperson. I always think it's important to try to have more than one perspective on a story, so I found the number for the conservancy. Our reporter contacted the Executive Director, he said he'd be happy to do an interview. The Corps spokesperson said yes too. So the crew heads out to shoot the story. When I read the script, there was no one from the conservancy, just two people from the Corps. Where's the conservancy guy? Turns out he never showed for the interview. I don't know how the mix-up happened. The reporter says she even called his office to find out where he was, was told he was supposed to be there... but no interview. So we did the story anyway, but it was totally from the Corps of Engineers perspective.
I'm sure there was a good reason for the no-show, but it was a shame. Local television, for better or worse, doesn't do that many environmental stories. Here were two stories on the environmental impact of a corps project, one newspaper, one tv, and the local environmental group that knows the most about the situation is never even mentioned. How can that be avoided?
The first, is make sure you make contact with all the media in your area. Know who the reporters are who will be doing environmental stories. Know the assignment desk people at the TV stations. Make sure they have your numbers. Drop by one day with some coffee mugs with your organization's name on it. Suggest story ideas from time to time. Don't be a pest, but make sure people know who you are and how to get in touch with you.
If a story comes out that you should have been in but weren't, make sure you call the reporter. In a best case scenario, you may be able to offer up enough extra information to prompt a follow-up story, focused on your angle. At the very least, the reporter will remember you next time.
Finally, if an opportunity to get your message comes along, jump on it. Immediately. TV particularly is time sensitive. The difference between chosing stories can be as simple as the time you are available for an interview. Unless this is considered to be such a big story that the reporter has to wait... putting the interview off by a couple of hours may be enough to kill the story all together. If you become known as someone who is either always available for a story, or get quickly line up an expert who will also be available, you will get more stories. It's as simple as that. It's a two way street, if you can make the reporter's job easier, the reporter will make your job of getting your message out just as easy.