“You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God! the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.”
Nearly a century after Humbert Wolfe made this observation, the view persists that journalists are at best a necessary evil. The recent BBC drama Press further portrays why current representatives of the national print media might be best avoided.
For schools, however, building a relationship with local newspapers and broadcast reporters remains a worthwhile exercise. Bribery is likely not an option, but ‘twisting’ – or at least influencing – is a different matter. If you invite a journo to visit your school, he or she will have a better understanding of your context, which could well result in more balanced coverage.
Why should you bother? Look at the most successful schools in your area – they’ll have almost certainly taken time to engage with the media. Always remember that talking to the press is a way of talking to your families and the wider community. The more you communicate positive stories about your school, the better protected you’ll be if and when adversity strikes.
But no one reads newspapers any more… It’s true that circulations of almost all paid-for titles have plummeted because of the internet and social media. Big city dailies and some smaller regionals now focus most attention on their websites. Traditional weeklies soldier on, but staffing has been cut to the bone. Free papers vary wildly. Nevertheless, an item in the ‘local rag’ still carries considerable weight in the community.
The best approach is to look at the media in your area and work out how to use its situation to your advantage. The stories that attract the most clicks on a print title’s website might never make the paper, but editors still have lots of pages to fill. If you present them with a well-written, concise story and an engaging photo, there’s every chance it will be used in full.
Journalists increasingly source their stories from social media, so make sure that you promote any positive activities at your school via Twitter and Facebook and tag in your local print title – or better still, an individual reporter.
If there’s an education specialist or a reporter covering your particular ‘patch’, get to know them fast. Link with the picture desk too; they’ll be looking for great images and might well send out a photographer to an event. Think about the sort of stories you can offer. What’s important to schools isn’t always what newspapers and websites are looking for, but with a bit of lateral thinking you can find common ground.
Consider local radio too – BBC stations in particular have lots of airtime to fill. Make contact with the breakfast and drivetime show presenters and call up the planning desk a week or so in advance if you have a story that might be of interest to them. It will be worth the effort. Trust me – I’m a journalist!
Linda Tanner has been a regional journalist for more than 40 years and a primary school governor for two decades; she is currently an education journalist and communications consultant with Local Voice Media in Bristol; follow her at @BristolEdu.