Producers can be proactive about telling their stories by reaching out to mediaWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Deadwood, S.D. – “Media is powerful,” stated Northern Broadcasting System Ag Broadcaster Haylie Shipp at the Wyoming and South Dakota Joint Young Farmer and Rancher Conference in Deadwood, S.D. on Jan. 22.
“There is a lot of power in media, and there is a lot of power when we do something wrong,” she continued.
But, with the right approach, media can also be used as a tool, working for the benefit of agricultural producers.
To begin with, Shipp explained that it’s important to know which people are available to work with. As an example, she described the media outlets in Glasgow, Mont.
“We have our local radio station, one, very small daily newspaper and a weekly newspaper as well. I am going to make sure that those targets are hit and that I’m in touch with all of those media outlets,” she said.
By introducing themselves to the local stations and publications, producers can identify themselves as experts in their industry. They can talk with newscasters about their expertise and topics they feel comfortable discussing.
“We should go in, introduce ourselves and either show up in person or make a phone call,” Shipp explained.
Opening up the conversation also allows media professionals and producers to discuss what information might be helpful. Does that station want general press releases, leads for story ideas or simply an expert to call when issues related to agriculture come up?
“In print, media often wants pictures. In radio, we like getting audio files, and in TV, we want B roll, which is as easy as videoing with an iPhone anymore,” she added.
B roll is the video that plays across a newscast when people are talking, meaning that speakers don’t have to be seen on camera if they are self-conscious about appearing on film.
“There are several different types of stories. A press release is really good if there is a specific event or award to announce. We also have soft news stories, for example, talking about how well we take care of our livestock in the winter,” Shipp remarked.
Hard news stories cover current events that have a big impact, such as the discovery of brucellosis in a cattle herd near Yellowstone National Park or policy changes in trade agreements across borders.
“Hard news stories always trump soft news stories,” she noted, “but, be it soft or hard, we can make our stories a little more attainable or inviting to the media.”
Local interest and timely tie-ins are two examples of tools that make a story more interesting for newscasters. Stories that relate to the audience are important and current events often impact what people are concerned with.
“If we have a huge storm and it’s all the weatherman is talking about, we can tie into that and talk about how a huge storm affects the livestock industry,” she suggested.
Unusual alliances are another tool for storytellers to use, including, for example, if two organizations that are not usually associated with each other team up to complete a project.
“We can also introduce well known people into our story. That makes it a little bit more coverable. When we add a celebrity into the news, the news itself becomes news,” she said.
Well known people can range from local politicians and hometown college athletes to anyone who generates a greater interest from the audience.
“Good timing is also important,” Shipp continued.
While introducing themselves to local media offices, Shipp recommended that producers discuss deadlines and scheduling with the newscasters. Stories that are pitched right before a deadline might not get any attention, as media professionals are busy with final edits and production.
“For radio, right before 6 a.m. and right before noon we are preparing stuff to go on-air,” she noted.
Understanding how information is presented is also important to portray the right information. For example, a press release presented to a radio station should have all of the information provided clearly and early in the story.
“If someone is going to give our story a 15-second look to decide whether or not it’s worthwhile for the news that day, they’re going to read our headline and maybe the first eight words of our lead line,” she stated.
A story should also be presented in the best possible light, which may require finding a good spokesperson for the material.
“I’ve got the spotlight on me, and it’s time to show off, but should it be me showing off? I need to figure out who the right person is to talk about the story if it isn’t me,” she suggested.
Producers can also prepare for an interview ahead of time by asking questions such as how long the interview will be, what topics will be covered and who the target audience will be.
“We tend to have starter stations in our region with people who want to start their careers and build from here. Chances are, a reporter will be in their first six to 18 months of reporting. It’s a tricky spot for us but also an opportunity because sometimes we can lead the conversation,” she remarked.
Although Shipp warned producers that they may be contacted often once the media knows they are available for comment, she encouraged a proactive approach.
“Are we going to tell the stories we want to be on the news or are we going to react when somebody else brings those stories to us?” she asked. “If we can get those good stories across more than bad stories come back at us, it’s going to help us out in the long run.”
Most importantly, Shipp concluded that producers should be grateful toward media outlets that work with them on telling stories.
“Everybody loves to hear ‘thank you’ and loves to hear they did a good job,” she said.