Level 2

Developing Effective News Articles in Your Community

We encourage you to pitch a news story about a fascinating monitor in your community, your group, or data for your stream or river to your local newspaper. Below are tips for receiving successful coverage in your local newspaper.

Build a Relationship
Building a relationship with your local media before you pitch an article to them is very important. This is especially true now because media is changing so quickly. Many newspapers are cutting staff, shrinking their pages and increasing their online presence. The better they know you and your organization, the more likely they will write an article focused on your point of view or print your press release or article verbatim. If they publish outside-authored articles, be sure to find out the format they would like and the word count they want before you start writing. Review River Network's How to Cultivate Relationships with Local Media (21 KB pdf file) for tips.

Your Goal
What are you trying to accomplish with the news article? What is your goal and message? A reporter can easily move the focus away from the message you want to get across without even knowing they did it, or because they prefer a different angle. You need to know and be clear about the key message you want the reader to know about your group or project.

Possibilities include:

  • Building general awareness of your group and your monitoring program
  • Presenting a specific monitoring result: our stream or river is in good shape and needs protecting, or our river or stream has a health issue that we can address - and here's what we'll do (or are doing)
  • Seeking more volunteers
  • Announcing a training and welcoming participation from community members
  • Recruiting attendees to an educational or social event focused on the stream or river
  • Expressing that water quality monitoring is important because we will have long-term information to compare future water quality to (i.e., we will know if the water is better or worse)
  • Profiling an outstanding volunteer who has gone above and beyond the monthly monitoring requirements

The Hook
You may have heard the phrase, "A story needs a hook." But you might wonder, what is a hook? A hook is a short attention-getting statement, which "grabs" the audience and makes them want to read the rest of the story. These hooks were used in stream monitoring articles recently:

  • Concerned residents of the Fond du Lac area have been keeping watch over local waterways for the past three years.
  • "I really have replaced my fishing with water monitoring," said Jim Hlaban
  • "I did this not because I wanted to be a scientist but I wanted a reason to go outside and be by the water," said Dave Hackett

Messages That Connect
As you know, water quality monitoring has its own language. Technical jargon can quickly cause readers to tune out. You want to frame your story around the values in your readers' communities as they relate to water and quality of life. Such values usually revolve around family, their children's future, and clean water. Some potential messages that could connect in your community are:

  • Citizen monitoring increases likelihood that problems will be detected early
  • Local citizens are the most invested in their water resources
  • In tight economic times, importance of volunteer monitoring is higher than ever
  • Citizens influence local decisions
  • Clean water is a right not a privilege
  • Clean water has no boundaries

The Pitch
In addition to developing your goal, hook and basic message, you should also consider the following tips from the Green Media Toolshed on pitching a story or event to a reporter. Some of these tips are also relevant to maintaining a good working relationship with reporters.

View "Top Ten Pitching the Reporter Tips" >> (13 KB pdf file)

Now you are ready to pitch the article to the editor or a reporter. Be sure to:

  • Know the focus of the story
    - What is your goal, hook and message?
    - Why will their readers care about this issue?
  • Provide contacts for the reporter to follow up with when appropriate. Examples:
    - A volunteer monitor or two
    - Your DNR biologist, UWEX Basin Educator, or county Extension agent
  • Provide relevant visual aids:
    - Photos of volunteers in action
    - Maps or photos of the monitoring site
    - Charts summarizing your data

To help you find contacts at local newspapers throughout the state, you can visit Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

Additional tips for pitching the story to a reporter are in an excellent blog, Key Components to Telling Your Story (26 KB pdf file), from the Public News Service. While the examples are about larger environmental campaigns, the tips may still be useful for your local efforts. The blog focuses on "the importance of finding real people to help tell your story, seeking out angles to make your issue or campaign relevant to the average person, not forgetting to tell the other side of the story too, the key facts that hold an entire story together and making them really pop out of your release."

Sample Articles
To help share information about Wisconsin's Citizen-based Stream Monitoring Program and results obtained by the citizen monitors, Dr. Bret Shaw, assistant professor in the Department of Life Sciences Communications at the UW-Madison, partnered with the Citizen-based Stream Monitoring Program to learn more about activities of the citizen monitors and to help share results and happenings with media in local communities.

Graduate student Elizabeth Goers conducted a series of interviews with Level 2 Stream Monitors and worked with Dr. Shaw and the Stream Monitoring Program Coordinators to develop a series of news articles and radio spots about the program and its results. These articles may be useful for you to review as you consider writing articles about your local program.

View articles >>

Tips on Press Releases
A common method for pitching a story to a newspaper is a press release. In some cases, especially if you have worked with the newspaper before, they will print your press release just as you send it. Other times a reporter will use parts of your press release in their own article. This is another reason why having a good relationship with the newspaper editor and reporter is so important. Knowing their preferences helps you send them information in the right format. Here are a few additional tips for writing a press release and samples:

View "Write a Press Release Top Ten" >> (13 KB pdf file)

Press release template by Skip Wood for the Green Media Toolshed >> (20 KB pdf file)

Press Release example from the River Alliance, regarding Little Plover >> (98 KB pdf file)

Other resources that may be useful to you:

Dr. Randall Hansen's Guide to Writing Successful Press Releases

Easy Media List's How to Write Effective Press Releases which also allows you the opportunity to purchase customized media contact lists for less than $10.

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