Media contacts in a pinch can be an important asset to school leaders and reporters alike
Kentucky School Advocate
By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services
Way back in the dark ages when I was a radio station news director, one of the most prized tools on my desk was a Rolodex (Google it, youngsters.) On those little cards was the life blood of a journalist – phone numbers of key contacts.
One evening I discovered a major flaw in my contact list – for most people, I only had daytime office phone numbers. On this particular evening, I was writing a story for the next day when a big hole in my premise occurred to me. To make matters worse, when I found someone with the phone number of the official I needed to reach, there was no answer … and no answering machine.
That sweaty-palm evening returned to my memory recently during a media relations clinic discussion on who is authorized to “reach out” to reporters, and under what circumstances should non-spokespersons make a contact. As we explored the matter, I began to think that there are many reasons for today’s school leaders and journalists to know how to get in touch with each other in a hurry.
Today’s media outlets no longer wait for the 6 p.m. newscast or the printed paper to hit the driveway the next morning to spread the news. Reporters with daily newspapers, TV and radio news departments are posting their stories to the Web – all too often without adequate editing – to put the word out to those of us who want our news and want it now.
There have been numerous cases in which I’ve spotted an error – from minor but problematic to significant, if not story changing – and I’ve reached the reporter upon discovering the mistake. The vast majority of the time the reporter is most appreciative. Usually, the resulting edits prevent the error from appearing in print or at least from remaining on the Web for more to see and be confused.
Today’s journalists aren’t tied to their desk between meetings and news conferences. They’re texting from the scene or posting stories between assignments. So calling and leaving a voice mail may not achieve the desired results in a pinch.
Just as a good reporter would ask for a superintendent’s cellphone number or other after hours contact information, a smart superintendent (and any other district personnel with media-related roles) should be so armed. Cell numbers are a good start, but I’m learning that some reporters pay attention – if not more regularly at least more readily – to texts. So a solid practice is to ask, “What’s the best way to reach you if we need to talk?”
As the winter of 2015-16 is upon us, the ability for immediate contact gains importance in situations like changing the school schedule due to weather problems. Most electronic and many print media outlets have special phone numbers and codes, or email accounts, whereby authorized district personnel may announce a decision. But as a Kentucky superintendent learned last winter, those non-person-to-person contacts can be messed up. Minutes matter when you’re trying to correct an erroneous listing of the status of your school, so having a direct number to a media outlet contact can be most useful.
The Last Word
A long time ago, I learned the value of going the extra mile to be accessible as a spokesperson whenever reporters needed to get in touch with me. My business card still has the KSBA toll-free number, my direct number, my cell number, my home number and my email address. Over the holidays, I did a couple of interviews while out of state – because reporters knew how to reach me even when I wasn’t whacking away at this keyboard in Frankfort.
Sure, you may never face a situation where you absolutely, positively can’t wait until tomorrow morning to reach the right person at a media outlet. But trust me, you’ll feel better not having to listen to after hours’ office numbers that aren’t picked up and emails that go unanswered if you’ve got that little slip of options tucked away in your purse or wallet.
And that’s a message worth getting out.