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Helpful Hints for Public Relations

How to Write a Good News Story!

By: Bill Nelson

Thanks to the Scouters on Scouts-L who contributed to this page

As you know, it is wonderful to watch our youth as they grow through the Scouting program in character, citizenship and moral and physical fitness! Everyone in our community should know what we are doing and the great education our youth are obtaining through Scouting. Consider having a publicity person in your unit.

The local newspapers and TV stations are looking for community stories so we have a great opportunity to tell our story.

News releases are easy to write up and many newspapers and TV stations now have email addresses that you can send them to. Don't forget to send releases to your local church, educational, community or corporate newsletters!

Every news release should be written to answer the essential questions of any news item, commonly called the five Ws plus one:

  • Who will do it?
  • What will they do?
  • When will they do it?
  • Where will they do it?
  • Why will they do it?
  • How will they do it?
  •  

    The structure of the news release is important. It must be written so that the reader has the essential information at the outset. The lead, usually the first paragraph or two, should summarize the "five Ws" to give the reader an overview. The rest of the paragraphs will answer the six questions. The longer the news release, the better. The news release should be typed double-spaced. The top of the page should include a title, contact name, and telephone number. ALWAYS include the Council Web site address, from there people can find out more about what we do and how to join. Note that if a paper prints your news release as written and needs to trim off for space, they will trim from the bottom.

    News releases should be sent out for all sorts of activities, including, but not limited to:

  • Special trips
  • Parent's Nights
  • Special events
  • Social Activities
  • Service Projects
  • Election of Officers
  • Pinewood Derbies
  • Spring and Fall Recruiting
  • Photos catch the eye of the reader and make a story more interesting. News reporters know this and want a photo in the story as much as you do. If you have a photo, send it to them, but many newspapers would prefer to shoot their own. That means giving them plenty of notice of when your event will take place.

     

    Some Tips:

    1. Local weekly and semi-weekly newspapers are much more likely to publish your story. Look on the Editorial pages of those newspapers for a list of phone numbers and email addresses.
    2. Watch, listen, read your local media and start a list of media outlets that reports on these types of local events.
    3. Read the paper and get a feel for the writing style. Write a news story not an advertisement. Your article may be cut so put the most important items up front.
    4. Write to each company and ask for their Guidelines for Submissions. This should outline exactly how they wish to be notified about your event. Some request snail mail (not too many now) some will provide a special fax number, others may have a hotline, and still others may offer email. They may also request a certain format. Ask about any special issues. They may have a neighborhood section that comes out a specific day of the week, their may be an annual issue with community groups. Ask about deadlines they may have for those issues.
    5. Keep holidays in mind. It's a cliché, but helping the needy at Christmas, helping with a 4th of July event, etc. is classic Scouting and a standard for many papers.
    6. Submit, submit, submit. They will not yell at you for overloading their mailbox. They receive dozens to hundreds of these each day/week. The best ones or ones that catch the editors attention get published.
    7. It may help if you can make friends with the editor.
    8. For pictures, action shots are generally better than lineups but in any case be sure the people in the picture are identifiable. Think about a sports picture and how it usually focuses on one or two people--the other six or twenty people who were around the action got cut out by the photo editor. The focus is now on the action and the attention grabber isn't lost in a crowd of people. It helps to provide larger pictures, i.e., 8x10, when available. Providing negatives helps with some papers.
    9. Sometimes all that will be published is the picture with a caption. Clearly identify everyone in the picture and you may wish to secure releases from the parents of the kids. Some parent may not want a child's picture in the paper.
    10. Think of how your event is unusual, i.e., the man bites dog story rather than the dog bites man. Special awards, big numbers, etc. should start your story. Avoid beginning "At Troop 0s monthly court of honor . . ." What is different about your court of honor or event. One unit got some great coverage for their Court of Honor (COH) when the bat lady was the program -- "Bat Lady Gives Life to Two Scouts". A professor who studies bats showed some slides at the COH in anticipation on an upcoming outing to a bat cave. They had her present the Life Scout badges to two boys. Meanwhile, the story included all the other recognitions that evening. Another local troop sent in their list of awards from a COH the same night and got no story.
    11. News comes from NEW, not old. Get your stories in right away. If you take a week getting the info to the media, it is less likely to be used--history doesn't sell many newspapers.
    12. If your story doesn't get into the paper, don't give up. Keep at it, you may have just hit a big news day and there wasn't room. If several stories don't make it, give the editor a call and find out what you could do to improve your chances of getting published.

    Finally, don't forget to thank the reporter after the article is published for doing a good job in reporting the event!

    Here are a few examples of news releases that a unit might use:


    Service Project Example

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Media Contact: [Contact Name], [Phone]

    SCOUTS PERFORM SERVICE AT [Event Site]

    Members of (chartered organization and unit name, e.g., First Baptist Church's Boy Scout Troop 1) will hold (service project) on (day & time) at (place). The purpose of the (service project) is (give specific reasons for project).

    (Unit type and number) is part of the (Council Name) Council, Boy Scouts of America and is made up of young men (and women), ages xx through xx, who are interested in (unit specialty). (Give schedule of activities planned about the service project.)

    For more information, or to join a unit in your area call: xxxx The (Council Name) Council's web site is: (web site URL)

    ### [if you were to go to a second page, you would put -more- here instead of ###]


    Election of Officers

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Media Contact: [Contact Name], [Phone]

    SCOUTS ELECT OFFICERS

    Members of (chartered organization and unit name) elected officers for the coming year at their meeting (date) at (place).

    Newly elected officers are (list names, ages, schools attended and offices).

    (Unit type and number) is part of the (Council Name) Council, Boy Scouts of America and is made up of young men (and women), ages xx through xx, who are interested in (unit specialty).

    At (date) meeting, members also (give summary of other actions taken, activities, planned, or invitations to membership).

    For more information, or to join a unit in your area call: xxxx The (Council Name) Council's web site is: (web site URL)

    ###





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