The news media play a major role in creating awareness of issues in communities across the country. This section presents some ways in which social studies educators can be more strategic with the news media to obtain accurate, objective coverage.
Connecting with the Media
Here are ideas that educators have used across the country to communicate with the news media:
- Whenever students receive awards in social studies, send out a news release on that accomplishment. Be sure to emphasize the campaign's message in it!
- Invite reporters into your classroom. Involving journalists in your events shows them that you care. It is one more way to develop credibility.
- Involve journalists in other school activities, whether it's speaking at a PTA meeting or being the emcee at a school dance.
- Understand what makes news and provide story ideas to reporters. For example:
- A third grade reenactment of the Pilgrims' landing, scheduled at Thanksgiving
- A high school mock election
- A service project where students are working with senior citizens on a local history project
- The school's economic fair
- Creation of a unique map or mapping project
Two Rules to Keep in Mind
- Remember your long-range credibility. This attribute enables information you provide to be believed by a reporter, and it lasts a long time. If reporters see you as credible, they will seek your opinion and use your comments.
- Get to know the reporter covering you before there is a problem. Find out who covers the education beat locally, and give that reporter a call. Establish yourself as a resource. By doing this, you can become a spokesperson on social studies education.
- Understand that education is a tough story to cover.
- Be willing to be interviewed.
- Respect a reporter's deadline.
- Be honest.
- If you don't know the answer to a question, say so.
- Forget educational jargon when speaking with journalists.
- Never say, "No Comment."
By practicing these guidelines, you are much more likely to have positive experiences with the news media.
When Reporters Make Mistakes
Sometimes even good reporters make mistakes. When a mistake is made, you should attempt to correct it, but how that is done is very important for your long-term relationships with the reporter.
- First, decide how major the mistake was. You should correct all significant mistakes, so they don't happen again. But for a minor error, simply inform the reporter the next time you are talking. With a major mistake, you may want to ask for a correction.
- Always start with the reporter when discussing an error. However, if you get no satisfaction with him or her and its important enough, you have the right to discuss the issue with the reporter's supervisor.
Writing a News Release
News releases are a standard way to communicate with both print and electronic reporters. You can consider them both to announce successes of your program and new events that are happening in social studies education. However, news releases should be sent only when you have information reporters want to receive.
When writing a news release, use the inverted pyramid style. Generally, the format is:
- 1st paragraph – Sum up the article / grab reader's attention
- Next paragraphs – Detail and pertinent background information including "who" and "what" as well as anything that led up to the event
- If possible – add quotes from people involved
- Talk about why the event is important and relevant
- Final paragraph – summarize the article again
Writing an Op-Ed Article
An Op-Ed or Opinion Article is an opinion piece published in a newspaper, which often are written by someone who is not on that newspaper's staff.
What to Do:
- Determine whether newspapers in your area use op-ed articles.
- Decide roughly what you would like to write. Sample topics for this campaign might include: "What today's social studies includes", "How social studies leads to effective citizens", or "Success of social studies education"
- Phone the paper to find out who makes decisions about Op-Ed articles. It may be best to offer the article to the largest paper in your community on an exclusive basis. If that paper publishes the article, you cannot later give it to another paper.
- Write your article. To see sample Op-Ed articles visit Washington Post Editorial and Op-Ed Writers.
- Send or deliver the article to the Op-Ed editor. Include a cover letter on your school or council letterhead, thanking the editor for this opportunity. (If you mail your article, it's okay to phone the editor a few days later to confirm that the article has been received.)
- If your article is used, write a thank you note to the person who made the decision.
Using Radio Public Service Announcements
Public service announcements are messages aired by radio and television stations at no cost to the sponsors. Radio PSAs are powerful tools to create greater awareness because of the number of people who listen to radio while driving, in the office, working at home, weeding the front yard, etc. PSAs usually are 10, 15, 30, or 60 seconds.
To increase the likelihood that your PSA is selected, try the following:
- Develop a relationship with the radio station that benefits both parties
- Invite someone at the radio station to come to a class and talk about the news business. Radio people like to get into the community and usually will appreciate such invitations.
(This PSA is designed to be read in 30 seconds. However, depending upon the readying style of the announcer, there may need to be additions or cuts to fit the 30-second format. Work with the announcer to make those changes. Most radio and TV stations prefer the copy to be typed and in ALL CAPS.)
Meet with Editorial Boards
If there's one thing social studies educators should do as part of this campaign, it's to meet with editorial boards at your local newspaper. All newspapers have editorial boards, and they are the people that determine the position the paper will take in its editorials.
As newspapers cover school reform and curriculum changes, they are likely to editorialize on the value of certain subjects. By meeting with editorial boards now, you will assure that your viewpoint is on the table. Without such a meeting, an editorial could be written without your information.
Consider these steps:
- Phone the newspaper to determine who is in charge of its editorial board.
- Phone that person and request a meeting about the essential role of social studies and its value in creating effective citizens.
- Pull together a small, diverse group of people who can accompany you to the meeting. Include a social studies educator and perhaps a business leader, school board member, parent, and/or student. Each should represent a different viewpoint on the importance of social studies education.
- Determine the key messages that revolve around the campaign theme that you want to deliver. Do not deliver too many messages, or your most important points will be diluted.
- Develop a small handout packet on the importance of social studies to leave with them.
A few days after the meeting, send a thank you letter and reinforce the idea that you are always available to talk with them about social studies education.
Councils could consider organizing a plan to reach editorial boards at all major newspapers in their state as part of this campaign. The council president or other officers could participate in each meeting along with representatives from the local school system.