Working with News Reporters to Tell Your School District’s Story
For the most part, school leaders’ interaction with the news media comes during times of crisis. Something has gone wrong at a school, and reporters want answers. This can make the relationship between district administrators and the media a contentious one.
But that does not need to be the case. Both school leaders and reporters want to give the public fair information about what’s going on in their communities’ local schools as possible.
To that end, superintendents and administrators should be proactive in their approach to local reporters, inviting them to schools and events to help tell the district’s story. This creates more transparency and offers school leaders the opportunity to drive the conversation about their schools and districts.
You can do this by initiating and maintaining positive relationships with reporters on an ongoing basis. The following are some tips to strengthen your district’s media relations:
- Return calls promptly: Superintendents regularly get calls from local reporters. While you do not always have to pick up right away if you are busy, you should be sure to return any messages reporters leave as quickly as possible. This will help you stay on good terms with the reporters and make them more receptive to stories you wish to tell about your district.
- Give the reporter some deference: Reporters have bosses of their own and cannot always control the length of a story or whether a story even runs at all. Understand the reporter’s job and know that not all stories about your district will be positive.
- Give feedback: At the same time, you should not feel as though you are forbidden from giving feedback, positive or negative. Positive feedback helps reporters know that their stories were accurate and fair, while reasonable criticism can help them understand some of the complexities of education policy.
- Take deadlines into consideration: Reporters often work on tight deadlines. If they ask you for information or quotes, they probably need them quickly. Being responsive will help the reporter do his or her job and build a good relationship between the two of you.
- Avoid jargon: Any information you provide should be easy to understand for anyone who is not an education professional, including both the reporter and members of the public. Try not to talk over the average person’s head.
- Be courteous: Give reporters the same courtesy you would extend to any parent, teacher or community member. They will appreciate your professionalism, something that can pay dividends in the future.
- Be honest: Always be as honest and sincere as possible any time you speak to reporters. While there may be confidential matters you cannot discuss, aim to give as much information and context as you can.
The local media can be an important ally for a school or school district. Treat reporters well and maintain a cohesive media relations strategy, and you will improve the quality, accuracy and frequency of the information your school community receives.