Pitching Your Archaeology News to the Press: Archaeology and the Press- Part 5

Posted on August 22, 2014

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This week I have talked about crafting a ‘newsworthy’ story and about how to get it published via a press release. But, the process is not exactly as simple as uploading a press release into an email and clicking the ‘send’ button. I am going to spend this last post in the series discussing how to increase your chances of getting into the news, beyond just making a good press release.

Location, Location, Location

There are three types of location specific news agencies- local/regional, national, and international. Knowing what stories they likely will publish will save you a lot of time when pitching your news.

  • Local/Regional- Like people stories (kids, geriatrics, locals, volunteers) and something that is connected local. Stories like “Senior Citizen Help Uncover Prehistoric Campsite in GenericTownville” will be picked up by these organizations. Even if your project is not ground breaking, if it is local they might report it.
  • National- Rarely do people pieces and look for things of “national” importance. An article like “Metal Detectors Uncover Battle Site of ImportantBattleInGenericCountriesHistory” will be picked up by these organizations.
  • International- This needs to appeal to a broad range of people, Unfortunately we default to  Oldest, Biggest, Greatest, Richest, Gold, Lost Civilizations, Adventure, Ground Breaking, Mummies, Pyramids, and of course Game Changing stories. it does not have to be this way but it does need to connect to a lot of people’s interests.

Don’t send local stories to national news outlets. There is a reason reporters get 100+ emails a day and 97 of them end up in the deleted folder.

Not All News Organizations Are the Same

Even if the focus is regional, national, etc. how organizations disseminate the news is very different.

  • Websites/blogs – they don’t have to worry about fitting articles into print runs so them can publish more stuff. However, they have the pressure of being on 24/7 because they are on the internet.
  • Print- Limited space and hard printing deadlines. Can’t do long pieces.
  • Video/TV- I have not talked about this too much but the key factor to remember is that they usually need to get a camera crew out to a location to do some filming.
  • Magazines- not published as often, longer pieces, and they tend to use freelances more so you have to contact them.

With the Internet these boundaries are starting to get blurred but it is still worth considering the medium.

Focus

Also, the focus is it broad or are you targeting very niche publications. Past Horizons is a good example of a news site that focuses on just heritage, still a broad topic. This all goes back to the goal of your work, who do you want to reach. However, think creatively and realize you can reach a lot of people by targeting niche publications. For example, underwater archaeology can both target archaeology and scuba diving communities.

Take all of these factors into account and look at your goal. That should give you a rough idea of what organizations you should contact, which is not all of them.

Identified Target, Check. Now What?

Now, you need to figure out who to contact in your targeted organizations. You can contact the main email accounts or phonelines but they receive thousands of requests a day and many of them never make it through to the journalist. Journalists have certain beats and areas they focus on, do some research on the journalist most likely to write about your work. A sports reporter is not going to write about archaeology. One way to do this is to check out the archaeology or related articles on the website and look at who wrote them. Ask other archaeologists about who has written articles for them. Worse comes to worse, call up an organization and ask who handles their heritage stories.

Contact

Do not call or email a reporter directly, until you call their office first and talk with a receptionist (not reporter) to find out what is the best time to contact them e.g. when are their deadlines to pitch an idea to an editor and when are their article deadlines. Make sure you call before they talk to their editor so they have enough time to get together a pitch. Never call before their publishing deadlines. Basically, find the time when they are researching and looking for new articles and send it then. If they are web-based or freelance and don’t have daily deadlines then ask when are good days or time i.e. are they a morning person.

To Call or Not to Call

Some stories, especially if they are very sensitive or important need to be discussed in person or on the phone. But, the default is to never call or try to set up a meeting unless you have found the Holy Grail, I mean the literal the Holy Grail. Send them an email with your press release in it/attached. Try to use the title of your press release in the email subject. Keep the email short, no small talk, just say something to the effect- this might interest you … .

Why? Well like I have discussed– they have so much material to go through that if they spent five minutes talking on the phone to everyone they would get nothing done. An email and press release can be scanned quickly and if they like it they can spend more time reading it. If not, they are on to the next lead/story.

Waiting

You send the email and then wait and see. You have included your contact details in the press release (a must), if they want to know more they will contact you. Be sure you, or who ever is the contact person is, are free for the rest of the day to answer the phone/email. Nothing will kill your story faster than not answering the phone when a journalist calls after you told them to call you. Whatever you do, DO NOT CALL to see if they got your email. Yes- email gets lost or caught be the spam filters but from what I have been told nothing annoys a journalist more than calling them to see if they got your email. There is really nothing you can do after you sent an email to increase your chances, you can only ruin them by being annoying.

Just jeep in mind, it is going to be a bit like fishing, you cast out a lot of lines and sometimes you get a bite.

Final Tips- Exclusivity and Relationships

Some last finals tips, use them or don’t.

The way news works is that whoever breaks the story first gets the lion’s share of the views, usually. Especially, now with the internet and people linking to the first source they see/sharing it. Exclusives help a journalists career. If you can promise a journalist an exclusive, and it is important to warrant being exclusive, then you greatly increase your odds of getting your story picked up. I know in some cases you want to reach as wide as audience as possible and so you may not want to be exclusive. However, any story after it is printed is pick up by other news organizations, social media etc. so it may be worth it to you to promise an exclusive story. But, never promise an exclusive and then not deliver it. It hurts the journalists in front of their bosses AND pretty much guarantees they will never work with you again.

The final thing you can do is a build a professional relationship with a journalist. Notice the word ‘professional’. That means not making idle chit chat and asking them about their kids. It means when you have a story they are your first port of call. They will love you for it and it benefits you. If you feed them a constant stream of stories, which they need, then they are more likely to publish all of your work. There is of course limit to that. They won’t publish crap and can be overruled by their editor. However, they are more likely to fight to get your story in, even the so so ones. This of course also means following them to any new job they might get. In some cases, it won’t work out e.g. they go to fashion magazine. Though at the end of the day it is good to have a professional relationship with a journalist or two.

That’s it. That is how to pitch you work, i.e. press release, to journalists.

 TV

I have mainly focused on print press and not so much on TV. They are different. You won’t really be sending them press releases. It will be a phone call  or quick email but treat it almost the same. Be quick and have a pitch ready ( 2-3 sentences summing up the whole story). Though, the same rules about finding out the best times to contact them apply. A big difference is finding out when the camera crew will be coming or if you need to go into a studio.

Archaeology and the Press

This is part of a series of posts. Part 1- look at the process of journalism. Part 2- gave guidance on interviewing. Part 3- was about picking your story. Part 4- taught you how to make a press release.

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