Getting to “Newsworthy”: How to Get Your Stories Covered by Media

Podcast October 09, 2019

Your college community has great stories, but having those stories go beyond your website audience and social network following can be a challenge. So, how exactly do you get your story to make headlines in other publications? In this episode, Anne Krueger, communications and public information director of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, and Cheryl Broom, president of Interact, discuss the best ways to market your stories to the media.

Show Notes: 
Link to Annual Report website: https://www.gcccd.edu/about-us-area/annual-report.html


Cheryl Broom: (00:30)
Hi! Welcome to Interact Communications’ Community College Marketing MasterClass. I’m Cheryl Broom. Many of us who work in marketing or public relations at community colleges got our start as news reporters. In fact, my first job out of college was a producer for the five and six a.m. newscast for KRCR in beautiful Redding, California. Even if you weren’t a journalist at some point, I’d venture to say that most of you have a lot of experience working with journalists and you definitely have experience writing for the news media. In the age of the internet, writing concise and compelling copy is more important than ever. You only have a few seconds or a few lines to convince a reporter or donor, whoever your audience is, to make a decision to cover your story or to make a donation. So today I’m really, really excited to have a real writing pro on the show to give us some tips and some tools that we can use to be better writers and be more concise and compelling in what we share.

Cheryl Broom: (01:34)
Anne Krueger is the communications and public information director for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, which is located in San Diego. Before joining the district in 2010, she was a reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune for 27 years and earned her bachelor’s degree from George Washington University. Anne has produced award-winning content for her community college district and holds multiple National Council for Marketing and Public Relations gold Paragons for her district’s annual report. Anne and I were colleagues for many years and we had the joy of planning many countywide excursions to the state Capitol to discuss community college priorities with our legislators. And Ann was always the most efficient and persuasive in our delegation’s written materials. And that’s no doubt because she spent almost her entire professional career actually writing great content. So I’m really excited to have her on today to give us advice on how to be more persuasive and how to get better results from our written materials. So, Anne, thank you so much for joining us, especially because I just learned it’s your day off. I really appreciate you taking the time and joining me on the show.

Anne Krueger: (02:47)
Hello. Thank you for having me.

Cheryl Broom: (02:49)
So, 27 years as a news journalist. Tell me about your career.

Anne Krueger: (02:54)
Actually, I worked for five years as a reporter at the Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Florida, and then 27 years at the Union Tribune in San Diego. And for much of my career, about 14 years, I covered courts. And then the last 10 years I covered Eastern San Diego County, where my college district is located. And that was part of my beat, actually.

Cheryl Broom: (03:20)
So 30, 31 years as a news journalist.

Anne Krueger: (03:24)
Total, yep. Right.

Cheryl Broom: (03:25)
Wow. So I bet you saw some pretty amazing, wrote about some pretty amazing stories. Anything come to mind that you can share?

Anne Krueger: (03:33)
The main one I covered, I witnessed two executions and covered some, covered, in particular this one case of some judges who were, that we exposed that they had been taking bribes and we ended up being convicted in federal court for that, for those charges.

Cheryl Broom: (03:57)
Wow. Two executions.

Anne Krueger: (03:59)
Yeah, I saw the last lethal injection and the first, I saw the last gas chamber and the first lethal injection.

Cheryl Broom: (04:07)
Wow. I bet that was difficult.

Anne Krueger: (04:09)
Yes. Yeah.

Cheryl Broom: (04:11)
So what made you transition from being a, you know, reporter covering executions and scandals and crimes to working at a community college?

Anne Krueger: (04:20)
Well, actually with all the changes in the newspaper industry, I got laid off from the Union Tribune, but it turned out to be a great thing because the day I was laid off, I contacted all my PR people I knew and one of them told me about a job opening at the college district. So I started out working part time, which, if you had a full time job, would not be satisfactory, but when you have no job, a part time job sounds really great. And after a year or so, I was hired full time. And I had always wanted to work at a college, even when I was looking at my career after newspaper. So this was just a perfect fit for me.

Cheryl Broom: (05:06)
And I’ve seen this a lot and it happened in my case as well, where a former journalist, you know, moves into the public relations field. Why do you think that happens? What skills did you take with you as a journalist into your college job?

Anne Krueger: (05:23)
Well, you know, obviously a big part of our job is working with the media. So, you know, I knew from the other end, you know, I know very well what the media wants and what their expectations are. And so that’s, that’s a big part of it. And, you know, you do a lot of writing as a reporter and you do a lot of writing as a communications person. And because of my years as a reporter, you know, I’m used to working on deadlines, so I can write very quickly and accurately and I know how to put it together. As a reporter, a big part of your job is listening to the jargon of the people that you’re interviewing and translating it into something understandable, which I find, you know, “education-ese,” you’re dealing with all the time as a communications person.

Anne Krueger: (06:23)
And so I’m trying to do that on this side of the fence. Juggling lots of projects, you do that as a reporter and we definitely do that on this side. In fact, I think you do it more as a marketing person than even as a reporter you do. Also I think, just, as a reporter, you know, I learned to stay cool under pressure, you know, from witnessing executions to covering wildfires. Just when, when bad things are happening, you know, you learn that you just got to put your personal emotions aside and move ahead and do the work. And so in disaster situations that we’ve had at the campus, it’s the same thing. You know, scary things might be happening, but you still know you’ve got to focus on your work and not let your emotions get in the way.

Cheryl Broom: (07:24)
And I think for anybody listening, you just gave, like, the best description of why you want to hire a former journalist. Because of all of those reasons. I know here at Interact, I’ve had the opportunity to hire two women who were both former journalists, newspaper journalists like you, and everything you said applies to them. Just deadline-driven, cool under pressure, you know, able to deal with anything that’s thrown their way quickly and efficiently. And I really do think that comes from working in that chaotic, deadline-driven newsroom.

Anne Krueger: (08:01)
And I think another thing that occurred to me is seeing what the story is when, you know, you’re needing to write a press release about something, you know, what is a way to make this an interesting story? You know, we might, we’ve had things that could be really dull. Like Cuyamaca College had this acceleration project of getting students through faster. So how do you, how do you report that to the public and in an interesting way that can get people excited about it?

Cheryl Broom: (08:33)
I love that. I love that phrase, “seeing what the story is,” because there’s so many times that we’re asked to take something that seems pretty benign, but colleges are really excited about and they want to know how it’s going to get on the front page of the paper or how to get a television reporter to campus to film it. What advice can you give to colleges? What tips to write a great press release, maybe about something that’s not exciting, but pulling out a story from it so that a reporter would be interested in covering it?

Anne Krueger: (09:01)
I think the key thing is figuring out what is the news angle, what will get reporters interested? And keep it as simple as possible. You should be able to say what your news angle is in one sentence. You always want to have a human angle to it, you know, not just that there’s some new program, but how is this gonna affect students or, you know, who is this great, maybe, staff member who’s won some award or something. And then, Cheryl, with your background in TV, particularly to get TV there, you want something very visual. You know, puppies are always a big hit.

Anne Krueger: (09:53)
But you want something that you can tell TV, hey, if you come out, you’ll be able to show this. And it’s not, you know, people shaking hands. It’s actually students in a classroom working on something, that kind of thing. Like, one story we did was about our auto tech program and TV loved that. They came out all morning because it’s such obvious visuals of students working on cars and all that. So it’s something out of the routine. So, you know, so just look for those kinds of elements.

Cheryl Broom: (10:33)
And that’s a really good tip because for television, you know, you might have a press release, but calling and letting them know what the visuals are or even putting that in the release, what the opportunities for visuals are, can really entice them to actually show up.

Cheryl Broom: (10:52)
Yeah. And you mentioned puppies, which makes me laugh because during finals week when you have those de-stress days and students pet puppies, when I worked at MiraCosta College, we always had news media. They drive an hour just to tape students petting puppies. And after I left, the college actually replaced the puppies with llamas, which re-interested the media. Yes. So you can, I guess you could pet a llama to de-stress during finals week. Great visual. So what other tips do you have for working with the news media? How can you get a reporter really interested in coming out? We talked about sharing visuals, knowing what the angle is and figuring that out and, you know, being able to explain it in a sentence. Any other tips that you can offer as you write a press release?

Anne Krueger: (11:54)
I guess, you know, just think about who you’re sending the release to and what their pressures are. And so again, keep it real simple. You know, the kinds of stories that I would recommend are, like, if you’ve got a feature story about some student who is just, who maybe has won some award or maybe is your student speaker at commencement or something who has overcome incredible stuff to graduate or ever. We had a story last year, we had a student who had cerebral palsy and I think it had taken him 15 years, but he was finally graduating from Grossmont College and TV loved that. And it was, you know, just an amazing story and it, you know, obviously reflects well on your campus. And again, I keep emphasizing over and over: find a way to humanize the story. The media is so busy today because there are even fewer than when I was there, that the more you can help them and pull it out to them and show them what that, you know, you’ll be able to offer them, the easier it will be.

Cheryl Broom: (12:54)

Yeah, that’s a great point. How important are the relationships with the news media? Do you get really good results by just writing a press release and emailing out or do you actually have relationships and make phone calls? What do you recommend?

Anne Krueger: (13:17)
You should definitely have a good relationship. I’m very lucky in that the local, the Union Tribune reporter in this area who covers our college, A, is a Grossmont College alum and B, she has the job I would have had if I had stayed at the paper. So I know her from the days of the paper and see she’s just a reporter who, she’s very busy. So she pretty much writes up most of our, any release we send out, for the, you know, for the TV media. Again, I, you know, I would recommend writing a release but then following up with them and, you know, a lot of times it doesn’t, you know, it gets set aside or something. So follow up them and say, hey, we sent this, are you interested in coming out, and yes, and when they come out, build a relationship with them, let them know, you know, in downtime while they’re there. Hey, here’s some other stories.

Cheryl Broom: (14:22)
I think this is a really great tip. When a reporter comes out that you, you don’t just let them cover the one story, you actually use that as an opportunity to pitch other stories. That’s such great advice. And that’s actually something that I had never thought of before is, you know, don’t let them get away with just covering what they’re there to cover. You can build a deeper relationship and share other things happening in your campus and see if they’d be interested to come back, or at least take the opportunity to educate them about what else you have going on. So really good tip. What—do you have any, when you were a reporter, do you remember any pitches or any press releases that you got that really peaked your interest, that turned out to be really an amazing story?

Anne Krueger: (15:08)
Well, one I remember, that the topic might sound, it was a pitch from the college district and, that the topic might sound pretty dull, but they did it in a really good way. It was, they had started this program to align the college course curriculum with high school curriculum. Boring, boring, boring. But the way they presented it was they included some data showing that it has really made a huge difference for the first cohort of students who had come to the college and they had numbers showing that they did so much better. They said, here are, we have some high school teachers that you can, you know, and gave me their name and phone number, you can interview these teachers. They had some of the college students who had gone through the program and they said you can interview them. So it was, it was so well laid out for me that I might have tossed it aside otherwise. But with that and seeing that they had really put a lot of thought into the release that I went ahead and did the story and it actually turned out to be a pretty good story.

Cheryl Broom: (16:21)
Well, that’s such great advice. If you could make the reporter’s job easier by providing, by lining up interviews, by thinking about the type of things that the reporter will need, you have, I think you’d have a much better chance of actually getting them interested in covering your college.

Anne Krueger: (16:38)
Definitely.

Cheryl Broom: (16:40)
Yeah. And they’re so, they’re so busy and I know, especially newspaper reporters, the newsrooms have just been demolished in the last decade and they have so much to do and such little time to do it in. It’s not like, you know, the old days where they might dig around and have a couple days to write a story. I mean, they’re out writing multiple things every single day. So really think about how you can make their job easier. Well, great. Well you have given some really amazing tips. I thank you so much for your time and as we wrap up is there anything else that we haven’t touched on? Anything that comes to mind?

Anne Krueger: (17:16)
I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered pretty much everything.

Cheryl Broom: (17:18)
Great. Well, like I’ve said in the, in my other podcasts on crisis communication, that’s always one of my favorite questions that reporters tend to ask is, do you have anything else to add? I always somehow manage to get one more tip in. Yeah. It always works. Well, Anne, thank you so much for your time and Anne gave the website for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca district where you can check out her annual report and we’ll put that in the show notes. And Anne, thanks so much. I hope you enjoy your day off, and we’ll talk to you soon.

Anne Krueger:
Okay, great. Thank you.

Cheryl Broom:
All right, thanks everyone. And that wraps up this month’s edition of the Interact Communications Marketing MasterClass. I’m Cheryl Broom and I’ll catch you next time.


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