Expert View - Communications: Give the news beast a real feast

News is a beast that needs feeding 24 hours a day. To provide the food, charities need to be quick, slick and news-conscious.

Larger organisations usually have the different sections of the press sussed out and know how to get stories across effectively, but some smaller charities still struggle to do more than send out blanket press releases.

Is lack of understanding of what makes a good news story stopping charities from getting their messages across? How many great stories are not making the headlines because charities have no up- to-date media contacts lists or little knowledge of what news journalists need? Media management is not a magical myth; it is a discipline requiring skill, knowledge and perseverance.

Journalists receive thousands of emails every day, so the press release no longer has the power it once had. In fact, many journalists will reject a story that comes from a press release simply because they know everyone else will have seen it too. This means exclusives matter. Have we gone full circle? Is making that telephone call the only way to get a story covered?

At a recent Media Trust seminar where charities got the chance to pitch their stories to news editors, it struck me how vast the divide is between smaller charities and the big guns when it comes to dealing with the press.

Many people were too shy to pitch, or were unsure of their stories. Those who did approach the editors were listened to. Two charities made valuable contacts at Channel 4 News and Society Guardian. If the stories they pitched were not what the press wanted at that point, at least they now know who to approach next time, how to approach them and that the door is open.

People who work for charities often believe in their causes with a passion - as they should. But they must not lose sight of whether what they want to say is actually news. They should ask themselves whether it breaks the 'so what?' barrier for those who do not share their passion.

I see amazing stories from small charities every day through Community Newswire - a service that takes charities' press releases and writes them up into news stories that are sent out on the Press Association newswire to thousands of journalists each day. With some support, I know these charities can get their stories in the press. But press officers - from small and large organisations - should seek all the help they can to compete in an increasingly overcrowded and competitive market place.

 - Joanna Inskip is manager of the Community Newswire at the MediaTrust

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