The Value of Working with the Media in a Time of Crisis – by Dan Tapper

Many years ago I worked as a daily newspaper reporter, and was writing a story about a beloved restaurant in the Greater Hartford community that was celebrating a milestone anniversary. While figuring out how to tell the story in a memorable way, I happened to upon a couple who was celebrating the restaurant’s anniversary—and their own. They volunteered that they had been married at that very location on the very day it opened.

Bam! What a great story!

I thanked this charming couple and asked: why had they had never told this great story through the media before.

Their response? “Nobody ever asked us.”

Just four words, but they spoke volumes: How will the media know a good story exists if no one offers to share it with them?

That blast from the past has come to mind quite a bit during these months of disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic. Where telling memorable, positive stories through the media has not been a luxury, but a necessity.

Why? People know about the bad news. They want to see responsiveness and engagement from those in charge—political leaders, business leaders, community leaders. They want to be reassured and they need to be kept informed.

Good examples abound. Banks and credit unions engaged with the media right away, reassuring people that their money was safe and that their personal mortgages would not be in jeopardy. Senior care communities found ways to keep people in touch with their parents despite visitation restrictions. Nonprofits and community organizations worked tirelessly to reach people in need and large companies delivered lunches to overworked health workers. Medical professionals showed their patients how to switch to telemedicine. These examples set a steady drumbeat of actionable information through challenging times—and through positive news stories.

For 30 years I have worked with the Connecticut media, both as a reporter and a public relations professional, and I’ve seen newsroom staffs steadily decrease over that time. But those lower numbers create opportunities. The media often welcomes help in finding those stories, because the staffing levels simply don’t provide much time to seek them out. The key is to get there first—the ability to pitch and package an interesting story in a way that allows for quick turnaround becomes currency, and being nimble when pitching stories is as important a trait as any.

This is particularly true of positive news stories; sadly, we have faced more than our share of negative, tragic stories, but the media also wants to tell stories that inspire as they inform. It’s our job to get those stories into their hands—community success stories, local champions, informational articles, inspiring photo opportunities and more.

These are stories that need to be told and can greatly help the public. But if we don’t engage with the media, we’ll wind up like that couple I met all those years ago—having a great story to tell, but no one asking to hear it.

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