This post is written in conjunction with the “Becoming a Public Scholar-Activist” course, which is directed by Dr. Monica A. Coleman.
Publicness has now become so synonymous with the Internet that the phrase ‘digital media’ is starting to sound redundant. Yet while the ‘ancient beast’ of traditional media may have lost a few of its teeth lately, it’s still very much alive, and today’s young professionals need to be equipped to meet it if they hope to maintain a holistic public presence.
“Pitch Perfect” by William Tyson, a book “for scholars, researchers, and academic leaders who have a passion to share their knowledge outside the classroom, laboratory, or institution.” One glance at the contents reveals that this is a comprehensive resource for navigating the various media avenues available today. The text isn’t written to be an enthralling Saturday evening read; it’s a more like a ‘media user’s manual’. The how-tos cover everything from calling a press release to requesting a story correction. These tips are both directly useful and telling of some important general principles in dealing with the media.
Share your work with the people for whom it carries meaning. Publicizing is an act of generosity, and, as with all acts of generosity, you want to do your best to match the gift with the recipient. Don’t flood the media with time-wasting press releases, but establish relationships with the press that will allow you to know when, where, and how to offer a meaningful story.
Timing matters. News is only news when it’s new. Develop a media plan for your story release that will allow it to have the greatest impact as quickly as possible. Start with media that will only publish previously-unpublished stories (ie, major newspapers). If you tell a media outlet that they will publish a story first, or if you place an embargo (time-sensitive hold) on a story you supply to the media, honor the agreed-upon terms. The Internet should get ahold of your story within a few hours of its more conventional publications, so there is usually no need to start there.
thine your audience. Save academic and field-specific jargon for publications that are tailored to those audiences. For more public avenues, assume your reader has no background; teach by analogy and get to the point quickly. In interviews, be quotable– use short phrases and figurative language.
Be professional. Assume anything you say to a reporter is ‘on the record’. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated into misrepresenting your position in an interview. Follow through on your promises to the media. Return phone calls quickly. Don’t waste reporters’ time.
As an ambitious upstart public scholar-activist myself, Tyson’s text at once overwhelmed and empowered me: Yes, the media monster is still alive. But if we are informed and equipped to approach it correctly, we might not only survive, but truly benefit from the encounter.
Elizabeth Addison Rhea is a little much. As a Spoken Word poet and visual artist, the beautiful brokenness of humanity both inspires her art and drives her dreams. She lives in communion with her Creator and her fellow world changers at Claremont Lincoln University in Southern California, where she is pursuing an MA in Religion and Social Change.