Many passionate people are baffled by the media’s coverage of health disparities.
Please know that ALL experts and EVERYONE who is passionate about a particular issue feel their topic is neglected.
The first mistake you can make is that you are being singled out for poor treatment. Not so. When I used to edit a weekly newspaper, I often told people that my most frequent decision is to NOT put something in the paper. Only a small minority of topics are addressed in each edition.
What can you do to improve your odds? Here are my 7 tips.
1. Your pitch must answer a few basic questions. The OpEd Project suggests three in its advice on how to publish an opinion piece:
- Why now?
- So what?
- Why me?
This great advice also applies to pitching editors on stories you want covered. Notice the first question is a time question. The time element is frequently ignored by passionate people. You may always think about your issue, but journalists have an acute sense of now. We swim in a current of information propelled by time, so we better have a decent sense of timing. I repeat, this is the most common failure I see in people who care about health disparities. Warning: Disease months or awareness weeks are NOT news pegs. They are extremely week, especially given that every month is owned by numerous causes.
2. Your story needs a time component. And it also has to be a story. Is there a plot? Can you think of a headline? If you can’t write a headline for it, it’s not a story yet. The most valuable resource you can provide to a journalist is a ready list of sources who can tell the story. Find a journalist someone suffering from a health disparity, or, perhaps even better, someone who beat the odds. Your organization won’t be in the headline, but your issue will be. Plus, there might be a couple quotes from your executive director in the second half of the article.
3. Avoid jargon like the plague. Journalists are bored by differences between health disparities and health equity; they can’t understand why you debate about this. They want plain language. Journalists translate expertise into common knowledge every day. The more you can help us, the more we appreciate you. Plus, we know how to express complex ideas simply and are frustrated when you can’t do the same.
4. Be persistent, consistent and understanding. Do not expect every story you tell to get a reporter’s interest. Come back with another story on a regular basis. Don’t give up or damage the relationship by abusing the reporter for not doing anything with one particular story.
5. Exclusives are better than mass-emailed press releases. Enough said.
6. Know the news landscape. Please do not pitch anything the day before Election Day. However, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is known for putting non-stories on the front page.
7. Ask for help. Talk with a journalist. Have lunch or coffee with them. Tell them what you know. Share your favorite story ideas. A good journalist will use the opportunity to find an even better story you didn’t know you had.