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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Working with News Reporters

 

By Christine

 

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Introduction

As dancers, we spend enormous energy on the image we want to present — from costuming and makeup to dance stylizations and venue choice. So after all this effort, it is hard to accept that the media can influence our public image — for good or for bad — and we can’t do much about it.

Or can we?

Well, the media is made up of people, and people can be influenced. Smart dancers who care about their image need to find ways to work with their local media. Below I’ve outlined some tips, gleaned from my years in the newsroom.

The most challenging papers to work with will be college and small-market papers due to the general lack of reporting experience. The college reporters are inexperienced and the reporting beats usually change every semester, so it’s hard to build relationships with them. The small-market reporters may be cub reporters as well — small-market papers owned by large chains are sometimes seen as training grounds.

To give some context on the amount of time a reporter at a small-market paper might spend on your story: one paper I worked at required us to file 10 stories a week, so the process was: think of story idea/angle, research story background, find multiple sources, interview them, write to requested length and file — twice a day.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.

Shira

 

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To Improve Coverage

Relationships

Develop relationships with reporters, yes, but also the editors because on these papers they are likely to stick around longer.

 

Time-Sensitive

Pitch story ideas that have a time-based element. An editor will challenge the reporter: “Why should we run this story today?” The “hook” for a time-based story could be a dance event or the opening of class enrollment. Write a press release and get it to your intended contact two weeks in advance if you can. Include a fact sheet about bellydance so reporters can validate and write some background material before they get to your event, and prepare some intelligent questions for you (we hope).

Most reporters would view bellydance history as background material to fill out the story - it is not lead material because there is nothing timely about it. Stories without a specific temporal element need to have a strong angle. They would most likely be pitched to the features editor, e.g. suggest a story about students with unusual part-time jobs (one of whom is a bellydancer).

 

Angle

Prepare an angle or two that you want to talk about to the reporter. It needs to be different from background material. If after the interviews the reporter doesn’t come up with a strong angle, he/she will fall back on the descriptive lead: “The room full of brightly bedecked dancers swayed and shimmied in the golden glow of the afternoon sun.” Arghh! Not original — and also redundant if there are some good photos accompanying the story.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Kaylyn Hoskins, Solon, Iowa.

Don't Take Bait

Journalism students are taught to seek out multiple perspectives on a story. That’s different from seeking out conflict or drama; however, if their bellydancing source gets fired up about being questioned about a bellydancing/stripping connection and starts giving good quotes around it, the reporter will think that they have discovered an interesting angle. As one dancer says, “If you don’t want them to write about it, don’t talk about it,” and she is 200% correct. The rock artist Warren Zevon was considered a master at directing experienced reporters to only the subjects he wanted to discuss. Anything else was met with a “hmm” or a shrug. It’s hard to craft something out of hmms and shrugs.

Shira

 

Be Quotable

Most reporters are generalists, not specialists, and certainly not in the field of bellydance. So, think through some sound bites that you could throw out that will illustrate your angle. If you’re bringing in a famous guest instructor for example, you could say “she is like the Elvis or Pavarotti or whomever of bellydance” — just to give some sort of reference that makes sense to a non-specialist. Also, a reporter won’t let you see the story before it goes to print, but you can ask them to read back to you any direct quotes from you that they are thinking of using.

 

Press Releases

Journalism students are taught to never submit press release copy as news copy — they are expected to rewrite any PR copy if they use it. However, when I crossed over to the dark side of PR and advertising, I found that if I wrote a press release exactly in the form of a news story (lead, nut graph, quotes, background, etc.), small papers would print it verbatim.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.

 

Timing

Sundays are the slowest news day; thus you have a better chance at pictures and a longer story if your event is on Sunday than any other day of the week. Saturday night doesn’t count, because the traditional news cycle is 24 hours, even if the paper (like a college paper) doesn’t publish Sundays.

 

Photos

Don’t forget to tell the reporter that the photographer can get fantastic action shots at your event. Photos make it more likely that the editor will showcase your story in the layout — however the down side is that they might shorten the actual story to also fit the photos into the news hole.

Shira

 

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And in the “It Can’t Hurt” Category

Go above and beyond as a good source. Most reporters wake up wondering what they are going to write about that day. If you have lots of contacts in other areas; e.g., the local Arab community, you could be helpful there as well. For example, at the end of Ramadan you could call them up say, “Hey did you know… are you going to do a story on it?” and if so you could suggest sources to whom they can talk. This is just to keep you in mind for them as a reliable, helpful source.

 

I hope these tips help you in your dealings with the media!

 

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About the Author

Christine is a dance teacher and performer based in Kansas City. She worked as a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years, and later in public relations and advertising. She currently is the head of communications for a supply chain logistics company. Christine

 

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