Although communication strategies for clients continue to evolve with the growth of social media and online publications, there is one area of news that continues to remain constant for audiences: the local news. Are you treating these outlets like the key targets they are or as secondary thoughts? Despite the fact that many consumers still turn to their daily papers and broadcast news for their updates, we in PR sometimes forget the power they wield.
The problem with this is that people sometimes don’t respect these outlets in their outreach efforts and the result can be sloppy pitches or poor relationship building. As part of our ongoing “Pressing the Press” series we speak with GateHouse News Media New England’s Andrea Salisbury who is the Editor of the Dedham Transcript and the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin. Andrea shares with us her journey to focus on local New England news and how PR professionals can best work with her and other local outlets to give their clients some “home town love.”
How did you get started in journalism?
That is a loaded question. The easy answer is I fell into journalism. My freshman year of college a professor encouraged me to “get published,” so I signed up for the newspaper and basically never left. After I abandoned the idea I would become a movie critic, I learned the true power of the press and how the written word informs and can change a community. After college I attended graduate school and, again, stumbled into a job on the copy desk of a daily newspaper designing sports pages. Five years later, my company decided I would make a good newspaper editor and gave me two papers to manage.
What drew you to the local news scene?
Community news is, in my opinion, where newspapers thrive. Everyone wants to read about their kid’s Little League game, school play or what’s happening in town government. Local news reporters hold town officials accountable and help to inform the public as to what is going on in their own backyard. As I said before, I fell into the local news scene, but I’ve fallen in love with it. I am there writing stories about breast cancer survivors, and crying along with them as they share intimate details. The local paper is there when the town celebrates the vote to build a new school. These moments that define a town are what attracts me to local news.
As editor of The Dedham Transcript, what are your main responsibilities?
Newspapers are a changing industry. In the two years that I’ve been the editor of the Dedham Transcript my role has shifted. I assign and edit stories for print and online, manage the daily Wicked Local website, design and proof the weekly print edition, take pictures, edit video and write stories. As a side note, I do this for two papers. I recently became the editor of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
How does it work to be a part of GateHouse News Media New England? Do you operate as a separate entity, or do you share information and act as one large outlet?
A little bit of both. GateHouse News Media is huge, there are hundreds of papers across the country, in my newsroom alone there are over 15 weekly papers printed. Editors tend to work within geographical regions when planning stories or assigning reporters to events. Basically, I work right next to editors of surrounding towns.
Can you tell me about one of your favorite stories that you had an opportunity to work on?
This is an easy one, the Goosebusters. My assistant editor couldn’t get a photographer to accompany him on this story, so I got to tag along as the shooter for the day. Somehow he tracked down this family that had a very strange occupation, they were professional Goosebusters. Basically, the husband and wife team, along with their three border collies went from public parks to private businesses chasing away Canada geese. They have contracts with towns (including the Boston Common) and businesses to make the area uncomfortable for the geese. Twice a day this guy drives around with his dogs looking for geese. So, on this assignment, the family (including their two children), the dogs, my assistant editor and myself piled into the minivan and drove around looking for geese. It took 5 hours. But in the end, we had a fantastic local story, a fun video and hundreds of photos. This was perhaps one of the best days I’ve had “working.”
What do you look for in a good pitch from PR?
A good PR pitch is a local PR pitch. I get a call with a local family, a locally owned business, a local student and I am game for covering that story. On the other hand, if I get a call about a chain business doing something in my town with people from four towns away, I never pursue the story.
What are your main “pet peeves” when working with PR people?
I hate it when a PR person doesn’t know the newspaper they are calling. I get calls pitching a “local” story only to find out by local, they mean happening within a 30 mile radius. The best PR people do their homework, they know the town they are contacting and its deadlines. Calls on deadline days are almost never returned. The last pet peeve, press releases written in all caps, press releases not in Associated Press Style and press release photos that are too small for print, are just extra work on our end.
Anything else that you’d like PR peeps to know?
Keep it local. Newspaper editors are hungry for stories, we want to fill the paper, so make it easy for us. When you call a paper, make sure you know the community and make sure you have contact information right there.