Despite the ongoing evolution of the Texas media landscape, newsrooms remain near the center of influence over what issues are covered and how they’re portrayed.
To give your initiative or issue the best chance at getting the coverage you want in Texas, you need to understand how newsrooms function. You also need to appreciate the nuances of how newsrooms vary depending on media format, ownership influences and geographic region.
But before approaching a reporter in Texas, your first priority should be knowing whether you should even be courting media coverage in the first place. If so, what is your desired outcome? Do you know the best outlet to tell your story? What kind of control are you giving up when a newsroom is afforded the opportunity to tell your story?
Let’s examine how newsrooms of various mediums operate, questions and alternatives you should consider, and ways to increase your odds of getting your message heard and accurately conveyed.
This Isn’t Your Grandparents’ Newsroom Anymore
Forget the Hollywood stereotypes of crusty editors chomping cigars and arguing with plucky reporters about whether their first “big story” belongs on the front page of the next morning’s newspaper.
Today’s newsrooms are built for speed and designed to feed a news cycle that runs 24/7/365. They are also increasingly digital-only operations with distribution via the internet, social media, podcasts or email newsletters. Not only that, newsroom staff are increasingly driven not by what news is happening, but rather what news their audiences are likely to read. When you work with the media, you’re joining a competition for a finite resource: attention.
According to a 2022 report, conventional newspaper newsrooms have shuttered at a remarkable rate. Since 2005, Texas has lost more newspaper journalists per capita than all but two other U.S. states. And in that period, Texas saw roughly one-third of its newspapers close.
Nevertheless, newsrooms remain the primary gatekeeper for most media coverage throughout Texas — they just have less time to field your pitch. And they run the gamut, from large newspapers in major cities to local TV and radio stations to small, web-only grassroots upstarts with a hyperlocal focus.
You need to determine which of these newsrooms — if any — is the most suitable for your issue or initiative and how you can best work with them when you’re seeking coverage.
Determine Whether You Really Need Media Coverage
One of the first questions we ask clients looking for media coverage is “Why?”
It’s often the default position for many companies looking to do business in Texas. They think they automatically want to attract coverage from news outlets to create buzz and win support from the public, prospective customers, politicians or regulators.
The fact is you don’t always need to rely on a newsroom to do that. In some cases, you might not want a newsroom involved at all (and there are alternatives). Once your initiative gets picked up by a newsroom, you relinquish whatever control you had over your message in the first place. You might be able to help shape the initial coverage as you educate a reporter about your issue, but then it’s out of your hands. And rest assured, your opponents will have an opportunity to chime in as well.
Outlets will look at your issue through their own lens, and their focus will change depending on which reporter is covering it, their familiarity with the issue and players, the demands their editor has placed on them, or the political tendencies or preconceptions the outlet may have on your issue.
And once that story runs, brace for an entirely different impact when viewers or readers chime in. The comments section on media websites can create their own havoc, regardless of how the original piece may have been put together.
There is a risk anytime you engage with the media, and recognizing the risk/reward balance is imperative. You might see a story broadcast and the original reporter knocks it out of the park. You’re thrilled with the result. But then the moment the story hits their social media channels, suddenly you’re seeing comments tearing your issue to shreds.
All of this is to say you need to appreciate the implications of alerting a newsroom to your issue and prepare for how to best get your messages across while anticipating and mitigating blowback.
Weigh Your Options Carefully When Seeking Coverage in Texas
If you’ve considered the merits of contacting a media outlet about your issue and decide to move forward, you still have a lot of work to do.
What media format is most suitable for you to tell your story? Who is your target audience? Which demographic, stakeholder or decision maker are you hoping to reach, inform and persuade? How are you going to make a pitch that will give your issue traction in the right newsroom?
You might decide one or more of these outlets will work best to convey your message. Each will have a newsroom operation vetting your subject to varying degrees.
- Traditional newspapers
- Internet and social media
Our counsel is to never “flood the zone” by hitting all of the above unless you are truly breaking news that will alter the landscape of any issue. In today’s modern news world, The recipe for failure is the “spray and pray” approach with a boilerplate press release sent to anybody and everybody. There is nothing exclusive about it and you won’t receive special attention.
Instead, you need a targeted, prescribed approach that keeps your desired outcome at the forefront. Choose your outlet based on the intel you have on their newsroom, how they make editorial decisions, who’s in their audience, and how they have historically responded to initiatives like yours.
Have a Response Plan if Coverage Goes Sideways
In an ideal world, your issue or initiative will receive precisely the level of media attention you want and the response to it drives the results you seek.
But rarely is the world of Texas media ideal, so planning what to do if things don’t go your way needs to be included in your strategic communications plan.
What if some elements are not factually correct? What if you feel like your issue was misunderstood, misinterpreted or you were mistreated? Do you demand a correction? Request a clarification? Do you go back to the reporter? Do you go above them to their editor?
How about if the original TV news broadcast wasn’t the problem but things went awry when it was repackaged on the station’s website? That’s the digital desk and a totally different part of the newsroom. Do you know how to work with that side of the operation?
The answers to these questions often depend on how familiar you are with each entity and knowing best how, when and whom to contact. That’s where an outside communications partner can play a critical role.
Navigating Texas Newsrooms Can Make or Break Your Issue
Cultivating relationships with editors and reporters in newsrooms across Texas is a lot of work, but it’s critical because they can move initiatives forward or stop them dead in their tracks. Before you engage with the media, you need to identify what your organization wants that relationship to look like. You need to understand why the media is an important part of the outcome for your initiative. Once that’s decided, you need to set the path for how to engage effectively. If you want to hear more about how The Monument Group advises companies like yours, let’s talk.