Networking P2 Programs in
EPA Region 8
May 03, 2001
Getting It On Paper...writing a news release
(Include a verb; summarize key points in eight words or less.)
(Name and phone number of information sources cited in the
(...for p.m. release Sept.__, or give today's date and say
(The main point or striking example of main point, written to grab
the readers' attention. One sentence, to at the most.)
(Elaboration of main point. Why in this important and to
whom? Usually attributed to a person or report.)
(Usually builds on or supports previous statement. Usually a
catchy, conversational thought.)
Related point, another angle:
(Cite another expert with a different perspective on the
issue. Or another person with the same perspective.)
Slug and page number:
(Slug is a key word from headline. Format is... Health --add
one. Add one means page 2.)
(The expert's opinion of characterization of the issue.)
(What examples can be cited to back up this expert's opinion?)
additional quotes, facts:
(Don't always need one, since editors cut the story from the
However, you may want to conclude by telling where readers can get
more information on the issue.)
By typing --end-- and centering it under your story.
Bites and Attention Getting Quotes
Use colorful, strong words:
Strong lead: Some are calling David Sands'
new biological control a "kamikaze fungus," because it kills
noxious weeds and then dies. The Montana State University researcher likes the term
"Doberman on a leash."
Weak: Meat has nutritional value.
Stronger: Nutritionally, meat packs a wallop.
Use short, catchy phrases:
"The proposed consolidation
of Montana's university system will not mean reductions in the system's
Better: "This consolidation won't save a nickel."
Another example: In a report describing the economic downswing in the West, the author
observed that: "The fruits of growth have begun to turn sour."
Take a stand, avoid qualifiers:
The research shows a moderate
decrease in the instance of heart disease due to a healthy diet.
Better: A healthy diet can reduce the chance of getting heart disease.
Best: For a strong heart, eat your fruits and vegetables.
Give the reader a picture:
"My canola plot is about the size of a
Do your words sound like they came from a person or
Apply the conversation test: Would you use the same words if you
were speaking to your reader?
Bad: Funding for the program comes form legislative action, and this
agency is responsible for the determination of eligibility.
Good: The legislature determines findings, and this office determines
"The government is broke and we intend to fix
"This is one report that will not gather dust in a warehouse."
Use Active Sentences:
Bad: It was discovered that the soil is eroding
at an exponential rate due to wind.
Better: The wind is rapidly eroding the soil.
Best: The soil is blowing into the next county.
How to Get Your
Message Across - Besides doing a good job in your area of expertise, the
success of your program depends to a great extent on how successful you
are in letting people know who you
serve, how you can help, and where to find you. And you may deal with a
dual audience -- your clientele as well as your funder. Here are some tips
on communicating your accomplishments so they can be understood. If you've
learned something you'd like to share with others, email us - email@example.com.
sharper news writing
News is an event, a happening, a change, a piece of new or
revised information. A good guide to newsworthiness is the question
"Would I care to read it?"
How to start:
Start your story by summarizing your key point in the
first sentence. Capture the reader's attention with an interesting lead
The basics: W, W, W, W, W, H:
Include the most important of the five
W's and the H (who, what, when, where, why, and how it will affect me or how
it was done). Eventually, the story should contain all of these elements,
but the most common mistake a beginning journalist makes is to try to get
them all in the first sentence or paragraph.
Elements of a good news story - A good story should:
- Follow the inverted pyramid style--most important facts first.
- Keep your sentences short.
- Use short, well-known words (avoid jargon)
- Don't assume anyone knows anything about your subject, but don't
insult anyone's intelligence.
- Use active words to add zest to your writing (avoid, for example, it
was said, or it is thought).
- Use specific, concrete - non abstract - words and terms.
- Do not editorialize by injecting your own preferences or even
preferences of the subject you are writing about without attributing them.
- Keep paragraphs short. Usually two or three sentences are enough.
- Make easy-to-read paragraphs that amplify the lead or preceding
- Know when to quit writing.
- Avoid floating pronouns (instead, use nouns to avoid ambiguity).
- Avoid introducing sentences with dates of prepositional phrases
(and avoid overuse of prepositions inside the sentence).
- Write copy in third person (he, she, it or they, or John said).
Modern writing, however, more and more seems to be accepting second person
- Proof-read copy and edit out unnecessary words; eliminate errors of
grammar and spelling.
- For good measure, have someone else read the copy and have them
tell you what they think it says.
- Type all copies double spaced on 8 1/2" X 11" paper, using
only one side (avoid onion skin or colored paper).
- Set typewriter for 62 characters to a line.
- Somewhere on the page (not on an enclosure shoot) give your full
name, affiliation, address and phone number, preferably in the upper left
- Put release date (For Immediate Release or For (date) Release) in
upper right corner.
- Begin story one-third of the way down the first page to allow for
directions by editors (headlines etc.)
- If the release is longer than one page, write "more" at
the bottom of each page.
- Type only on one side.
- Have a clean copy (no marks or other signs of sloppiness).
- If at all possible, hand deliver the copy to the editor or news writer
who will be handling the story on its way into print.
- Indicate the end of the release by typing -30- (journalese for
"end") at the center of the page below the final line of story.
To keep your credibility: Before copying or mailing any
- Correct grammar, punctuation, spelling (especially names).
- Check facts such as titles, dated, figures twice--once when you are
writing the story and then when you have it written.
- Have someone else read your story to check for typing errors and
- Rewrite awkward sentences-eliminate extra words.
- Re-read the story one last time to see if thought and fact follow
These news tips have been complied from various writings tips sheets,
including the Marketing Division of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture,
as well as from first-hand experience on the other side of the editing
Life in the newsroom
...and how it affects you
The journalist's first concern:
The journalist's primary obligation is
to report news as he or she perceives it - not to the sensibilities or concerns
of the person being interviewed.
Editors juggle many stories:
They decide which stories make the paper,
which don't and which will be cut to fit the space. Most stories are cut
from the bottom.
For daily newspapers, the deadlines are at noon or six. For
weekly newspapers, deadlines are once
midweek. Calling a reporter when s/he's on deadline is not a good idea,
unless it's information the reporter requested. If a reporter called and
wants you to call back, keep in mind when the reporter's deadline is.
Obits today research tomorrow:
Reporters are usually under pressure to
write several stories for that day's issue. They don't have time to treat
every story with great care. Often a reporter who covered yesterday's fire
will be asked to handle a land use issue or university research story the
Most reporters conduct interviews to gather information
for their story. If the story is a feature or in-depth news piece, they
also consult the "morgue" (newspaper's library of past news
clips) and gather other background information. Having easy-to-read
background information is helpful to a reporter who is racing against a
No approval by sources:
Reporters don't check their stories with their
sources, unless to verify a particular fact. Reporters covering a
controversy never check their stories with the sources.
Editors write headlines:
Reporters don't write the headlines or
determine story placement on a page. Editors do.
Editors assign, reporters pitch:
Editors assign stories to reporters,
and often reporters pitch story ideas to their editors.
Radio stations give news updates at the top of every hour.
TV news people are editing their stories up until the 6 and 10 o'clock
In Montana, radio news directors determine what is news
and report the news, sometimes sharing reporting duties with another staff
member. At TV stations, news directors, or at the larger stations,
assignment editors, make assignments to reporters.
Most radio news stories are in the 30-second to 1-minute
range, though occasionally a major radio news network will run feature
segments up to 8-minutes long. Television news pieces range from 1 to 3
minutes, though special news feature programs run longer pieces. The
upshot is say it briefly, in short sentences that can easily be edited
into the news spot.
TV is brief, visual and entertaining:
Don't expect serious, in-depth
treatment from television news programs. TV news, especially at the local
level, needs to be brief visual and entertaining. Also, there's high
turn-over at small TV stations so the quality of news stories will vary.
Radio forte is sound:
The thing that makes radio unique is sound, so
most news stories will have a "sound bite" of the interviewed
person. The interview can take place over the telephone. TV news, on the
other hand, requires visual presentation, so TV reporters will often be
sent to the location to conduct interviews and get other footage.
Home video not for TV:
Home video recorders are great for family
viewing, but are not of sufficient quality for TV broadcast.
Your comments on tape:
Audio and visuals don't lie. The reporter has
what you said or did on tape, as opposed to a newspaper reporter whose
notes may be subject to interpretation.
Don't ask for publicity:
The quickest way to "turn off" news staff is to call and say you want publicity on something. (They'll
probably turn you over to the advertising people.) If you're interested in
getting news coverage, explain the topic in terms of how new, interesting,
important, unusual it is and why it would be of interest to the paper's
Most releases go in the trash:
Most news releases from non-news
organizations are regarded as "public relations" material and
wind up in the trashcan. Some news releases are passed on to staff writers
for re-writing or as a story idea.
When they get it wrong:
Was the story actually in error, or did you not
like the presentation? Demanding a correction if the latter is the case
may not get you anywhere. If it's a serious problem, call the reporter,
but don't overreact.
Tips on getting newspaper coverage
If it's a local story:
Contact the editor or the particular reporter
assigned to the "county" beat or other relevant beat. Find out
what reporters cover what beat.
When to call on the phone:
Reporters for evening papers are facing a
noon deadline. At morning papers, the deadline is in the late afternoon.
These are not good times to try and contact a reporter.
Pitch the story's news value:
Pitch the story in terms of its
significance and news value. (Why is this mousetrap so much better? The
fact that the local water supply is safe is not news unless there was some
doubt about its safety, or unless a report has just been released
proclaiming the water safety.)
Use an angle a reporter can live with:
Present the idea in a way that
makes the reporter what to write about it. If the reporter isn't
interested, see if you can come up with a different angle and explain how
it would meet the publication's needs. Quickly follow up with additional
information the reporter would need to do the story.
Don't call a reporter for every thing. Get to know when
the media will be interested.
If a reporter calls you...
...don't freak out. Just provide the facts as
you know them. It's okay to say you don't know something - perhaps you can
suggest someone who can answer the question or you can find the answer and
call back. Be sure to find out what the reporter's deadline is.
Provide a press release of background information
sheet that summarizes the key information you want to present. Put the
most important facts. Put your name and phone number, and the phone number
of others who the reporter could get information. Providing a backgrounder
is especially important if the information is complicated. Having written
information will help the reporter who is often writing against the clock
--be more accurate.
Provide black and white photos if you have them, or
suggest shots that the newspaper photographer could take. Some Montana
dailies will use color slides to accompany feature stories.
Develop a rapport:
Develop a rapport with key reporters/editors, so
that they'll call you when they have a question in your field.
Tips for giving a good interview
Today it's a story...
Be aware that if a reporter calls you, s/he may
need the interview right away. This is especially true for broadcast. Ask
what his/her timeframe is and do your best to schedule the interview
"Hold my calls"
Schedule enough time, about 1 hour, for the
interview, so you won't be rushed. You might want to take the phone off
the hook and close the door, so that you're not interrupted.
This isn't "War and Peace"
Remember the reporter has only
15-20 paragraphs (or 1 to 2 minutes for broadcast media) to convey your
story to the public. Summarize your main points. The media will beat a
path to your door if you can summarize important facts in a 10-20 second
Everyone's not a unclear physicist:
Find out how much background the
reporter has on the topic. Take five minutes at the beginning of the
interview to fill her/him in.
Get the scoop:
Before the interview, find out as much as you can about
what the reporter is looking for. It helps to know what approach the
reporter is talking and whether s/he is after news, a feature, human
Bring it home:
Pretend you're explaining to your mother what your work
is all about. This is not so much for the reporter's benefit as it is for
the public. If you think about how your story relates to the "average
Joe", it will be better. It helps to use analogies or metaphors -
e.g. an acre is about the size of a football field.
A Picture's worth a thousand words:
Think of ways to visually portray
your story. This is especially important for television, but newspapers
need photos too. This makes the story easier to understand and tends to
get better placement on the newscast.
Put it in writing:
Give the reporter a written background sheet (NOT a
technical document). This lets the reporter double check his/her notes.
Just a phone call away:
Let the reporter know you are available to
verify facts before deadline, and then make sure you can be reached. Don't
demand to see the story before it is printed. There's an unwritten rule in
journalism that sources do no check stories.
Keep your sentences brief, especially if you're
talking to a TV reporter. If you know ahead of time the main points you
want to emphasize, think them through until you can say them in short,
Off the record:
If you don't want something to be printed, don't say
it. If you want the reporter to know something, but you don't want it
attributed to you, make sure you clarify that before you say it.
Beware of manipulation:
Sometimes reporters might ask you something
like "Would you say..." and then offer an idea for your
agreement or disagreement. Make your own statement instead of letting the
reporter put words in your mouth.
When they get it wrong:
Don't over-react. Gauge how wrong the story was
and whether the mistake will negatively influence how the public will
perceive it - or whether it really matters. If the mistake really matters,
you might contact the reporter and clarify the mistake. Only in extreme
circumstances ask for a correction, or write a letter to the editor
clarifying the mistake. Don't sling arrows, you may need to work with that
Speak your mind, but...
Always emphasize where scientific evidence ends
and personal speculation begins.
Tips for Writing Annual Reports
Note: Much of this information applies to newsletters as well.
- Know your audience. Ask yourself what your advisory council, county commissioners and state legislators
would want to know. What will impress them? Ask yourself what it is that most concerns them. (Probably
your area decision-makers want to know if the money the county and state puts into your program is cost-effective, is it helping the people it's supposed to help?) The answers to these questions should help you
write your program summaries.
- Communicate results. Legislators and county commissioners are less interested in the hours you put into a
program or that you continue to work on a specific program. They want to know the results you achieved.
(This is why program evaluations are important -- to determine if your educational clients are making
behavioral changes as a result of participating in your program.)
For example, don't say:
IRM continues to be alive and well in Shooster County. The IRM Committee continues to work
with the demonstration ranch to make the most profitable decisions for their ranch. The
committee is planning.
Four Shooster County ranchers are adopting improved range management techniques as a result
of visiting the demonstration ranch organized by the county's IRM Committee. The goal of these
techniques - - which include weed management, rotational grazing and determining optimum
livestock numbers -- will help these ranchers improve their range productivity and increase long-term profitability.
- If not results, then at least a goal. You may not always have specific results. In that case, say what you
hope to accomplish with a program. Again, quantity (time spent) is less important than quality (results
achieved or hoped for, and an indication that you're moving in the right direction.)
For example, don't say:
The agent held five planning meetings for the November 12, 1991 garlic seminar.
(That's all this
agent wrote for this topic in the quarterly accomplishment report.)
The legislators and county commissioners might want to know why you're spending time planning
a garlic seminar.
You may need to address:
why garlic has potential as a money maker in your area?
how many people have called your office expressing interest in growing garlic?
what you would like to accomplish as a result of your seminar?
- Testimonials. Let your clients and participants do your talking for you. They will speak volumes about
whether your programs are effective.
Remember, you don't need comments such as: That Extension class was the best I've ever
Or: Agent Brown is great to work with.
Get a photo of Susan Jones working on a project she learned through Extension. Run a quote about
what she learned and how she's applying it in her life. Then you can explain the program and the
results you're seeing. That way you don't run the risk of your audience thinking you're always out
to get "pats on the back."
- Be conscious of the tone of your reports. Some reports seem to assume that the reader is an "insider,1' that
s/he knows why you're involved in certain activities. Some reports also sound like the agent is not
enthusiastic about what s/he is doing. Taken to its extreme, this tone can almost be interpreted as though
the agent resents having to be accountable.
For example, one agent wrote:
Assisted two 4-H members with completing Montana Jr. Ag Loans for Colleen Branstetter from
the Montana Dept. of Agriculture to purchase a dairy calf and 2 lambs.
Legislators and County Commissioners may wonder why helping these two 4-H'ers is important.
How does it relate to your 4-H program's goals? Be explicit about the life skills the 4-H'er is
learning as a result of working with the animals.
Chaired the Hokum Area Chamber of Commerce Ag-Business Committee. We redirected the
entire committee direction to get away from the "traditional rut" we were in.
Do the county commissioners and local legislators know what the "traditional rut" is? How did the
agent help accomplish a change (of attitude or procedure)? How does this effort fit in with the
agent's program goals?
- Use headlines. (Some counties don't) An effective headline should excite. Headlines should convey action,
and have a verb in them. Headlines also help break up copy on the page, presenting the information in
short, digestible blocks.
- Lead sentences. Ask yourself what is the most important point about this project? Then try to reflect that
in your lead. Remember, legislators and county commissioners are busy people. You need to let them know
right away why they should be reading this particular report.
Example of a bad lead sentence:
A major effort during this period of time was crop evaluations including farm visits and office
Weaknesses of this sentence:
Doesn't portray any results or goals.
Doesn't portray enthusiasm about agent's efforts and goals.
Uses passive voice rather than active. Passive voice (a major
effort was....) makes sentences sound sterile.
A better approach:
Dakota County producers faced an unusual situation last year:
higher than normal moisture in the spring and lower than normal moisture last fall.
(Then a sentence explaining how the agent handled the requests for information on how to deal with
Explains who has the problem and how the agent is dealing with it.
Puts the agent's effort in perspective. Lets the legislators, county commissioners know about a situation they should know
- What to call your reports. Don't call them accomplishment reports. Annual Report is better. However, you
may be able to come up with something more enthusiastic:
1992: A Year of Progress for Ford County Extension
(MSU Extension logo and slogan at bottom)
(Cover could include a collage of action photos. showing community activities
the agent was
MSU Extension: Working to Make a Difference in Ford County
(You could follow through with this theme by discussing your issues in terms of Problems and Solutions.)
When deciding on your title, you want to be enthusiastic without overselling yourself or Extension.
Let your facts and actions speak for themselves.
- Justified type is hard to read, especially when you're using a non-proportional space type.
- Photos. You'll need to start thinking about getting photos well before you start putting your annual report
together. This is usually the hardest part of putting together a publication, because good quality black and
white photos are not easy to get. (Color photos will probably be too expensive because you'll need to get
color separations and pay for a four-color printing job.)
Strive to get good action shots, or close-ups of people with interesting expressions or reactions. Don't use
photos of a group of people sitting around a table -- instead get a facial expression from one of the
participants. If you're using testimonials, go to that person's home and. photograph them working on their
financial planning materials or handling their farm's record-keeping. Or go with the farmer into his field
and get a photo of him pointing out a weed he's trying to get rid of.
Prepared by Tana Kappel
MSU Division of Communications Services