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Curtesy of Bob Summersgill, publisher of the New Mexico Rainbow

Exploiting the Media
Media 101: How to Construct a Basic Media Strategy
Getting your story into the Gay & Lesbian press
Tips on writing letters that get printed

Getting your Story into the Gay & Lesbian Press By Bob Summersgill, publisher of the New Mexico Rainbow

There are two things that are common among most Gay presses across America. They have little time or money. Yet, they want to do the most that they can with their limited resources.

When you send your news release to a publication, you become one of those resources. You are giving them a story to use. They don't have to go out and search for news because you have given it to them. When writing your news release, keep in mind the editor's time and money. If you want your story to see print over the others, keep these things in mind.

What is the news?
The news is anything you do. If you or your organization take an action, hold an event, do something good, raise money, elect officers, change phone numbers, start a new program or get results from and old one it is news. Every time you make news, you should tell as many people as possible. The Gay and Lesbian press, and it's readers, care about what you do. The Gay Press are also the most likely place to publicize your group and what you do To make the news, you must write the news. However, the Gay and Lesbian press will not come and seek you out and ask, what have you done lately. You need to cover your activities as if you were a reporter covering the news.

The article you write
Keep it simple. Save your best writing for the New Yorker. Use simple sentences. Avoid complex sentence structures and jargon. You need to make your points in simple, plain language. Avoid lengthy descriptions and adjectives. Save those for your creative writing. Save gushing praise, "I" statements and feeling statements for quotes or send them separately as editorials and letters to the editor. Leave the exposition of the article as factual as possible. Your article will not be objective, in that you will present that facts that you wish to share, and you will only provide quotes that make your point, while sounding neutral. Be sure to always include the full name and title of any person you mention in your story. After the first mention, just use their last name. Never use Abbreviations. Spell out any word or acronym you use.

Sitting down to write an article can be a daunting task as you look at a blank screen or piece of paper. To help, you may want to start by writing one sentence or paragraph for each item on the Press Release checklist. Once you have a page or screen full of these sentences and paragraphs, you will be more than half done with your story. Add a significant opening paragraph at the beginning of the story. This is a concise explanation of what the release is about and why it is important. Don't start with a quote, or a description of an event or person. The reader should know the basic point of the story after reading the first paragraph.

The Event Press Release Checklist
  • What is happening
  • When is it happening
  • Where is it happening
  • Who is the sponsor
  • Who (of interest) is going to be there?
  • Why is this happening?

  • How long has this been going on?
  • How much fun did everyone have the last time?
  • How many people are expected?
  • If the event is a fund raiser: How much money was raised?

  • Quote the organizer of the event about why everyone should come.
  • Quote the organization's spokesperson about
  • Quote someone who went last year
  • If the event is a benefit: Quote someone from the organization benefiting

  • Include the mission statement of the organization.
  • Include the mission statement of the beneficiary organization?
  • Include Phone number to call to join, donate, or get involved.

Elements of the Press Release
Make it short and easy to read-The New Mexico Rainbow prefers stories between 300 and 600 words, 1 to 2 pages long. Any longer and it becomes too long to run without extensive editing, ay shorter, and there isn't enough of a story to print. If you are targeting a particular newspaper, call and ask what size stories they prefer. Otherwise try to be within the 300 to 600 word target.

  1. The group's name, complete address and telephone.
  2. The contact person (the primary media spokesperson) and her or his telephone number. Make sure that telephone number is connected to a telephone answering machine, so that all callers can leave a message. Return press calls promptly.
  3. The date of the release.
  4. The date, time, and the exact place of your press conference or action.
  5. A sample title for the story. Titles should be short, complete sentences which let the reader know at a glance what your story is about.
  6. A strong first paragraph. Explain simply and succinctly what the has happened or what is planned. The reader should have the basic story from the first paragraph. The details will follow.
  7. The current, specific problem your media event will undertake.
    • Give some background to the problem. Explain your goal.
    • Make a demand and identify a feasible way to achieve your goal. Frame your press release exactly as you will frame your actual event.
    • Each sentence of your press release should subtly sell the newsworthiness of your media event.
  8. Quotes from people in your organization, including you. Opinions and first person comments should always appear as quotes.
  9. A final paragraph which describes your organization, what it does, and when it meets.

Example: The Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Rights in New Mexico is a statewide grassroots advocacy network dedicated to achieving equality under the law for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people in New Mexico. The Coalition meets on the second Sunday of every month in different locations across New Mexico. Everyone is welcome.

Write in the third person
Write your news release in the third person. That is, write it as though you were a reporter covering the story for the publication. Rather than saying "we are going to do this" you should write "they are going to do this." Look at it from the editor's perspective. There is a fixed amount of space to fill and the deadline is approaching. Going through a stack of news releases the editor finds one that might be of interest to the readers. But, the release reads like a fact sheet rather than a news article. It is filled with "we are going to" statements. The editor is thinking about how long it is going to take to completely rewrite this piece to make a usable article out of it. The news release is set aside and one that is easier to deal with gets used instead. Be sure not to include any formatting in the press release. The publication will take care of making the story look good. Don't include tabs at the start of paragraphs and don't put two spaces after each sentence. They just have to be removed. Just put a hard return between paragraphs. Always remember, the easier you can make it for the publication, the better your chances are of getting into print.

Send the release by email
Make it really easy for the editor. Send your release by email. Almost all Gay and small presses these days use some form of desktop publishing software on a personal computer. If you send your news release by email, it becomes a simple matter to download the story and directly place it into the publication. The chances of your news seeing print go up enormously! Always put the text of your release in the body of the email. Never use the attachment feature. Learn how to copy from your word processor to your email program. Eudora and AOL allow you to copy and paste from one to another, try out your software and find out how to do this easily. Once you build up your press list on email, you will be amazed at how fast and easy it is to send out your release, and get your story printed.

Send the release on diskette
If you can't email your release, send a copy on diskette in addition to a printed copy of your news release. If you send your news release on a diskette as an ASCII text file, it becomes as easy as email. You should keep a couple of things in mind when sending a news release on a diskette. First, always send a printed copy of the news release along with the diskette. It won't get read if the editor has stick the diskette in a computer and call up a program to see it. Second, put some cardboard in the envelope with the diskette (or use a diskette mailer) so that the Post Office will not bend it during delivery. And third, make sure you save the file on the diskette as plain ASCII text (look up the word ASCII in your word processing manual to learn how to do this).

Get the news out early
Now some more about time. Like most people, the editor of the typical Gay press has waited until the last minute before deadline to start working on the next issue. Typically the publication comes out once a month. Your news release has been sitting in a pile with a bunch of others all month long. Your event sounds interesting, but it is already over, or it will be by press time. You should have sent it at least two months before the actual event. Of course, some things come up with a lot less lead time than that, but your typical Gay press cannot help you there. When writing a news release on an event that has already happened (you should always write a second release after your event to tell everyone what they missed), avoid the words "today", "tomorrow" and "yesterday" whenever possible. Again, look at it from the editor's perspective. Going through a stack of news releases for the next issue, the editor finds an interesting piece. The release starts out saying "today an historic event occurred". The editor can either date the piece and print it with the risk that it will look like "old news" or use some other piece instead. If the word "today" had not been put in the release, the story would still have the same meaning, but being "timeless" would not seem as old to the editor or the reader.

Make the release scannable
Larger Gay publications will run dozens of stories at a time. All that typing can be a daunting task. To make things easier, such publications have scanners which can "read" a sheet like a copy machine and extract the text from it. While this seems like technological "magic" such scanners can to an amazing job at reducing the amount of typing required to put out a publication. It is far easier to proofread a few mistakes made by a scanner than to type the whole article in by hand. But scanners can be fooled. Here are some hints you can use to reduce the chances of a bad scan on your release.
  • Keep it simple. Anything fancy that appeals to the eye, won't look good to the scanner.
  • Do not print your release on colored paper. Always copy the release on plain white paper.
  • Make sure the print is straight and level on the sheet. Scanners cannot deal with skewed print very well.
  • Make sure that there is a good contrast between the ink and the paper. The lighter the print, the harder it will be to "read" it.
  • Do not use tiny print. 12 point type or larger is best.
  • Do not print the release on a dot-matrix printer. Solid type like that from a typewriter or laser printer is the only kind that a scanner can recognize.
  • Do not hyphenate a word. A word hyphenated at the end of a line is separated into two words by scanner software.
  • Do not use a fancy font. A plain typeface "reads" much better. The Courier typeface common on most typewriters is the best. Kerned letters (where some letters overlap others) do not scan well at all, mono-spaced fonts are much better.
  • Never underline any text. Italics are almost as bad, but not quite. Boldface type generally scans without any problems.

Fax your release
Faxing is poor technology is inferior to email or even the US mail. Only fax your story if you cannot email it, or the mail will be too late to make deadline. Unfortunately faxes are not always able to be read. Fax transmission frequently drops whole sentences, paragraphs and even pages. If you fax your release, be sure to follow it with a printed copy through the mail.

Many of the hints on scanning apply to faxing your news release as well. You want the fax to be readable when it arrives. Saving transmission time by using a small typeface will not save you anything if it is unreadable when it gets there. Faxes can be scanned as well. When a fax is received at The New Mexico Rainbow it is not actually received by a fax machine. It is received by a computer and treated like a scan. The fax should be sent in "fine" resolution mode to be scanned.

Just send it!
In the end, the most important thing is to getting into the press, is sending your story. Write it, send it. Let them edit it-look how they edited it. That's how to make it better next time. Once you send it, start thinking about what the next one will be about. If your press release doesn't get printed, don't take it as an insult or an anti-Gay bias. Call and what might have been different. What can you do for the next time to get printed. Ask for a meeting to learn more about them, and in turn they can meet you. If they know you, they may be more willing to print your articles.

Tips on writing letters that get printed
By Bill Stostine

Most newspapers have limits on letters ranging from 200 to 300 words. If you letter exceeds their word limit some papers will cut it down, and other paper will just throw a letter out. So it is best to make your letters short.

The shorter and to the point your letter is the better your chances that many newspapers will print it. If your letter is rambling or unfocused or even too angry, it will hurt your chances. Stay calm and polite. If your letter is a rebuttal to an anti-Gay bigot-no matter how nasty his or her letter was, stay calm. You are not trying to reach the bigot-bigots are beyond reaching-you want to reach the vast public audience and who will read your letter. They will consider your facts and consider you a better person if you stay calm and polite and do not resort to name-calling back.

Your letter on a general gay topic will have a better chance of being published if it is about a topic that is currently "hot" in the news. For example, the very same letter on Gays in the military will be published in many more newspapers if "Gays in the military" is currently in the headlines due to a famous case or court decision. Clip and save good letters, editorials and other writing on Gay issues. It is very helpful to go back and refer to those when writing letters on the same subjects. At times even copy good arguments word for word, if the other letter or editorial was printed long ago or in another part of the country, and you are short on time. It is better to reword good arguments or just use the letters to fire up your imagination about what you want to say.

Always include your name, address and telephone number(s) with your letter. Most newspapers will call to confirm before publishing a letter, particularly if the topic is homosexuality, because they have been burned by pranksters before who have sent in fake letters with other people's names on them. They will be particularly cautious if you identify yourself as Gay because that could open them up to a lawsuit if it is not really from the person whose name is on the letter. If you are emailing your letter to various newspapers, always send each letter individually. Many newspapers will not publish a letter if they know it has been sent elsewhere as well, they like their letters to be exclusive.

You have the best chance of being published in newspapers in your own community, or state. There are a few national newspapers such as USA Today which you should also always send your letter to.

Web Design: Michael Drennan
Created: 4/2/97