Greater transparency and responsiveness pays off in more and better media coverage, Bewley says, noting that the district is on TV or in the paper at least twice a week. IPS often gets favorable coverage on the newspaper’s editorial page as well.
“Our district must be unusual, because media attention isn’t a problem,” says Bewley. “We currently have a reporter camped out at one of our high schools writing a regular column on the goings-on at the campus.”
Bewley’s responsiveness means reporters call her when news is slow, giving her an opportunity to provide them with more news and information about IPS.
Norm Uhl, senior media relations manager for Houston Independent School District (HISD), has had similar success by packaging and pitching stories tailored to meet the needs and interests of individual news outlets.
Instead of relying on “one-size-fits-all” press releases, Uhl looks for creative ways to hook a reporter’s interest.
For example, he generated extensive coverage of HISD’s plans for its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds by pitching the story as a local stimulus package.
Uhl also is using Twitter to tweak reporters’ interest in coming news events or to alert them to pending announcements.
“We have a number of reporters following us on Twitter,” says Uhl, who combines social media outreach and a subscription news service with more traditional media relations strategies such as an online newsroom, eMail messages, and phone calls.
Bewley deploys social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to build and maintain relationships with reporters as well as school district advocates.
“Media repays me for the access by calling to let me know when things are slow and they can definitely get my info on air or in the paper,” says Bewley. “I don’t think they’re making that offer to many other districts in Indy.”
While giving reporters more access to district information and officials can result in better and more frequent coverage, don’t expect reporters to serve as the district’s public relations agents.
“Brookings is correct that ‘…communication with reporters involves a mix of cooperative and adversarial moments’ and that ‘more informed coverage will not always be positive,'” says Jeffery Arnett, chief communications officer for Barrington 220 Community Unit School District, which is located about 35 miles northwest of Chicago.
Arnett says that educators and school board members sometimes have difficulty dealing with negative news.