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How to Write for Media (part one)

September 16, 2013
Perhaps the most important skill you can learn to strengthen your city or county’s brand, engender trust in your government and create lasting, positive media relations is writing specifically for media. 

I’ll explain why: Today’s newsrooms are stretched paper thin. The normal revenue generators of classified ads and subscriptions are gone, and with them the auxiliary staff needed to produce researched daily news. 

What you’re left with are reporters and editors hungry for content and short on time. You need to take advantage of this by producing copy they can flow immediately into their publication or site with no revision. 

Step 1: Know what’s truly important
This is the Holy Grail of writing for an audience, the basis of all journalism: Know what your readers want. 

This might be hard to swallow, but you need to hear it: A lot of what we do in government, what is vital to the success of the organization, just isn’t terribly important to most people. 

But you know what is? Roads, parks and public safety. And you know what else? The public doesn’t care who’s responsible for these functions – only that they work. In fact, a very expensive Harvard study commissioned by New York City found people judge the success of “government” by two things: roads and parks.

So don’t waste people’s time with a bunch of other stuff. Tell your story through primarily public works, parks and recreation and public safety successes, and you’ll be amazed how warmly your government is received. 

Step 2. Learn AP Style
Associated Press style, named after the wire service, is the standard by which all copy is created in the media world. Remember when you had to write research papers and they required a special set of rules for things like spelling out numbers, listing addresses and referring to cities and states? AP style is no different. 

Created so reporters around the world could internalize a specific set of rules to speed up the editing process, AP style is easy to learn and implement. All you need is a style book and an eye for detail. 

And don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be perfect. But trust me, if an editor sees a press release with Ave. instead of Avenue and nine instead of 9, he or she will jump for joy, because you just saved them a whole lot of precious time.

That’s it for this month. Next month, I’ll take you through the second part of writing for media, where I’ll discuss the inverted pyramid and why you should always do things early.
Jason Wright is Communications Manager for the Georgia Tech Research Library. Up until November 2015, he was the Director of Innovation and Engagement for the City of Milton where he oversaw all aspects of the city's branding and communications efforts, including transparency, automation, design, photography, printing, web services and social media and public outreach.

Prior to Milton, Wright spent seven years working in the magazine and newspaper business. Most recently he was editor of both the Milton Herald and Alpharetta–Roswell Revue and News, where he wrote, edited, photographed for and oversaw design of the weekly papers. Prior to that, he worked as a writer, editor, designer and photographer for local, regional and national publication.