How Public Libraries Can Work with the Media

Ask your neighbor how they find out about local community news, and they will likely tell you there are two common ways. They either hear it from someone else in town (word of mouth) or they read or hear about it in the local media. So, its critical for public libraries to reach out and develop relationships with local reporters and editors.

While local media are interested in whats happening at your library, they often cover several topics or beats. As the field of journalism shrinks, many editors and reporters are overtaxed. This means you need to find ways to be helpful and bring potential news stories to them.

Here are a few tips for building positive working relationships with the media and for getting coverage of your events.

  • Start with research. The first step is to understand which media are covering the public library or the local government. Then, read, watch or listen to recent coverage and take note of the names of reporters writing or broadcasting the story. You should also find the name of the managing editor or appropriate section editor in the masthead of the local publication. For broadcast, check the Web site for producer names, or call the station and ask for names of people to talk to.
  • Reach out and introduce yourself. Start the conversation by either emailing or calling the contact to introduce yourself. Confirm that youve reached the right person by asking if the public library would be their beat. If they say no, ask if they can direct you to the right person. Keep the conversation casual and friendly. The introductory call has two goals. First, its to help them understand who you are, some basic facts about the library, and what news they can expect from you.  Second, its to help you understand what they need. Ask questions such as:
    • What type of news or events would interest you?
    • How can I help make your job easier?
    • Whats the best way for me to contact you?
  • Offer a personal tour of the library. This gives the journalist the opportunity to see the library in action and get a sense of the community it inspires. It also gives you an opportunity to provide more detail about the history and background of the library.
  • Send personal invites to upcoming events. The journalist may not always attend, but if they do, they just might write about it. Either way, its a nice gesture that builds good will.
  • Dont inundate them. Be wise about sending news and updates. Too many may annoy the journalist. Pay attention to how the journalist answered the question: What types of news would interest you? Only send news relevant to their answer.

The goal is to open a regular dialogue with the journalist. And remember, it takes a while to build a good relationship. Dont expect news coverage after each conversation. As the journalist gets to know you and the public library better, hell recognize when the library has an impact on the community worth writing or talking about.

Well be discussing how to work with the media, including how to pitch a story, in an upcoming webinar. Stay tuned for details.


About Tiffany McClary

Tiffany McClary is the Director of Communications, Marketing & Outreach for the New Jersey State Library. She coordinates marketing and public relations initiatives in order to enhance the reputation of the State Library, and promote the value of NJ libraries and the services and programs that they provide to residents.