Effective News Media Relations

A key component to advocating for public schools is getting the attention of the news media. Legislators depend on local newspapers and broadcasters to reflect the views of constituents. The media can help you generate support for an issue and provide a forum for you to present and discuss your position.

Letters to the editor and op-eds

The frequency of newspaper and television stories critical of the public schools and ignoring the exceptional successes and achievements of Texas students is one of the continuing frustrations for local school board members. These stories are especially damning, when you consider how their local newspapers influence legislators.

Letters to the editor and opinion editorials (also known as op-eds) written by local school board members and superintendents are an effective way to speak out on an issue, respond to a news story, and express your opinion on an educational issue in your own words.

Board members should concentrate their writing efforts on their local newspapers, because they are regularly read by legislators and their staffs, and you will have a better chance of getting the letter or op-ed printed.

Here are some tips on writing effective letters to the editor and op-eds:

  • Focus on only one issue.
  • Be brief. If the letter or op-ed is too long, the editor may cut it and leave out some important information. To get an idea of the appropriate length, count the words in an average letter to the editor or op-ed published in the newspaper. Use the “word count” feature in your computer’s word processing program.
  • Include your address, school district, and phone number so the newspaper can contact you to verify authorship.
  • Consider closing the letter by asking readers to contact their legislator or other policymaker about the issue.
  • When the letter is published, clip it and mail or fax it to the legislator.

Other news media strategies

Here are other ways to work through the media to bring attention to education issues:

  • Arrange editorial board meetings. Use editorial board meetings to bring attention to upcoming issues and/or legislation. If it’s important enough, the press will cover it and may even pressure the lawmaker about it.
  • Offer to be an information source. Regularly contact the local news media and offer to provide as much information as you can on education issues. Make sure the information you give the press is accurate and newsworthy.
  • Develop an editorial opinion piece. Write an editorial opinion piece for the local newspaper on a bill or issue of importance to the district. An opinion piece need only be a longer version of a letter to the editor.
  • Put the issue on the air. Most television and radio stations have programs featuring time for public comment. Try to schedule an appearance on these programs. If a radio or television station comes out against an issue you support, ask for equal time to state your opinion.
  • Issue news releases. If a bill has a definite fiscal effect on the school district, let the local media know what the effect is. Make sure the numbers are accurate, easy to understand, and up to date. Remember, however, not to go overboard on news releases. When you call the media, make sure you have something of value to say.
  • Invite the media to special events. Letting the media in on the good things going on in the school district can have a positive effect on how the community and legislators view your schools and the job you're doing as a school board member.
  • Send good press clippings to legislators.
  • If there is an error in a news report, contact the reporter and provide the correct information. React with appropriate concern, but don't overreact.
  • Don't forget your own school district media outlets: school district newsletters, publications, and radio and cable television programs.
  • Appoint a news media spokesperson for the school board. This board member must be informed about the board's positions on legislative issues to respond appropriately to reporters' questions.