Nonprofit news: Cultivate reporters through online comments




All of us have watched the huge shifts in news media over the past months. Locally, the questionable fates of our two print dailies have led some to wager we’ll have no major printed newspaper in the Twin Cities within five years…maybe sooner. That’s a possible scenario in many other large metropolitan areas as well. James Surowiecki had an interesting piece about the implications of all this in the New Yorker in December 08.

Meanwhile, online 24/7 news sites like MinnPost, the Minnesota Independent, and TwinCities Daily Planet now attract large readerships. Those numbers are expected to rise as print dailies decline. In a recent big move, the Knight and Minneapolis Foundations started a $100,000 challenge grant to support MinnPost’s reporting on important community issues.

Hmmm—maybe it’s time to rethink the way you cultivate relationships with the media and position yourself as an expert on your issues. (By the way, Kivi LeRoux Miller offers a great little guide to becoming a media resource.)

It used to be, you’d take reporters to coffee then keep in touch through press releases, phone calls, and emails. Today, you’ve got another choice. You can start participating in their online conversations. If you ever wanted a chance to sit down after an article was written, and talk to the reporter about it—now you can.

First, research local online news sites and popular news bloggers within and outside those sites. (Number of comments is one measure of popularity.) Track your issue—and maybe your competitors or partners as well—in those sources through live feeds and alerts to find out who’s writing about these topics. There may be only 2-3 key reporters/bloggers you need to develop relationships with.

If they’re bloggers, follow them and start commenting on posts related to your issue. If reporters allow comments about their articles on news sites, chime in usefully. If they Twitter, follow them. If they accept citizen commentaries, submit one.

Don’t send them comments every day or even every week; you don’t want to be seen as a spammer. And don’t blatantly promote yourself or your institution. Simply offer useful insights, resources, new angles, and even differing opinons (stay professional and polite). The content of your comments is all important—don’t comment if you don’t have anything meaningful to add. Tell the truth; your credibility and reputation are at stake. You will be making these comments under your own name.

Do this commenting regularly and well, and chances are reporters will start looking at you as a resource on this issue. Like any social media process, nothing happens overnight. So, keep at this over time. The bonus is that you regularly will be getting valuable viewpoints and knowledge about your issue into the online news flow. Comments can be the source of a follow-up article or even an invitation to write a commentary.

The key to doing this efficiently is to concentrate on the few reporters or bloggers who get the most exposure with the audiences you want to reach. Spend some time researching this, then make use of your expertise and experience. It’s actually fun!

CC photo credit: Joe Thorn


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