Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking to the clergy of the Frankfort District about the media and how pastors can work with the media in their ministries. As a young pastor, it was humbling to be asked to use my experience in the field of journalism to offer some words to pastors who have been doing this a lot longer than I have. I was very appreciative of the kind words and feedback that I received, as well.
I thought I would share the tips I presented yesterday. I firmly believe that engaging and utilizing the local media resources in our communities can be an effective means of outreach and spreading the word about what God is doing in our churches. So, I share these for the benefit of others who are searching for better ways to work with the Fourth Estate.
What follows after the jump are my thoughts and some perspectives on each tip.
1) Pastors are Public Figures: Most media professionals consider pastors as public figures. This means a pastor is treated as someone who has influence in a community and can speak to a large range of issues. Even though our influence has declined in recent years, we are still considered people of high standards and respect in our communities. As a public figure, statements we make in public are fair game to be quoted in the local media. This includes sermons, letters, and social media posts. It also means we can be called to give our opinion on topics of social importance (such as gay marriage, gun control, drug abuse, etc.). On the flip side, it also means we are held to a higher standard by the media, and major issues in our personal lives have the potential to be discussed.
2) The Media Can be an Important Resource in Telling Our Stories: Local media are always looking for “feel good” stories. These are stories that bring hope and tell of the good things going on in a community. Some of the ministries we do in our communities could be worthy of being published in the media. Be on the alert for the potential stories in your congregation and how they can help tell your story to the larger community. The best way to do this is to ask if the event will benefit the larger community and, if so, is it something the local media would be interested in. It is important to know what your local media typically covers to answer those questions.
3) Know Who Your Reporters are and Feed Them Stories: Reporters can only cover stories they know about. If you have a story that is worthy of being published, it is up to you to communicate that to the local media. Establishing a good working relationship with journalists and local bloggers is important, because this will help establish a base of trust when you are presenting a potential story. Press releases are effective in alerting the media about what is going on in our churches. Once you send a press release you need to follow up to make sure it was received. A phone call can do more to get your story across than a press release.
4) Social Media is an Important Avenue in Reaching the Local Media: Journalists are constantly using social media sites looking for news, especially in their coverage areas (beats). Social media sites give you an avenue to reach reporters, alerting them to things that are taking place in your churches. Social media usage also comes with a warning. Keep in mind that a post made on Facebook or Twitter is quotable and is a reflection of your ministry. Never say anything on social media that you would not want to see on Page 1 of the local paper or as the lead story on the 6 p.m. news.
5) Be Prepared When Contacted by a Reporter: It is important to be effective with your time when contacted by a reporter. A good response to a reporter’s question is clear and concise. Don’t have a prepared sound bite, but be mindful that a reporter only has a limited amount of time or space. A 90-second TV segment may only have time for a five second comment. A 750-word article may only have space for two or three sentences of an interview. Never use the two most dreaded phrases in communication: “No comment” and “I don’t know.” Both signal a reluctance to communicate and could lead to a more aggressive interaction from the reporter.