Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Extra! Extra! 6 tips for talking with local press

Don’t wait for the press to come to you – go to the press!

As hyperlocal news gains a foothold in more and more communities and grows in popularity, you will undoubtedly be called upon to offer a few quotes to local — or not so local — media in your position as a teen services librarian.  Teen programs can make great press and offer terrific photo opportunities – and since photo essays and slideshows are often what drives readers to these news sites, the likelihood of a local reporter popping in to snap a few pictures and ask a few questions is good.  Positive press is great publicity for your program, a nice feather in the library’s cap in the eyes of the Board, and a decent ego stroke too.  But if you come across poorly, bad press is really worse than no press at all.  How can you best represent yourself and your services in these situations?

1.  Get in front of the story

If you know you’re hosting a program with great photo opportunities, present it to your local Patch.com or neighborhood weekly representative.  Cosplay events, knitting for the troops, haunted gingerbread competitions, or live action gaming events like my large scale Angry Birds program all offer great visuals.  Promote the events that you want to see covered if you want to see them covered.

2.  Don’t be afraid to delay
Occasionally, the local paper has a few inches to fill and will call on the library.  Maybe they caught wind of a brewing YA lit controversy, or maybe a teen author is coming to the area, or maybe they just figure that it’s time to include a few great reads for the holidays.  If you get a call out of the blue and it’s not a good time to talk, or you’re not ready to formulate an answer, don’t be shy about it.  Ask the reporter to call back when you’re off desk, or when you’ve had some time to think about the questions.  There’s nothing worse than realizing twenty minutes after getting off the phone that you didn’t actually say the thing that would best represent your services.

3.  But don’t delay too long!
Be respectful of deadlines.  If you can’t be counted on to return a call in a timely manner, you just won’t be called back until there’s some kind of a controversy or a problem.  Far better to get your introduction to the community during good times!

4.  Don’t try to be funny
If you actually are funny, and that’s a known fact confirmed by someone other than your mom or four year old nephew, by all means – go for it.  My humor leans in the direction of self deprecation and sarcasm, neither of which translates well into sound bytes.  Remember, there are no emoticons in newspaperland.  Think carefully before you try to make a joke, because inevitably that awkward attempt at humor will find its way into the paper.  Like the time I compared my adult crafting group and my preschoolers — it doesn’t matter how hard you shake the paper and say, “But that’s not what I meant!”, that’s what people will read.

5.  Brevity is better
You could go on for ages about your favorite authors, philosophies behind your services, the role of libraries in the community, and the importance of reading for pleasure.  But unless you are writing your own op ed, focus the core concepts you want to convey and phrase them neatly and briefly.  This is the time to fall back on the adage that if you really know a topic you can explain it at a 2nd grade level.  Shoot for simple eloquence.

6.  Say what you mean; mean what you say
You never know which line the reporter is looking for, what angle they already have in mind for the story, or how you fit in.  If you don’t say anything you don’t mean, you won’t be misquoted*.  Take a breath and pause before replying to a question that has you stumped instead of talking through your thoughts like you might do if a colleague asked the same question.  Remember that though you are the “expert professional” in the article, you don’t need to have all of the answers.  Only say what you know and what you believe.

*Ok, that’s not entirely true.  You can always be misquoted and you always have a chance of your words being taken out of context.   It’s the difference between, “It’s the best!” and “It’s the best in a field of really sub-par offerings on the topic.”  But this helps a lot.


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