Pennsylvania School Press Association is an organization I’ve been involved with intermittently in the past decade or so, presenting at their conferences in 2002 and in 2010. Their next conference is coming up in Harrisburg. Check out speakers and panels here.
But I’m excited to be engaged with PSPA, to promote responsible media consumption for young people.
Here’s their mission statement:
The mission of Pennsylvania School Press Association is to promote excellence and responsibility in scholastic journalism through developing students who possess sound journalism skills, demonstrate ethical decision making and recognize, uphold, and advocate First Amendment rights through responsible citizenship and informed media consumption.
And for my part of it, though I do not feel like I am a particularly old person, young people energy gets my juices flowing. I’m looking forward to contributing to PSPA’s efforts and to helping them to generate ideas.
First off, I want to say that 88% (yes, 88) of the time, the people I get to interview are INCREDIBLY accomodating and flexible and perfect subjects.
88% of independent musicians and local artists/performers/troupes I have had the pleasure to talk with are an absolute joy. Even when these are kind of a big deal, like Foghat and The Midtown Men (original stars of Jersey Boys on Broadway) and Rosemary Wells.
So this is not a post whose purpose is whining.
This is a post where I recognize the multiple coolnesses of some of what I get paid to do. And where I encourage other musicians, artists, performers, writers to embrace the free press, how to do it, and what to do if things go awry.
Journalists want to help. They want to write interesting stories that people will read.
Why is this important?
Because it’s free publicity for you! Being an artist is the only way I can think of to get a free half page ad in a newspaper, in an insert devoted just to you and your pursuits, or a Sunday section, or on the front page of Lifestyle.
It’s online advertising, too. Anybody who Googles either of us (me, the journalist, or you, the artist) will get a result for the article/image/Q&A.
You want to keep making stuff, and I want to keep writing stuff. Our press relationship is symbiotic at least. There’s no space for antagonism between us.
Here are some tips, learned the hard way.
1.It’s okay to state your preferences or say no. Writers still get paid for their work, so we WANT the interview to be good. If you are best at a phone interview, email interview, or IM interview say so! We don’t mind! If you’d rather not be interviewed, politely decline. Do not accept the interview and then half-ass it. That makes you and the journalist who’s interviewed you look like schmucks.
2. Most writers have no power in the publication for which they write besides what they wield with their words. Getting interviewed by an arts/culture journalist is not a good forum in which to suggest changes to or beefs with the newspaper or publication she represents. Answer her questions, and address your concerns to the appropriate editor/section/manager at the newspaper.
3. Make an online press kit, or send some MP3s and/or images and a bio with your press release! While we do get paid, we do not get paid well. We have to write a LOT of articles in order to make any reasonable amount of money. Time we spend combing the internet for sample work or images is time we’re not spending learning about you so that we can ask you smart, interesting questions. See #1.
4. If you have a publicist or agent, make sure you have a system in place to respond to journalists. Some artists have a special link, phone number, or email address for journalists. We appreciate that.
5. Make sure your contact information as available to the public is correct. You can’t reply to queries you don’t get. Journalists can’t write stories about people they can’t contact. If the only contact info for you online is an email address, check it every day. Journalists are good at making phone calls. If you’d rather we call you, give us a phone number.
6. Be polite and professional. Contrary to a prevailing notion, professionalism and creativity are not natural enemies. Be on time. If you will be late or unavailable at the agreed-upon time, call, email, or text message with an ETA or request to reschedule. Write reply emails with whole sentences. Short, straightforward sentences are better than a simple “sure.” Sure what? Sure you’ll do the interview? Sure you’re on tour? Sure you’ve got an exhibit up at venue X? Sure you’re starring in the community production of Avenue Q?
7. The journalist probably does not have time to show you the copy before it goes to press. There’s no universe in which that is standard operating procedure. If a journalist offers, you may accept. Please do not ask.
8. If there are factual errors in the piece, most journalists will be as distressed to learn of it as you were to read it. Errors are not the end of the world. Corrections can be run. Here is the right way to manage such a situation: phone or email the journalist and explain the error calmly and give her the correct information. The journalist will bend over backward to help you fix things. She will feel very bad about the mistake, and she will be concerned for her integrity. Here is the wrong way to manage the situation: criticizing the journalist on facebook, twitter, or in your blog. That makes you look like a petty a-hole, and when the journalist discovers it, she will be loathe to work with you again.
9. Once the piece is available online, link it from your facebook, tweet it, link to it from your website, tumble it, reddit, whatever. This is additional free publicity for you, and for the journalist who is as likely as not working for multiple publications.
10. If you’re pleased with the work, let the journalist know. You don’t have to put her on the list at the door or give her a free copy of your CD, print of your work, or ticket to your play (these things are appreciated, but never expected), but a quick, one-sentence email, phone call, or text message letting her know you’ve seen the work and are pleased by it is a sure way to create a reputation for yourself as a conscientious artist who’s a pleasure to work with. It will also give the journalist massive warm fuzzies. And who doesn’t dig warm fuzzies?
11. Since a lot of writers who do these kinds of pieces are freelance, let a journalist know if there’s a publication you’ve been dying to be featured in. The journalist may be able to pitch a piece to that publication, and write it with no additional information from you, or better yet, have a working relationship with its editor. If the journalist needs additional information, she’ll know where to find you, and it’s always more pleasant to work with people whose work you know and like.