Education Minnesota, a teachers' union, recently sponsored a media panel of reporters and editors at St. Benedict's College in St. Joseph to help teachers learn how to work with the media.
One of the main questions teachers had was how to know what story is newsworthy. I would ask that you put yourself in a reader's shoes, not a teacher's. Would you read this story? Would it be interesting to a large audience or just to your friends in aerobics class? Or find a new twist to an event that happens year after year and then call the education reporter.
An e-mail message or a phone call is at a person's fingertips, so if you have a question about a story idea and are not sure about it, feel free to call a reporter and ask. If you are planning to e-mail a reporter on a spelling bee make sure you write down when and where the event will be hosted. And always include your name and phone number.
Newspapers try to balance their coverage. At The Dispatch, in addition to writing about Brainerd's eight elementary schools, middle schools and high school, we also try to cover all the surrounding school districts, such as Crosby-Ironton, Little Falls, Pequot Lakes and Pine River.
"Some teachers don't want to talk to reporters because they are concerned that they will be misquoted," said one teacher.
No one is perfect and misquotes do happen.
I, like many reporters, will make sure we have all the facts as well as an understanding of the issue, such as budgets and levy referendums. If I do not understand an issue, I will ask the interviewee again or I will repeat to them what I think they are saying to clarify the issue. If I ever am in question on something I will ask, no matter how stupid I look. I think I would look more stupid to have the interviewee call me the next morning to tell me I made a mistake. Reporters do not like to type a correction in the newspaper.
Relationships are important. To maintain this, we know that everyone is busy, but we are under deadlines so returning phone calls or an e-mail promptly is appreciated. We also are grateful for any background information you can tell us about an issue, to help us understand it, especially if it is controversial.
One last thing for teachers to think about when talking with the media is to try to never say "no comment."
If you don't want to talk to us at all, please do not avoid phone messages. If you return the first phone call you receive from a reporter and then state why you can't comment, it will save our time as well as your time.
We welcome any tips from teachers and ask you to understand when we can't do a story. Sometimes we can fit the stories into our schedules and sometimes we can't, but we appreciate any tip. If you don't call us on a story idea it has no chance of getting in the paper. But if you do call it may get in the paper.
Some districts do not allow teachers to talk to the media until they have discussed it with the administrators. I recommend teachers to fight this and to ask administrators if they can speak freely. Readers like to hear the teachers' viewpoint, not just the administration opinion. For example, in the implementation of the Profiles of Learning, teachers are the ones who have to teach the standards and they know the students' abilities and personalities best.
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