A teacher asked me the other day if we might come to cover something in her classroom. What elements, she asked, do we consider when making our decision? What, if anything, could she do to tip the balance in her favor?
It was an interesting question, and I answered it as honestly as I could. Here’s a slightly longer version of what I told her:
– News, by definition, is something out of the ordinary. Stuff you do every day, like spelling worksheets and math groups and recess, probably isn’t going to make the cut unless we can hook the issue to something particularly new and topical. We might do a regular P.E. class, for instance, if we’re talking about a new study on child obesity, or we might come talk to your science teachers if graduation requirements on science are going to be changing.
– If you are doing something out of the ordinary, you have a better chance if it’s highly visual, and if we can be a part of the middle stages of the effort. Call us when the kids are actually painting the mural on the gym wall, for instance, not standing proudly in front of the finished work.
– If it’s something highly visual but tied to a specific brand, we may or may not decide to come. One time, for instance, Gatorade officials came to South Albany High School to donate a whole bunch of product. We debated over whether the story would be meaningful to readers or just free publicity for Gatorade, but in the end, with the company (at the time) poised to build a factory here, we decided that was a newsworthy link and went ahead.
– Help us tie whatever you’re doing to a bigger picture. Setting baby salmon free helps teach kids about the ecosystem/improve our local habitat/foster partnerships with local scientists, etc. Collecting food for Fish is particularly critical this year because so many students’ parents are out of work because of the recession.
– (A note about food drives/penny drives/fundraisers in general: Every classroom in every school has them, all year long. Albany alone has 20 schools and in theory, we cover all of Linn County. It’s not that we don’t think such efforts are newsworthy, it’s that if we do one, we’re almost duty-bound to do them all. So go ahead and call, and we will tell people what you’re doing and how to help, but we’re not likely to cover the results in person.)
– Give us as much notice as you can, but understand that things happen. The five-car pileup on I-5 may pre-empt the fourth-grade play. On the flip side, though, even if it’s the day of your event and no one has thought to call the newspaper, call anyway. You never know when something fell through on our end and the editor is casting desperately around for a replacement.
– Know that sometimes you can meet all the requirements – new, topical, highly visual – and we still don’t come. That may be simply because of the demands of the moment. We have four full-time reporters and one part-timer (me), and two photographers, and sometimes we have scheduling conflicts we just can’t avoid.
– Along with that, know that if we do come, but then you have the same event next year, we may or may not make it back.
– If all else fails, if you were there and we weren’t and you got a great picture, send it in. Reader snapshots sometimes top anything we can do.