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Behind-the-Scenes at the Chron: How to Get Your Education Story Noticed

By Felicia Russell Perez

On February 28, a group of nine PRSA Houston members took part in an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour with Houston Chronicle’s new higher education reporter, Brittany Britto. The vast lobby spanned across the first floor, open and welcoming with various sizes of tables, chairs and couches. On one side, the opinion editors clacked at the keyboards and answered their phones – popping up for a quick “hello” and wave as our group passed by.

At a front table, we began our introductions and explained what we hoped to gain – such as developing better pitches for media, best ways to contact reporters and the emerging trends that lead today’s education beat. The PR professionals who attended came from all walks of education – including the K-12 beat, universities and education programming. The reporter, who’s new to the area, was able to meet her communications contacts first-hand as she started her new role.

We toured the fourth-floor newsroom, segmented by assignments desk, web department, sports, investigative, features and business beats. Decades-old typewriters were displayed under the array of modern-day flat screen TV screens. The walls were dressed with award-winning photography, revealing poignant points in Houston history. The Houston Chronicle has been a significant driver of news in the city since 1901, and it is the third-largest newspaper by Sunday circulation in the United States – behind New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Operated by Hearst Corporation, it has direct connections to dozens of other newspapers, magazines and television stations across the country. When something is written by a Houston Chronicle reporter, it becomes a part of the life-blood network that feeds into other cities across America and vice versa.

The tour concluded in a conference room, where we sat around the table, ready to understand more about how we – as public relations professionals – can create a more mutually beneficial relationship with the reporters in print news. Here, we’ve compiled some of the most relevant insight from our meeting with Britto.

Hottest Education Topics & Trends for 2019:

  • Student Debt and Finances.“We are looking to dive into how educated students are about financial literacy, how they’re going to pay for it and what colleges are doing to pay for that. Funding options could be a beat in itself. We are looking at innovative ways people are paying for college,” said Britto.
  • Education Initiatives. “We are looking for companies who give back to help students pay for education and we are looking for innovative ways of educating students. We are taking a closer look at the overall industry in Houston and how students can be competitive to get jobs.
  • “More colleges are making moves toward transferability when it comes to credit hours, particularly courses between community colleges and 4-year public universities,” said Britto. “They’re making core requirements similar so a student can go to another school and transfer easily.”
  • Compelling Student Stories. “From a feature story standpoint, it’s great to focus on one student who is doing really great. However, we can’t write about every student and we don’t write about a student of the week. It’s great that your student made the honor roll, but that happens a lot. We get a lot of student pitches, but we like something unique or outstanding,” said Britto. “A good example of a story we’re looking for is like a pitch we received about a student who was featured on a TV show. It has to be appealing that resonates with most Houstonians. We are looking for something heartwarming or inspiring that goes beyond that small community.”
  • No Corporate Agenda. “Typically, we don’t write about major companies and what they’re doing with education unless it relates to something else more relatable. From a journalist perspective, they’re trying to push their company. We’re more focused on the students they’re helping and how significant that is. It has to be newsworthy,” said Britto.


Best Methods for Pitching:

  • Pitch by E-mail & Follow Up.“Email is good for sending a pitch. Sometimes Twitter works, too. I’ve been trying to delete old emails and respond as I go. If you don’t receive a response, send it again by email or phone calls would also work,” said Britto. “I check my voicemail once or twice a week. Leave a voicemail, though. If I don’t see there’s a voicemail, then it likely was not important enough for me to return the call. Follow up on the stories you feel are very important. See the face of the story. We don’t just want the company pitches all the time. It must be something significant.”
  • Know the Deadlines. “I’m currently working on starting an education-related campus roundup called ‘Campus Chronicles.’ I am trying to let the public know about interesting events happening on campus that the public can go to. It’s weekly, dependent on what events are happening. It feature lectures, plays, interesting conversations, workshops and musical events. Ideally, we want everything in by Wednesday or Thursday so it can be posted on Friday,” said Britto. “When it comes to pitching, it’s always good to have enough time to write about something. It’s always good to know about these events 2-3 weeks ahead of time to put it on the calendar. We have Wednesday deadlines for print on weekend editions.”
  • Consider Proximity.“We are focused in the immediate area unless there’s something really interesting going on in a university that’s far away.” If possible, find a way to localize the story so it’s more convenient for the journalist to report on.
  • Think by the Numbers.“In a pitch, involve numbers – like the number of students, how many years it’s been happening, only school that does it. Take note of a few students that have compelling stories and a few details about the students. We definitely strive to put a face on the story,” said Britto. “Look for what can expand the story. Look for additional statistics. Is this a trend for LGBT friendly courses? Or is it the ‘first’ or ‘best’ of something?”

 


The Houston Chronicle is located at 4747 Southwest Freeway. If you have a higher-ed pitch you’d like to send, contact Brittany Britto at [email protected] If you have a pitch for K-12 education, send it to Shelby Webb at [email protected] Jacob Carpenter at [email protected] The PRSA Houston Chapter thanks the Houston Chronicle for offering the tour and education for our members.

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