Nonprofits in the News: 3 tips for building relationships with reporters

When it comes to building relationships with journalists and newsrooms, there are no hard and fast rules. I don’t have a step-by-step process for you to follow: this is really about making the time to build a rapport and relationship. As such, this isn’t unlike any other strategic relationship you’ve built as a nonprofit leader, so apply the same principles you have in the past.

However, for those of you who might be new to this, here are 3 tips for building relationships with reporters in and out of season:

1.  Start with your contact list. Who have you already worked with in the past?

2. Look for journalists telling stories about organizations like yours.

3. Reach out to news directors, assignment editors where they need to be telling these kinds of stories. I’d also encourage you to avoid taking a judgemental tone here. I remember receiving emails from folks who had a decent pitch, but it was buried beneath a lot of criticism of our coverage (“you guys never report on…” for example). When building a relationship with someone, criticism isn’t the way to go (this is true in our personal lives, so I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t think the same principle applies here!). Stick to your pitch and focus on the story you’d like to present. Stay positive: that always shines through. 

One last piece of advice: don’t ignore smaller outlets (such as ethnic media stations or digital startups) who target a niche audience. While they might never admit it, sometimes the larger outlets will check out the stories being reported in the smaller ones and pick them up.

Navigating the Newsroom: On building confidence

I still remember my first shoot with Rogers TV. It was about a runner who was blind but had participated in a record number of races. Truly an inspiring story.

And I was super nervous about telling it. 

When it came time to shoot the on camera bridge, the cameraman and I were standing between the doors of the local YMCA. He waited (somewhat) patiently for me while I mustered up the courage to speak on camera. When I finally opened my mouth, what came out was somewhere between inside voice and barely above a whisper. 

“That’s not how you sound when you talk normally,” said the cameraman, gently scolding me. It took several a few tries before I finally spit out something coherent. The same scene would play itself out again when I shot my first on camera while working for the CBC in St. John’s. However, by then I had learned how to ignore the voices of doubt screaming so loudly from within. From there, it only got easier. 

Since I started mentoring young journalists, I hear so much about their desire to be more confident in everything they do: in their storytelling, writing, on camera presentation. The truth is there’s no miracle for confidence. It’s just one of those muscles we build over time–but we have to work that muscle in order to truly see results. Here are some reflections on how you can build confidence as you tell stories:

  1. Just do it. Nike’s slogan should be your mantra in their early stages. The more you step out and do the things you want to build more confidence in, the better you’ll become at doing it. Practice really does make perfect…but you have to overcome that self-doubt and actually practice. The more you do it, the more confident you’ll feel as you do it. 
  2. Don’t just rely on courses to build your confidence. Listen, I love a good course. These days, I prefer to take bootcamp-style programs as they offer more targeted training. But gaining knowledge doesn’t always translate into gaining confidence. Confidence doesn’t come from a course: it comes from experience. By all means take the course but know that you’ll still have to take the next step and actually apply what you’ve just learned
  3. Silence the voice of doubt. Part of the reason I’m not big on taking courses to build confidence is because, in my experience, I was the only thing hold me back. It wasn’t a lack of knowledge or skill. Analysis paralysis and fear will stunt anyone’s efforts–trust me, I’m a witness! What I’ve learned to do is to ignore or silence the voice of self-doubt and just do it. Breaking things down into actionable, manageable steps is hugely helpful. And when you get to that step you’ve been too scared to take, always remember there’s so much more to gain on the other side. Even if you fail, you’ve gained experience which will never fail you in the long run; in fact, it is all the lived experience you need to excel the next time you try. 

Listen, my first standup was rough. But many years later, I found myself doing standups under pressure in interesting situations–on the side of a mountain after an avalanche, in a helicopter flying over an icy highway. The more I did them, the more my confidence in my ability to do them became unshakeable.