Closed Dec 6: The Wisconsin Historical Society will be closing its historic sites in addition to the library and archives reading rooms at the Society's headquarters building on December 6th for an all-staff conference.

Use Broadcast Media to Share Your Message | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

How to Use Broadcast Media to Share Your Historic Preservation Message

Use Broadcast Media to Share Your Message | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

Local television and radio stations can provide great opportunities to share your historic preservation message with the public. They can quickly and effectively reach huge numbers of supporters and potential members.

If you find it a bit challenging to tap into your local broadcast media, understanding how each type operates will help you develop relationships with and provide relevant information to the right television and radio reporters and producers.

When it comes to using broadcast media to tell your story, keep in mind these two key points:

  • With television, your story needs to be visual.
  • With radio, your story needs to be concise and compelling.

How News is Reported on Television and Radio

Television and radio reporters are usually generalists that cover a wide range of topics and stories. They are rarely assigned a "beat" and usually do not have time to develop contacts or conduct research like print or web reporters do. Many television stories are developed from print news.

This means it will be more difficult for you to establish a long-term relationship with a television or radio reporter than a newspaper reporter.

Due to tight media budgets, a reporter might not cover a story at all. Instead, a camera operator will be sent out to take video and ask a few pre-determined questions.

Radio is an often-overlooked and extremely valuable tool for advocates. If you make an effort to understand your local radio market, you can use radio to increase the impact of a press story in your local paper. Radio audiences are largest during the morning "drive time". Make it a habit of sampling a variety of stations to learn their formats and the types of opportunities they may offer to cover your preservation story. Few radio stations air traditional newscasts, but they may do brief telephone interviews or have studio guests.

How to Attract Television Coverage for Your Story

Pitching a story to a local television station is different from pitching one to a newspaper. While typically you'd approach a newspaper reporter with your story, for television, you'd approach the assignment editor. The assignment editor is responsible for assigning stories to television reporters and reporters follow up on pre-approved stories.

You are more likely to attract an assignment editor's attention if you do the following:

  • Think visually. Assignment editors like stories with strong visual elements that can be told quickly.
  • Make your case for preservation. Pitch one strong idea, event, or historic preservation deadline as a hook.
  • Keep it simple. Simple stories work better on TV than complex ones.
  • Be open to alternatives. There may be opportunities beyond newscasts, such as an early morning show or a weekly public affairs program.

Assignment editors will have more stories than will fit into their 12-minute news slot and most stories will last less than one minute, so your story must be compelling.

Keep in mind that once you begin working with a reporter and camera operator, you will have very little control over the look and sound of your story.

Be prepared for situations where you may get a call from a local television station. For example, you may get a call if your project is in the middle of a controversy or if the historic building you are trying to save has been affected by a tornado, sinkhole, lightning bolt, flooding or some other natural disaster. Consider these tips on making a case for preservation after a disaster.

Municipal cable/community access stations are always looking for good local content. If your community has one of these stations, your historic preservation group should notify the station about your work and projects.

Web media and short amateur online videos are beginning to overshadow local television news. This often works to the advantage of preservationists. Many television stations are adapting to the popularity of user-generated video by requesting amateur videos submission from their viewers. Sometimes the videos are played during live broadcasts or provided as links on stations' webpages. Be sure to share your best in-house video with the local media.

How to Attract Radio Coverage for Your Story

As with television producers, most radio producers do not generate original work. They comment on what's in the morning newspaper or the latest viral YouTube video. Most radio news staffs are small, and reporters generally work independently.

When you are working with a radio producer, your content needs to be extremely relevant. For most stories, you'll need a time-sensitive hook with a deadline in the next few days. For example, if you are dealing with a serious problem and you invited experts from outside your community to help with the issue, let your local public radio station know these experts are in town. What might have been an afternoon of valuable insights for your staff could become an interesting public program associated with your organization.

News radio producers are always looking for stories to fill multiple newscasts presented each morning in quick succession. This provides you with the opportunity to pitch a podcast. Podcasts tend to be longer than interview stories. They can last between 20 and 40 minutes and will be more likely to feature your organization or your primary issues. The podcast format allows a local radio news piece to be easily reused and circulated to a broad audience.

If you're hosting a conference, identify conference speakers who would do especially good radio interviews. You might be able to promote your conference or hot topic issues associated with the event by connecting an out-of-town speaker to a radio show. Speakers can also provide great content for your newsletter or website. Speakers can be interviewed for other print media as well, such as newspapers or niche publications.

In some cases, your group may be working on a slowly developing issue that could be relevant at any time. These "slow cook" issues can be ideal stories for producers who need to fill a time slot at the last minute.

Should you get on the air, keep your comments short and to the point. Don't ramble. Remember that the on-air host is the reason people are listening, so don't try to dominate or hog attention. Radio interviews are short, often five minutes or less. Sometimes radio interviews conducted over the phone will result in a very short sound bite. This means you need to practice succinctly saying your key message in advance.

How to Use Public Service Announcements

Public service announcements (PSAs) can be extremely valuable and memorable. Do you remember "Only you can stop forest fires" and "Give a hoot, don't pollute"? PSAs do not need to be big-budget national campaigns. Since the 1934 Federal Communications Act was enacted, radio and television stations have been required to provide a small sliver of time to the public good. On average, local stations receive anywhere from 4 to 30 PSAs weekly from local nonprofits.

Local stations respond best to noncontroversial issues that clearly benefit the local community. Local media are also interested in topics of great community interest and may consider a long-term PSA campaign for your organization or cause. If so, consider what benefits you can offer in return — ad space, sponsorships, web links — that will highlight their commitment to community service.

In some cases, a station will want your group to produce the PSA. You should confirm this with your local station during your initial outreach. If you have a small budget, don't be discouraged — be creative! Historic preservation is a great subject for PSAs because it is a place-based subject. There is no need to use a boring television studio when you can go outside on a sunny day with a shoestring budget.

The key to your PSA's success will be good writing. If your organization has control over the video, consider the appeal of the speaker or speakers. You may want to recruit a local celebrity or elected official who supports your cause. If you want to communicate the diversity of your support, use multiple speakers in short snippets of time. Young people can also make great spokespeople. You could turn PSA into a great collaborative project with local schools. Some ad agencies will do pro bono PSAs for select organizations.

Learn More

Find more how-to articles about historic preservation advocacy.