There are a number of effective ways to generate stories for your local press. Using the following to build a narrative around key local issues and campaigns will ensure that you get ongoing coverage around the issues that matter.
There will always be a temptation to tackle every issue and report every injustice, but consider focusing on certain key issues and becoming the go-to people on those topics. Repeat these issues time and time again so that you become synonymous with issues, rather than trying to get a mention with every topic generally. If that means letting some stories passing by, in order to remain focused on your key topics, that is fine.
If you're running a campaign on a local issue, flag it with your local press and make sure that a Lib Dem name is attached to that issue. If a Lib Dem is quoted every time that issue is covered in the media, then journalists and the public alike will associate it with the Lib Dems. This will set you up to get coverage in future, and should also mean that voters will be familiar with this when you speak to them on their doorsteps.
As Media Officer, you should make sure that you are working alongside your local Liberal Democrat councillors in developing campaign lines and press stories. Often questions or motions at full council can lead to very good local press coverage, i.e. 'Lib Dems call to oppose care cuts for the elderly at XXXX County Council'.
If you don't have councillors, then work with your council candidates on the campaigns that they are running. Some councils will allow members of the public to ask questions at full council, which is a great opportunity to both generate content for press stories, and raise the public profile of your candidates.
If you have an interesting way to pitch an existing story then why not turn it into something eye-catching. A good stunt can be a way to ignite interest in a story or a campaign, or to reignite interest if that story has stagnated.
If a spokesperson has written a powerful speech, or a response to a topical issue, there is no real reason not to send it as a press release. Choose the strongest lines and put them in the headline/opening text and then put the full script in the notes to editors.
VIP visits are a great way to get a strong visual image, and to improve your reputation with local organisations. Getting a spokesperson to do something at a school or hospital that you want to create ties with, or involving a local business that you wish to promote, will give excellent accompanying images to your campaign. It is vitally important that you visit any potential sites in advance of a visit, to make sure that it has the right visual appeal, and a good visit will go a long way to persuading local broadcasters to come along and give you coverage.
Freedom of Information requests are a great way to dig out data and information that can create very appealing stories. However, prepare for them to take at least a month from first asking to fruition, so FOIs need to be planned well in advance.
You can request information from some public sector organisations, such as:
- government departments and other public bodies and committees
- local councils
- schools, colleges and universities
- health trusts, hospitals and doctors surgeries
- publicly owned companies
- publicly funded museums
- the police
You can read more about how to make an FOI request on the government website.
You can download a template FOI request letter from this page.
Councils will not publicise figures which make them look bad. This is the work that journalists used to do, but they are now so under-resourced that it falls to others to do it. In other words, it's up to you to find this information for yourself. Look at council contractors, finances, get hold of reports and look through them in depth. You do not need to sit on the council to effectively hold it to account. Minutes and meeting papers are a rich source of information of what the council is doing and planning to do, depending on whether your group is in control or in opposition, you have different options for how to turn this information into stories: if you are doing something positive on the council, then tell people about it; if the ruling group is doing something you object to, communicate that out and explain your position.
If someone writes up your story
Drop them a quick email to say thanks and pitch them the follow-up story. For example, your first story may be that Lib Dems criticise the council's plan to close a local school, so your follow-up story could be that you are organising a community meeting to try and save the school. Always make sure you have an action in hand - don't be a group that just talks about things, be a group that does things.