Getting your news published

In addition to being a novelist and freelance editor/writing coach, I also have an extremely rewarding career as managing editor and writer of a monthly statewide newspaper ( I’ve also worked on “the other side” of the business, having served as a marketing director and a public relations coordinator for two nonprofits. I’ve learned one very important thing over the years: seeing your work in print isn’t (usually) just good luck. There’s a recipe to crafting and pitching press releases—and getting good news coverage. You have to write in a clear way that communicates what you’re seeking, plus you have to submit to publications in the right way. And you most certainly do not have to be “cute” about it.

Here’s the low-down:

1. What’s the goal? You goal should be to see your stuff in either local papers or magazines. So first explore your options. If it’s a daily or weekly newspaper, you could be looking at a calendar blurb or roundup item, a photo/cutline, basic press release (with/without photos), or a full spread with a lengthier article and photos (submitted by you)—or you can get the paper to do its own feature story on your topic. And remember: You are writing for the people who you want to hear this news—not the people on your team. So remember that foremost.

2. Who’s your contact? First, decide which publications or news outlets you wish to send to—and how they like to receive news. For most places, an email with attachments is best, but I’ve found some places don’t want any attachments, or want news only submitted through their website to minimize viruses, etc. So take a couple of minutes to research this.

Don’t just send to or whatever generic news email address they provide on their website. Send there, sure, but also try to find out the specific person or people to send to, such as the news or features editor. And don’t just do this once and be done. In many news outlets, there’s a lot of turnover, so just because you discovered Jane Smith was the reporter in January doesn’t mean she’s still the reporter in September. Send to the generic news account, plus maybe a features editor or writer, or a religion editor or reporter, or just their general assignment editor or writer, depending on the size of the paper.

3. When to send? Send far in advance. A month is good for a weekly paper, a couple weeks for a daily, and for a monthly, two months or more.

4. What to send? I suggest you submit two key things: the pitch and the submission package.

A. The pitch (This is a quick little note at the start of the email):

Hi, there, I’m with Happy United Methodist Church in Lake Junaluska and we have a concert coming up next month where all proceeds benefit kids with cancer in our local community. It’s a really touching story and I think your readers would be interested.

I’m attaching several things: a press release, two high-res photos with cutlines, and a blurb for your calendar section, if you could also get it in there. We really appreciate the help!

If you have any questions or need anything, please let me know. Also, we’d love to have you there as our guest! If you can’t attend, no problem at all. I’ll take some photos and send them to you after. Have a great day!

Mike Doe, 803-555-1212

B. The submission package. Be sure all of these are separate files. Do NOT send one Word doc or pdf and do the layout for the paper! You might think you are saving them time or managing what they print, but this will backfire on you. They cannot typically use photos embedded in a Word doc, and they edit all the stories and do their own layout. At best, they’ll make you resubmit. At worst, they could get frustrated and just decide not to run your event at all, or just stick it in as a calendar blurb.

a. Press release or article A press release is a very basic mini article about your news. It can be about something that happened, is happening or will happen. An article is more extensive and longer, and it’s about a fuller topic than “just” an event—maybe an afterschool ministry is really making an impact, or your church just sent 10 people to minister in Guatemala, and wow do they have a tale to tell! It has a more creative lead, though still communicates the news up front.

Elements of a good press release:

  • Hook the reporter or editor with an angle that is unique and compelling.
  • Straightforward; presents news on a silver platter that journalists can immediately recognize as interesting/essential
  • Say important stuff first: 5 Ws and H—who, what, where, when, why and how.
  • Audience is key. What will their people want? It has nothing to do with you or your ministry.
  • No hype, no selling, just the facts. Stay away from phrases like “unique,” “wonderful,” “uplifting,” “state-of-the-art,” etc. unless it’s in a quote.
  • Third-person perspective. Never use “I” or “we” unless it's in a quote.
  • Shorter is better—one page.
  • List your full church name and city
  • Give a contact person

Elements of a good article:

  • Hook the reporter or editor with an angle that is unique and compelling.
  • More creative lede (first sentence) but get to the point right away with the 5 Ws and H
  • Three sources quoted
  • Longer, but not too long. A page or two max.
  • No hype unless it’s in a quote.
  • Third-person perspective. Never use “I” or “we” unless it's in a quote.
  • List your full church name and city
  • Give a contact person

b. Visuals They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and they’re right—sometimes people just look at pictures and cutlines and skim the headlines. So be sure to include a visual with every submission.

A photo should be:

  • High resolution (300 dpi/1 MB, original image, if cropped do not reduce resolution, color)
  • If able, have these be action shots, not just what we refer to as the “boring group posed shot”—the five or even 25 committee members standing there, smiling. Could be one or two of the committee members setting up a display, or a person handing out food at a giveaway.
  • If the only picture you send is one that has everyone in it because you “don’t want to hurt feelings by leaving someone out,” remember that the paper might just decide not to run an image rather than run “the boring group posed shot.”
  • Anything is better than nothing…if you have no people willing to be in the picture, and its about a food giveaway event next month take a picture of a bunch of canned goods and your hand stacking them.
  • Make sure it’s not dark or blurry.
  • No Facebook images! No website images! (Too small/compressed.)
  • Make sure your email is not compressing them.

And don't forget other visuals: charts, graphs, even stats for a sidebar. Get creative!

c. Calendar blurb This is short and something they can easily pop into their calendar of upcoming events, if they do so. Mimic their style if possible. Most are like this:

  • Oct. 5—Free autumn festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Happy United Methodist Church, Lake Junaluska, featuring games, apple bobbing, bounce house, food, more. All are welcome. For information: 828-555-1212, or

You can send this at the bottom of the email, or as an attachment by itself. Be sure to say something like, “Here’s a blurb for your calendar of events if you don’t mind including it. Thanks!”

5. How to follow up Do not email that day or the next to be sure they got it; it’s a busy industry, and publications are notoriously short-staffed. Wait a week. If you haven’t gotten a reply, then check in with a kind note.

Don’t say “Hi, this is Mike Jones, did you get my email?” Then they’ll be frustrated and have to go back through hundreds of submissions looking to see…or just give you a “yeah sure.”

Do forward the original email and have a note at the top, “Just wanted to make sure you got my submission about our concert next month concert benefitting kids with cancer. Thanks again, and let me know if you need anything!”  And you’ll usually get a reply saying “So sorry for the delay, I’ve been out sick, got it and thanks!”

With these helpful tips, you’ll surely see your news in print. Happy writing!