How to: work with local media

As a general rule, local media are interested in local people and issues – so individuals who are involved in efforts that help the local community (through fundraising, charity etc), stories about plans that will affect the local community either positively or negatively (eg traffic, local resources, the buildings around the city and county, or public services), or community events with a visual angle (picture stories) will always be interesting.

The outlets local to Oxford in particular are especially sensitive to stories that further the ‘town-gown divide’ narrative, and there is particular sensitivity around the building footprint of the University around the city, and the opposition of many local residents to big building plans (or even disputes between University neighbours related to development plans – see for example the front-page Oxford Mail stories about the Bodleian Library’s objections to Trinity College’s new building project). 

If you have a story that ticks any of the following boxes, it’s worth considering pitching to local media:

  • Events that are open to the public and/or are particularly focused on engaging with the local community;
  • Stories about individuals within your college/department who are particularly active in local outreach, or involved in making the resources of the University available to local schools/residents/businesses etc;
  • Major milestones in your college/department – from historic to things like long-serving staff members being honoured for 30/40 years of service to their college or department; and
  • Examples of students having a positive impact on the local community through volunteering, activism or social enterprises.

Give them a clear, descriptive headline that tells the story, use non-technical language and write copy that explains the benefits of your offering to local people and institutions. Journalists who are busy want to be able to copy and paste the story with as little fussing around with it as possible. Be sure to include:

  • Full names and affiliations of individuals 
  • If it’s an event: the date, time, exact location and number of people you are hoping/expecting will turn up; whether it is open to the public or not, and what arrangements for photography are (eg will you make photos available? if a photographer wants to turn up where and when will they get the best photo-op? etc);
  • If it’s an outreach activity: names of exact schools you are working with and how many from each;
  • A relevant quote or two from a named individual if possible, ideally emphasising any benefit to the local community or local people;
  • Contact details for further information.

In some cases, an operational note rather than full news release may be enough; if you are running a major event that has traffic or transport implications for the city and commuters it’s always worth ringing the local radio stations asking them to put it on their bulletins as a reminder to commuters that you are trying to be a good neighbour.

  • Local and regional media outfits are usually quite small, and on any given day/week it may be one of several people who are on the planning desk or reporting on local stories – so make sure you contact as many people as possible to cover your bases, and follow up with a phone call if need be. 
  • Local and regional news teams are at the mercy of breaking local events and scarce resources – all the planning and advance work in the world might still mean your story gets bumped if there is a fast-breaking story that has to be covered and only one or two reporters who can be allocated to it.
  • Allow some lead-in time for stories (ideally one-two weeks), but remember that most local planners don’t want or need a very long lead-in for most stories, so don’t pitch too far ahead of time. 
  • For buildings and estate stories, the default of many local papers will be to assume the project will have a negative impact on the city – Oxford is full of building projects at the moment (not just the University but the hospitals, schools, council road works etc) and the University is seen as often unfriendly to the concerns of local residents and heritage groups – so think about how you would sell your projects to a sceptical audience that want to know what’s likely to be in it for them other than traffic hassle and noise disruption.