1. Spreading the Good News
It has never been easier to tell the world about ourselves, our work and our faith. The speed and proliferation of the media today means that we can choose to have news at our finger-tips continually. From traditional local weekly newspapers to the internet, there is more space than ever for journalists to fill and therefore more opportunity for parishes to be featured. The media is an area of the church’s interaction with society that we ignore at our peril.
While we may see these communication channels as being largely concerned with communicating ‘externally’ it is worth remembering, too, that it is a means of communicating with those who already come to church, as well as being a mode of evangelising.
Genuine newsworthy material, well presented, will be more likely to be received and used by journalists. Media organisations aim to generate audiences through providing content of interest to readers, viewers or listeners. It is worth identifying the type of story which will interest a particular publication/programme and tailoring it as necessary.
2. Ground rules for dealing with the media
There are a few ground rules which are useful to remember in dealing with the media or press. Firstly, the perception of journalists as hard-bitten ‘hacks’ who don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story, is often misleading – as is the perception that some journals, programmes or specific journalists are somehow fundamentally antagonistic towards the Church in Wales. The truth is that the media need us as much as we need them and it is important to try to develop a good relationship with your local journalists. The PCC , for example, might want to appoint a Parish Press Officer, to be a point of contact for the media and to produce regular proactive press releases about events or stories in the parish.
3. Press releases
If there is something happening in the parish which is interesting enough to tell someone else about, it is newsworthy. If it is something positive or helpful, don’t wait for a reporter to stumble on it by chance – send out a press release, preferably electronically, and publish it on your website. Always look for the human story – who is affected and how – rather than a bland report of an event, listing, for example, who was present in order of importance. Make sure it is up-to-date, about something that is going to happen, rather than something which happened a week last Sunday, which is no longer news. Keep it short, about 300 words, include a quote from someone involved, details of date, time and venue and contact details of someone who can give more information. If the information is well presented in an easy to absorb manner and the ‘story’ is clear, the news editor is far more likely to use it than if the press release is untidy, overlong, or the story is not immediately obvious.
When a journalist is writing a story they must answer the questions Who, What, When, Why, How? Try and address those same questions in drafting your press release. It is worth following up your press release with a phone-call to draw the news-editor’s attention to it. If possible, cultivate a contact among the reporters so there will be less chance of your press release getting “lost” among the mass.
4. When the parish is thrust into the limelight
Crises do occur in every parish from time to time. This may be as a result of some event or incident outside our control – such as a high profile funeral or local disaster. Dealing with such issues or crises takes experience. The best advice therefore is to involve the diocesan communication team at the earliest possible opportunity and to seek their help and support (contact details can be found on the diocesan website or via the Diocesan Office). The sooner you can involve those with experience in dealing with these kinds of situations, then the more likely it is that the issue can be stopped from developing into a crisis.
6. Information about the life of the Church in Wales available online.
Information about the life of the Church in Wales is available on the Church in Wales’ website (including a searchable version of the Constitution and of this handbook) and you may wish to go to http://www.churchinwales.org.uk to see what is on offer. It is also possible to sign up to an e-mail bulletin service that informs you about any press releases issued on a variety of issues.
7. Parish Websites
As the Internet becomes an increasingly important source of information and communication in Welsh society, some parishes have created parish websites to provide details of their activities to a wide range of people, including potential new members. We recognise that, for many parishes, the prospect of creating and maintaining a website is a daunting one, and so the Church in Wales provides a scheme – funded jointly by dioceses and the province and free to parishes – to allow parishes to easily create and update a website. This scheme allows for the easiest possible creation of a website, and – importantly – requires no software or prior experience.
More information about the Parish Website Scheme can be found on the Church in Wales website at: http://www.churchinwales.org.uk/parishwebsite
You can also contact the Creative Resources Officer at the Provincial Office – 029 2034 8251.