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People To Pitch: Lisa Bertagnoli, Freelance Writer

Guest post by Jennifer Wolan, Community Media Workshop New Media Intern

Lisa Bertagnoli is a Chicago-area freelancer and frequently contributes to Crain’s Chicago Business. Her stories include ‘Sometimes an organization needs a wakeup call’ and ‘Chicago’s nonprofit struggling.’

With the extensive nonprofit and organization reporting Lisa does, we asked her tips on how to pitch her. Lisa’s answers are below.

How do you usually receive a pitch from organizations?

Email. Social Media is not an effective way to get in touch with me.

Do you have any pet peeves about press releases?

I don’t really have any pet peeves about press releases but what I am looking for is personalization. I like to be personalized. I like for people to know my column and what I write about and pitch stories to me personally. Example would be, ‘You wrote a story a month ago about XYZ and this is why I think you’d be interested ABC.’ I know that sounds very selfish but I get so many press releases and so many pitches and if someone indicates that they know what I write about. I don’t think I’d write about someone who got a grant from an organization and was able to go on and do great things– those touchy-feely stories. I know it sounds very cold and impersonal but that’s not what I write about and it’s not my beat. I write about the financial and the nonprofits and what makes them tic. So if someone understands that and conveys that in a press release, I would be more likely to read it and respond to that person.

As a freelancer I have to be really invested and excited about a story I think to pitch it well (to her editor). I just can’t say it enough, please take a few days to read my stories, understand what I do and who I do it for. And that would help immensely. Just like I need to know the publications I pitch for. I need to know who they’re writing for and who their market is. It’s a big “pitch chain”, the way I put it.

Can you give an example of what is a good personal press release?

Just an understanding of what I do, that’s what I mean by personal. If someone has googled me, read my columns in Crain’s, they understand my approach to what I do. I write for a very sophisticated audience. A lot of times I get press releases, for example, “beer and shots night at Pat’s bar and grill.” And I don’t do that.

Have you ever been pitched in person through organizations?

Sure! We get talking and an idea come up. But I don’t get ideas from pitches per say, I get ideas from talking to the person. For example, someone came up to be last week and told me a fundraiser was coming up and that turned into a story. I get a lot of story ideas that turn into stories from talking to people at events. With that in mind, if someone comes up to me at an event and says, ‘Hey, I have a great story for you.’ 9 times out of 9 I will say, ‘it sounds good, write me an email.’ So I can see it in person, digest it and think of a way I might pitch it to my editors. It functions as a network and were talking to a lot of people and it’s really hard to stand still to a 5 minute pitch and digest it. I will always as for a follow up in an email.

Do you get story ideas through social media events or organizations?

I get story sources through Twitter and Facebook, if I have a story assigned that I’m working on I will look at Facebook and Twitter to find sources from the story. A couple of times I’ve gotten story ideas based on what was trending on twitter but mostly I look at Twitter for sources. That might change in the future. I’m trying to get more active on Twitter. I tweet from events and things like that and I’m trying to do more with Twitter but not really Facebook, that’s for my personal life.

If you would like to pitch to Lisa Bertagnoli, her e-mail is

Twitter Tips for Non-Profits

Guest post by Community Media Workshop board member Teresa Puente

As Community Media Workshop welcomes a brand new class of social media bootcampers this week; Workshop board member Teresa Puente reminds us that using Twitter is a great way to share information about your nonprofit and expand your networking connections.

Here are 10 helpful tips:

1)   Make sure your Twitter profile is complete and includes a photo. If you have the generic Twitter icon people will know that you are not a serious Twitter user. Always include a link to your website and blog and even a telephone number.

Teresa Puente’s Twitter profile picture.

2)   Twitter is about sharing information. It’s a two-way street. You shouldn’t just tweet out information about your organization. Only one in three tweets should be about the work you do.

3)   You should also tweet about news that impacts people in your field as well as information about groups with similar goals. Tweet about your “frenemies” and this should also nudge them to share information about your work.

4)   Tweet often but not multiple tweets in a row. If you tweet too much at once, people will miss the bulk of your tweets.

5)   You should have a schedule for tweeting based on time constraints. Try using a program like HootSuite to schedule your tweets 15 to 30 minutes apart. You can schedule tweets in the morning and for the afternoon or evening.

6)   Look up who your favorite journalists, nonprofit or policy makers are following and follow some of their followers.

7)   You also can find new people to follow by searching for keywords in your field using the #.

8)   You also should use some of those keywords at the end of your own tweets.

9)   Always include a link in your tweets. You need a value added to the tweet and use links that provide your followers with additional information.

10) Engage journalists and influential people on Twitter by asking questions or even complimenting their work. It might lead to a new contact, story or more.

Teresa Puente, author of “Chicanísima” blog on the ChicagoNow network is founder of “Latina” A veteran journalist, she is also an Associate Professor of Journalism at Columbia College Chicago and a long-standing board member of Community Media Workshop. Follow her tweets @tcpuente


Wonder Web! Packing a Punch with WordPress

Guest post by Adriana Diaz

Are you managing your organization’s website? Do you know who your website’s for? Do you know your website’s specific audience? How is WordPress facilitating your website’s conversations?

Brooklyn-based, communications consultant Kathleen Pequeño joins us June 4th at Making Media Connections 2013 and plans to help you tackle these tough questions with an intermediate WordPress workshop.

Interested in learning more about June 4th’s WordPress workshop and how it can help you advance your mission and build your organization’s web presence?

We caught up with Kathleen this week; here’s a sneak peak at the morning workshop she’ll be leading:

Wonder Web! Packing a Punch with WordPress from Community Media Workshop on Vimeo.

Register today for Making Media Connections 2013

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a 6-second video clip worth?


Guest post by DeAnndra B.



This is not an endorsement for Vine nor is it a step-by-step guide of how to use Vine. *cue dramatic instrumental movie music* This is about my journey three weeks using the Vine app with iPhone. Let’s begin.

 Twitter’s Vine is a mobile-only app that allows users to create 6-second looped videos that are posted within the app. This concept seemed so cool to me, but I was weary of how the app would be used for good, and the not-so good that often exists in the social media world. Vine was introduced to the Apple App Store for iOS devices in late January of this year. Sites like Mashable and TechCrunch had helped announce the app’s arrival and it seemed as if everyone was buzzing about Vine. To add to the online buzz, the app’s own Blog posted Vines created by the Brooklyn Nets, RedVines, Paul McCartney and other celebrities and brands.

As a communicator attempting to stay on top of the latest trends in social media, I downloaded Vine immediately. And for a few weeks that was all I did with the app even though it was clearly gaining popularity amongst my peers. We discussed Vine briefly at The Workshop, since we’re all iPhone users, and no one really had an opinion about it other than “it seems cool”. I decided I would try to learn more about Vine, find out how cool it really is, and maybe even become a successful regular user. I figured that I could work Vine into The Workshop’s social media plan, and potentially a mobile communications plan.

I will admit that I struggled with exactly what and how to vine and when was an appropriate to vine. Using Vine was a little more challenging than I had expected. This little six-second video was taking more time to plan and shoot than it would actually run in the app. For about two weeks I shot videos of trainings, videos featuring our media guide, and doodles scribbles notes from marketing meetings. Most of them were posted to my Vine and  Twitter accounts. Many did not make the cut for one reason or another, including my phone dying in the middle of posting. Really, I was challenged because I was over thinking the process and what the finished product should be. There is no editing with Vine; it’s simple and what you shoot, is what you get.

Once I stopped over thinking how to make the perfect Vine, it became more natural, fun, and I wanted to Vine everything. While I still consider myself a Vine amateur, I can say that The Workshop has incorporated Vine into our own social media plan. Here’s why: content is king and mobile is taking over. 

    • Vine allows non-profits and brands to connect with their audience on their iOS mobile device. There are not many social media apps that are mobile-based and/ or mobile-only apps. If you’re looking for a new way to connect with your audience and share content on-the-go quickly, consider Vine. Share quick content from a forum, a rally, or even something in your office like a cat at The Humane Society.  Use Vine to tell a story, share your organization’s messages, or create a call to action.
    • Non-profits and brands can create unique visual content with the app and easily share it with their Twitter and Facebook followers. Now you have instantly updated your Facebook at least once for the day and you have an automatic Tweet to share. In addition, you can create a short paragraph discussing your daily Vine, and now you have a blog post. Which brings me to my next point…
    • You can embed Vines for use on the web!  Add a Vine to your blog or e-newsletter by embedding it like I did below with one of The Workshop’s Vines. I’m sure this is an option for any webpage on your website as well.

[By the way, feel free to take our social media survey.]


Vine is also easy to use as far as design and functionality are concerned. In my opinion, Vine has some functional similarities to Instagram. You can create a profile, including an avatar, link to your Twitter account, follow other profiles, “like” Vines by tapping the smiley face underneath the post and comment. Additionally, you have the option to mute or un-mute the audio on any Vine.

Here’s a little more of what I learned while using the app:

  • A viral Vine post may take a little planning and a bit of a director’s eye, but no experience is necessary.
  • Vine automatically saves the video to the camera roll on the device. So, if your phone dies in the middle of a Vine, all is not lost.
  • I haven’t discovered a way to link to your profile other than users finding you through the app via name, Twitter account, or email.
  • Use the explore tab to search for people, trending hashtags, or popular Vines including Editor’s Picks, Popular Now, and Trending.
  • By nature of the app, creativity is gold. Be as creative with your 6-seconds as you want incorporating text and different sounds.

Lastly, have you seen this Vine resume by Dawn Siff?  And, she actually landed a job!

What do you think of the Vine app? Have you created any Vines already? If so, please share them with The Workshop and follow us on Vine (at) The Workshop.





How Do You Connect with the Workshop?

Social media strategy is ever-changing, and as we, at the Workshop, rework ours, we’d like to know your thoughts on our social web presence. Please take 15 minutes to give us your thoughts, and you will be entered to win a $150 credit to use on any Workshop product – from media guides to trainings! Drawing will be held at noon, May 20th.


Major Tweets…er, Takeaways from #NCMR2013

Guest post by Adriana Diaz. (This piece was originally published on the MAG-Net blog.)

I attended my very first National Conference for Media Reform (#NCMR2013), April 4-7, as a member of the Media Action Grass Roots Network #MediaJustice Delegation. A little more than a week later, I am still chewing through so much of the content I absorbed in Denver; from panels on journalism; activism; technology; social and media justice to policy and politics; the conference was filled with passionate discussions on why media matters.

Diversifying the voices in news and public debates has been a priority for Community Media Workshop since 1989. We’ve worked and done so by providing a unique mix of communications coaching for grassroots, arts and other nonprofit organizations and sourcing grassroots and community news for journalists. Learning how other groups across the country are working towards media justice and media reform, left me energized and hopeful.

As the new media manager at the Workshop, a MAG-Net regional anchor, it’s my job to understand how technology can help keep the lines of communication open and free. As I continue to process and reflect upon what I learned at NCMR, I realize that technology played a large role in how I interacted with organizers, panelists and other attendees of NCMR.

I look to my live-tweets from last weekend and understand moreover how social media tools, like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Youtube, Vine, etc, don’t just allow us to share information with others instantaneously; if harnessed, they allow us to have larger and deeper conversations.

In a conference as large as NCMR, they can also help you find support. For example search under the hashtags #mediajustice, #ncmr2013, #ncmr13 and you’ll find tweets specific to these conversations.

Many panels within the conference were smart enough to create their own hashtags. Like the panel, “Building the Future: Women, Code and Inclusion” used the hashtag #xxcode, making it easy to have a lively discussion with the panelists and other attendees simultaneously.

Here is a small collection of tweets and retweets, that reflect more of my major takeaways from this weekend:

From meeting the MAG-Net staff, and other media justice delegates for the first time,








Q&A with Story Artist & Workshop Trainer Susan O’Halloran

Susan O’Halloran

Just three slots remain for this Thursday’s, Telling Your Organization’s Story To Move People To Action workshop.

We caught up with author, story artist and noted speaker Susan O’Halloran, as she preps for this week’s training.

Why is storytelling so important in nonprofit communications?

Simply put, our society wouldn’t function without nonprofits. From fulfilling basic needs of food, shelter and medical care to artistically expressing the triumph of the human spirit – and everything in between – the quality of our lives would be greatly diminished without the work of nonprofits.

And, yet, the public, the press, future leaders and even funders are just not hearing about all the lives nonprofits touch and all they accomplish.

Nonprofit communicators can learn to tell compelling stories that:

• clear up misconceptions

• enroll even more volunteers and attracts the best people to hire

• generate partnerships with other agencies

• create buzz in the media

• and enlist champions in the legislature and with individual funders

Whether speaking with the press, fundraising, enlisting volunteers or even getting co-workers motivated and enthused – learning to tell your story and helping other people in your program to tell theirs will give you the ability to communicate clearly, to confirm your legitimacy, to move and persuade people and to let others know the goals and accomplishments of your organization.

What do you find most people have trouble with when crafting their stories?

As we move from childhood to adulthood gaining more knowledge, we talk more and more abstractly. We talk in the language of statistics, theories, explanations and opinions.
Nothing wrong with that, but story language is a kind of language that opens up other worlds through sensory images.

A good description will make your mind – and your body – think it’s there. Which means you can take your audience to work with you. You can put them in your rehearsal studio or homeless shelter and cause them to experience your good work for themselves. You can put your audience in time and space machines and transport them to your cause in action. They will experience your organization. It takes practice, but nonprofit communicators can re-learn this sensory, descriptive language.

The second hurdle is to get nonprofit communicators to talk about problems. But you actually gain more credibility if you tell a story about how your organization overcame a challenge than if you try to promote, “Everything is just fine here.” What gets a story started is that there’s a problem, a challenge, a mess or a situation. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, but there does have to be action. Something needs to be happening. As human beings we are endlessly interested in finding out how each of us solves our problems (and happy to find out others have challenges as well). A story is not a collection of ideas, themes or even images. It can take awhile for nonprofit communicators to unearth a situation that will show what they are trying to express. Helping people structure their stories to hold people’s interest is demanding but pure magic when it happens.

What do workshop participants talk about the most after your training?

Nonprofits must slice through the information clutter to be seen and heard. Their good works and good intentions are not enough to capture people’s attention and commitment. Participants leave the workshop understanding the power of story and excited to use this tool more effectively. They realize they have many stories to tell and, now, they know how to tell them.

Register today for Telling Your Organization’s Story To Move People To Action, as this workshop will sell out.

What You Say and How You Say It

Guest post by Adriana Diaz (opinions reflect that of the author)

It’s been a week, and I’m still riding high from the warm, fuzzy feelings I garnered from the love-fest we call the Studs Terkel Community Media Awards.

As a fairly new addition to the staff at Community Media Workshop, I was asked during a staff de-brief Tuesday,  to share my thoughts on last week’s ceremony.  I found myself choked up as I tried to report back what I felt after attending my very first Terkel event.

It had been such a great party, the culmination of our staff’s months-work of planning and prepping. Mostly though, the remnants from the presenters’ and winners’ speeches still resonated with me; a sure sign of  powerfully good messages. It’s like Maya Angelou once said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

Hoy Chicago managing editor Fernando Diaz speaks after accepting his Terkel award. photo by Olga Lopez

These moving speeches, also made me reflect about some of the lessons we teach at the Workshop. When we coach others in their nonprofit communications; or provide custom spokesperson training, the Workshop promotes methods found in good storytelling: like use examples to help get a more general point across; use colorful words and contemporary references; create relationships.

It struck me that the messages that were delivered on Terkel night reverberated within me, not only because they contained the elements of a good speech (i.e. catchy intro; informing; inspiring), but because the speakers used stories, and found ways to engage the audience. Each of the speakers spoke with poise, deep humility, and warmth.

Megan, Fernando, and Dave are wonderful writers and engaging storytellers, but ultimately they’re connectors. They listen. They build relationships.

It’s like 2006 Terkel winner Mark Brown related in his introductory speech for Dave Hoekstra the night of March 14. Mark chuckled about the envy he often feels when he reads Dave’s work, wishing the subject had told him the story, “But they didn’t tell me. They told Dave.”

Please read excerpts from some of the night’s speeches and let us know how this text speaks to you. If you were present for the speeches, how did they make you feel?

Alden Loury, Better Government Association. photo by Olga Lopez

2009 Terkel winner Alden Loury, introducing Megan Cottrell:

As many of you are aware, as a nation, we’ve grown from a time when we wore our racism on our sleeves to a time when we hide and protect those feelings like our life’s savings–with the exception of the time when we log on and make anonymous comments on blogs spewing the n-word, racial epithets and other divisive language. Just about any news story with a hint of a racial undertone usually descends into a litany of comments that make you question just how far we’ve progressed.

We think about race, poverty, inequality and privilege all the time–all day, everyday. We just don’t talk about it. We don’t openly share those feelings. We’re too scared or too ashamed. But we still have those feelings.

But Megan Cottrell has helped bring down that wall, not all the way but enough for people to dialogue about our differences and gain some level of understanding about people of other racial or ethnic groups. As I was recently telling a colleague, in her blogging and reporting particularly about public housing, Megan has done well in reaching folks who are typically invisible and weaving her own perspective and experiences with those of her sources to pose compelling and sometimes uncomfortable questions about race and class.

She ran a successful blog of her own for awhile before joining The Chicago Reporter where I worked at the time. I was truly excited about her coming on board having followed her work. I thought she’d do wonders for our blogging and her impact was clearly apparent in her first six months. She has shown herself to be a 21st Century Terkelian journalist by telling stories and engaging readers online.

Please join me in congratulating the compassionate and courageous Megan Cottrell.


Megan Cottrell, reporter and blogger for the Chicago Reporter receives a 2013 Terkel Community Media Award. photo by Olga Lopez

Excerpt from Megan Cottrell’s acceptance speech:

A couple of months ago, I was asked by a nonprofit in Chicago to give a lecture to a group of people who would be tutoring kids in Cabrini Green. They told me I had about 45 minutes to give the new tutors a complete overview of public housing. There was obviously a lot of history and detail I could have gone into, but I tried to focus on telling the stories that had been told to me.

I talked about Audrey Johnson, the resident of Ickes Homes, who remembered the wholesome after school classes she took – sewing, folk dancing, cooking. It cost her family a dollar for her to go every day after school for the entire school year. She talked about her step dad dressing up as Santa Claus for the building Christmas party. I looked at a building and saw a place I wasn’t sure I was welcome or safe. She saw her history, her family, her entire life.

I told these new tutors about Doreen Ambrose, who had grown up in Cabrini Green. She remembered her third grade teacher reading her Langston Hughes, which inspired her to become a poet. She remembered living on the third floor of 325 W. Oak Street, the smell of her mother’s cooking wafting through the apartment while her dad watched TV after work and she scribbled poems in her notebook.

These women had sad stories too. Audrey’s stepfather was murdered when she was a young teenager just a few floors up from their apartment. Doreen remembered when the stable families started moving out and more and more troubled families started moving in. She could distinctly recall a young man, a classmate of hers, being murdered blocks away and the terror that she felt when it happened.

After I spoke about this for awhile and played clips of these women telling their stories, a young woman raised her hand at the back of the class. She said, “I think I get it now. I always looked at those buildings and thought, ‘Why would anyone want to live there? And why would anyone be sad if they tore that place down?’ but now I see – these were people’s homes.”

That moment was a little victory for me. That’s all I really want out of my career. I hope that something I write helps bring people’s experiences to life in a way that makes them real to my readers, real enough to understand their point of view.

In short, I want to create empathy in the world. That’s a word that makes most journalists nervous, because it borders on advocacy or editorializing. But in my view, empathy is what creates change — change for the better. We cannot take care of our neighbors until we understand them, and a well-told story can help us understand them in ways that lists of statistics or news briefs will never do.  We don’t have to agree with someone or say that they’re right, but we can listen to them and understand where they’re coming from.

We live in a world where empathy is not widely regarded. Studs talked about how we have national amnesia. I think we also have a national empathy deficit. Our news, our politics, our discourse is so polarized that we are quick to talk about “those people” and how we could never understand them or be like them. In a world of sound bites and constantly scrolling headlines, we have no room and no time for empathy.

But we desperately need it. I stand in a room full of people, who despite claiming to be unbiased and objective, all deeply care about their city. That’s why we do what we do.

Studs Terkel once said “I want people to talk to one another no matter what their difference of opinion might be.”

These days, people don’t talk to each other. They don’t want to. Maybe they’ve forgotten how. But we can tell their stories. We can bring people together, even when they don’t think they want to be brought together. That’s our job. That’s our legacy. That’s our gift.

“Red socks. Studs Terkel wore red socks,” 2013 Terkel Award winner Dave Hoekstra, begins his acceptance speech. photo by Olga Lopez


Read Dave Hoekstra’s full acceptance speech, reprinted here.


Studs, FOIA Fest, PCC, oh my!

A busy week is coming up for nonprofit communicators who want to learn more about accessing public data; the present and future of hyperlocal news; or honoring journalists who are especially good at bringing unofficial sources and community voices into their reporting.

On Wednesday I’ll be moderating a discussion about the growth of hyperlocal news sites at the Publicity Club of Chicago’s monthly luncheon. Featured panelists include: John Lampinen of the Daily Herald, Ronald Roenigk of Inside Publications, Brian Slupski of Patch, Shamus Toomey of DNAinfo, and Peter Kendall of the Chicago Tribune. All at a wonderful family-style luncheon at Maggiano’s on North Clark Street. RSVP here.


The Chicago Headline Club kicks off FOIA Fest, a three-part series exploring the ins and outs of gaining access to government records and public data you can use to bolster your organization’s impact.  Of special note is the Tuesday, March 12 forum featuring Citizen Advocacy Center’s Terry Pastika, the Northwestern University Knight Lab’s Joe Germuska and Smart Chicago Collaborative’s Dan O’Neil. They will discuss efforts to influence policy and legislation and how technology can improve access to public records. Food and refreshments will be served at the event, from 6:45 to 8 p.m. at the auditorium of Columbia College Chicago’s journalism school, 33 E. Congress Pkwy., 2nd floor.

Finally, please join the Workshop at our annual Studs Terkel Community Media Awards benefit Thursday, March 14, from 5p to 8p at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash. Purchase your tickets here.

Learning from the state of hyperlocal news

When it comes to hyperlocal news, it’s a lot easier to build an audience than it is to build a revenue stream. So says hyperlocal site publisher and blogger Mike Foucher. Foucher and the Workshop’s President Thom Clark recently weighed in on the past and future of neighborhood reporting with Rick Kogan on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift. Clark also discussed the Workshop’s strategic efforts to define the shifting media landscape.

Listen to the entire segment below:


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  • Telling people’s stories, an ethnic media success September 2, 2015
        By Stephen Franklin Community Media Workshop   A 3-year-old child died on a plane from Chicago to Poland. This, Magdalena Pantelis instantly knew, was a story her readers would care about. But she needed more detail to write about it for the Polish Daily News, the nation’s oldest daily newspaper in Polish, founded Jan. […]