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Fanning the flames of your communications

The Workshop is excited to announce the lineup for Making Media Connections 2012, our nonprofit communications conference that brings journalists and nonprofit leaders together to talk about news that matters. This year’s conference “Fanning the Flames of Your Communications” will take place on June 14. LinkedIn’s Bryan Breckenridge will keynote the conference and share information about how nonprofits can use the powerful social media tool to tell their stories.

The morning session will consist of half-day workshops on topics ranging from how to fire up your communications plan to kindling the power of social media to blogging around the digital bonfire. The afternoon breakouts will cover topics including how to write sizzling headlines and subject lines, meeting around the metro news camp fire and fueling the flames of mobiles apps. Panelists include Cate Cahan, WBEZ; David Schalliol, Gapers Block; Michael Hoffman, See3; Deidra White, Channel 2; Valerie Denney, Valerie Denney Communications; and more.

To see a complete list of workshops and sessions, visit the Making Media Connections website.

Register for the conference before April 30 to get a reduced rate! We hope to see you there.

Develop a media story for your organization and pitch reporters, face-to-face

RoiAnn Phillips of HealthConnect One

RoiAnn Phillips decided to attend Professional Media Relations because she wanted a better grasp of media strategy and outreach as she took on more communications work at HealthConnect One.

Her “ah-ha moment” came when instructors told the class how to tailor a pitch to pique reporters’ interest, but her big breakthrough came a couple of weeks later. During the five-part workshop, she was able to pitch her organization’s upcoming report analyzing breastfeeding rates in Illinois to WBEZ Reporter Chip Mitchell. That opportunity resulted in three stories (below) in the coming months about the report and HealthConnect One. One hospital even decided to step up its breastfeeding efforts after hearing one of Mitchell’s stories on WBEZ.

“The WBEZ stories wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken Professional Media Relations,” said Phillips. “Without the class, I wouldn’t have understood how to frame a pitch and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be in the room with reporters.”


Check out the WBEZ stories that resulted from RoiAnn’s time at Professional Media Relations and follow-up work with reporter Chip Mitchell.

Report: Breastfeeding in Illinois hinges partly on race, income – April 26, 2011

Hospital regulators let formula vie with breast milk – May 5, 2011

After WBEZ report, hospital steps up breastfeeding efforts – August 2, 2011

Professional Media Relations
$395 for the five-part media workshop
Starts Jan. 20, 2012
Includes numerous handouts, worksheets & a copy of the 2012 Getting On Air, Online & Into Print media guide ($125 annual subscription value).
Reserve your spot today.

Visit our website or call 312-369-6400.

An essential resource for every Chicago nonprofit and grassroots group… download it here

When I was a communications staff for a regional nonprofit organization here in Chicago over 10 years ago, I spent plenty of time calling and faxing city news desks and assignment desks very early in the day of an event or press conference to ensure that we were included in their agenda. Through this on-going communication and development of relationships with assignment desk editors I found out what times they were meeting, what information they needed and exactly who would be possibly covering our story or event. This practice got us coverage, helped expand our relationships with the media and pushed our mission forward to the public. Read the rest of this entry »

Seven reasons to attend Making Media Connections

Past Making Media Connections attendees.

Seven reasons you don’t want to miss Making Media Connections:

1. Dozens of reporters and producers to connect with about what your organization does.

2. As well as dozens of  PR experts and tech gurus to answer your communications questions.

3. The chance to build a targeted media list, using our premier online media guide, to take back to the office.

4. The chance to win a new video camera (thanks to our keynote speaker from Threadless!).

5. The latest on emerging trends like QR codes, mobile apps and community portals.

6. Did we mention the free food? Breakfast and lunch!

7. You’ll pick up a nifty yellow water bottle, and it’s pretty cool. Your friends will probably be jealous.

Only a few days left to register for Making Media Connections, the best, most affordable nonprofit communications conference around. You’ll meet great people and find new tools to communicate in this shifting media landscape. And it’s fun! Register today.

Sun-Times lays off some of its most prolific writers

Photo by swanksalot on

Guest post by Slats G. Galloway

The recent layoffs of five Sun-Times reporters — media and marketing columnist Lewis Lazare, book editor Cheryl Jackson, preps sportswriter Steve Tucker, sportswriter John Jackson and features reporter Misha Davenport — are just the latest paring of the Sun-Times’ editorial staff. Previous layoffs and buyouts have claimed other talented writers, including Susan Hogan/Albach, Celeste Busk, Doug Elfman, Jim Ritter, Lloyd Sachs, Michelle Stevens, Michael Gillis and Howard Wolinsky.

The losses of Lazare, C. Jackson, J. Jackson, Davenport and Tucker are big ones. Lazare and Cheryl Jackson, for instance, each wrote nearly 250 bylined articles for the Sun-Times from mid-March 2010 until mid-March 2011, and Tucker added another 174. John Jackson had 337!–the fourth most bylines of any Sun-Times writer we looked at. Lazare, Cheryl Jackson and John Jackson, in fact, were among the paper’s 12 most prolific writers during that timeframe.

In addition, the five who were laid off represented over 7.5% of all Sun-Times staffers with regular bylines in the paper. And given the writers’ high article counts over the past year, they probably represented some percentage greater than that in terms of actual output. Obviously, the paper’s entire editorial department also includes plenty of staffers who do things other than write, like photographers, editors and graphic designers. Still, we find it to be a sobering figure for those drawn to the written word.

Of course, as the Sun-Times (and all newspapers) work to adapt their business models, there is (and probably will be) a greater reliance on freelance work, including from former staffers like Steve Huntley and Esther J. Cepeda. Even so, the layoffs point to the diminishing amount of staff-generated content at the Sun-Times.

Staff changes at the Sun-Times and other outlets have been noted in our online media guide. Learn more about the new tool at

Guest essay: Thou shalt not plagiarize or invent quotes


As I mentioned last week,  I am publishing the guest essays from our recent report “Realizing Potential” about the long-term needs of the online news sector on the NP Communicator blog. This essay by’s Jessica Rosenberg is the second of three. Read the first one by online news expert Michele McLellan hereRead the full report here.

“Realizing Potential” Guest Essay: Thou Shalt Not Plagiarize or Invent Quotes

By Jessica Rosenberg,, Burr Ridge

I graduated from journalism school at a time when the prospect of a no-newspaper town seemed very real in Chicago.  We all know the story: The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times had filed for bankruptcy, neighborhood papers were folding, and layoffs in every sector of the economy happened daily.  The saving grace, for journalism at least, was the internet.  The ability to publish virtually for free and reach almost everyone almost everywhere made the internet an attractive home for journalism.

At the start of graduate school, teachers developed our basic reportorial skills and stressed the importance of telling the truth, always.  But toward the end of school, classes focused more on online publishing, blogs, video and social media than on the skills of the traditional newspaperman.  As the market and my class offerings changed, I realized in order to have a chance in this cruel market, I had to know a little bit of everything.  It was no longer enough to be a good writer and know how to conduct an effective interview—I had to do it all.

So I went the multimedia route.  By the time I earned my master’s degree, I could record and edit audio and video and write a knockout piece of journalism to upload to my personal blog.

Eventually, this set of skills brought me to Patch.  Patch is online hyperlocal news.  Select communities around the country have their own unique Patch websites.  A local editor who generates content specific to that community manages each site.

Throughout the day, a combination of news, opinion, video and photo is uploaded to the site.  I am the local editor for suburban Burr Ridge and, like other local editors, I am a team of one working from my home.  Patch is owned by AOL and each month they give me a freelance budget with which I am to hire reporters.

With all the out-of-work journalists, I thought finding reporters would be easy.   Boy, was I wrong.

Finding candidates with social media and blogging skills has been easy.  These days, they’re a dime a dozen.  Finding candidates with a few video and photo skills has been fairly easy, too. While these skills are valuable in themselves, they don’t necessarily make one a journalist.  The definition of what constitutes a journalist is in flux, but there are certain skills that are non-negotiable.  For example, it’s been difficult finding a candidate who can actually write well, interview and uphold some kind of journalistic integrity (like thou shalt not plagiarize or invent quotes) in addition to being a little web-savvy.

What’s even more surprising—and frightening—is that many of these applicants are young and some even have degrees in journalism.  When I learn a candidate’s reporting has been inaccurate or they prefer to do interviews via e-mail, I get scared for the future of journalism.

Has the demand for multimedia news taken away from the craft of writing and the importance of accuracy?  Do they not teach writing and ethics in j-school anymore?

I wish that in learning to be an all-purpose, multimedia journalist, aspiring reporters would also learn how to write beautifully (not text-speak, but write).  I wish the next generation of reporters would learn that an e-mail interview never takes the place of a phone call or a knock on a door.  I wish that teachers and mentors would incorporate the importance of being ethical into their lesson plan on editing digital video.

This recession has forced many people to return to basics.  I feel the same shift needs to happen in the journalism industry.  Online journalism is here to stay, and it is important to know the multimedia skills required to work in the industry.  However, it seems that the rush to adapt has undermined the essence of journalism.  I would love to see a revival in creative writing for journalists at the university and continuing education level, or an increase in workshops that focus on interviewing strategies and what it means to be ethical—because some people seem to have missed that lesson.  What’s more, I would love to fill the open positions I’m offering at Burr Ridge Patch with clever and trustworthy reporters.

From Workshop training to WBEZ’s “Worldview”

From left to right: WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell, freelance reporter Dawn Rice, and Sun-Times reporter Dave Hoekstra talk to attendees at a Workshop training.

From left to right: WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell, freelance reporter Dawn Reiss, and Sun-Times reporter Dave Hoekstra talk to attendees at a Workshop training.

Our day-long Media Boot Camp training is just around the corner, and we still have a few spots left. This one-day training will help you develop a communications strategy, think through how to pitch your story, and polish your message to reach the right audience. Not to mention you’ll get to meet a panel of Chicago reporters during the lunch hour who will have useful tips about getting your story placed in traditional and online news outlets.

If you don’t believe us, read LuAnn Wing’s story below about her media success after attending a Workshop training. Sometimes it’s just sharpening your news skills and meeting the right reporter!

Knowing the Right Reporter

If you’ve got a medical emergency on Kome Island, in Tanzania, you’d better hope you haven’t missed the boat. Literally. There is no medical care available on the island and just one ferry per day. But in September, volunteers from Aid Africa’s Children, a small Arlington Heights-based nonprofit, traveled to Tanzania to talk with the government about staffing and other support for a medical dispensary that the group hopes to build there.

One of the spark plugs behind the effort, a physician from AAC’s hometown of Arlington Heights, only became aware of the organization’s existence in July—when he heard volunteers Charles and Diane Malege interviewed on WBEZ’s show “Worldview,” talking about the school AAC helped them build on Kome.

Toward the end of the interview, Charles mentioned that his next dream was to get a medical dispensary going, and the role AAC had played. And as soon as the doctor heard the broadcast, he called AAC. “He said, ‘We’ve got to dream big, and we’ve got to go for it,’” says AAC Board Member LuAnn Wing, the vice president of marketing and communications for the all-volunteer organization.

The WBEZ interview was the result of a pitch Wing made at a Community Media Workshop training several months earlier. Participants got to talk directly to journalists like WBEZ’s Lynnette Kalsnes, who said that the story would be perfect for Worldview’s “Global Activism” series, which focuses on Chicago-area residents trying to make a difference around the world through grassroots work.

Wing was no newcomer to communications work—she has worked as a TV producer for years, and had already successfully pitched stories about AAC to other news outlets—but she found the Workshop training invaluable. “The WBEZ story wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t gone to the training,” she says.

Sign up for Media Boot Camp today – just click here.

Sharing Pres. Obama with Flint, Mich.

Flint is famous for its Coney Island spots; a new owner gave one a new name.

Flint is famous for its Coney Island spots; a new owner gave one a new name.

Well, move over Hyde Park and make room for Flint!

My daughter goes to pre-school across the street from the Obama family home, so like a lot of neighbors the fam and I feel an extra share of pride in our new president. But it looks like we’re going to have to move over to leave some room for Flint, Mich. — not coincidentally, site of the Workshop’s next one-day Michigan Communications Project mini-conference next Friday, Dec. 5.

According to Good Morning Flint blogger, local attorney, and former Flint ombudsman Terry Bankert, it’s the first sign of the “Obama Stimulus Plan.” Read the rest of this entry »


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        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. […]