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Church PR – Online Newsrooms: Today’s “News Bureau”

Tourism New Zealand
By Daniel Torchia
Listen to this whole Media Ministry Minutes segment on this week’s SLHour.

As far back as I can remember, our offices have been full of Public Relations memorabilia and artefacts: Press releases, media guides, PR reports and plans dating back to the early 60s. As a young apprentice and summer student working with my father in the 90s, I vividly recall reading about the value of an Information Center or News Bureau and their role in PR campaigns. Boy did it sound cool – a sort of master control room for outgoing information on a topic, series of topics or organization. With the advent of online newsrooms today nothing has changed: Media still appreciate having a central repository for news and information from an organization. While the technology and terminology may have changed, the concept and rationale has not.

A recent survey from TEKGROUP International, a leader in online newsrooms, reveals some interesting information:

• 97% of journalists think it’s important for organizations to have an online newsroom
• 86% of journalists will visit large, medium & small business online newsrooms (size of the company does not matter)
• 95% of journalists have visited a company’s online newsroom (54% visit online newsrooms at least once a week or more)
• 62% of journalists say a company’s online newsroom should be available to all news readers (as opposed to password protected)
• Searching the archives within online newsrooms is important to 98% of journalists

The value of online newsrooms has been magnified thanks to a 24-hour news cycle, citizen-journalism, poorly staffed media outlets and the growth of social media. What’s shocking is that many organizations don’t have online newsrooms or have pages that are very poorly maintained.

Parishes, church groups and other religious organizations should strive to build functional online newsrooms. Why? Media will begin to see your organization as a partner in the ‘news/media’ business and they’ll learn to trust/turn to you. And that leads to meaningful “bridges” between Church and people.

Content categories
So what should an online newsroom contain? It’s good to start with the basics:
1. NEWS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS, for press releases and advisories, for example
2. BACKGROUND INFO, for any document that explains a complicated topic like “White Papers”, biographies, case studies, infographics or general media backgrounders
3. FACTS (FAQ) or DID YOU KNOWS, providing nuggets of information or complete media fact sheets
4. IMAGE gallery, for media-friendly pictures (taken in photo-journalistic style)
6. CONTACT, for media contact(s)
7. TOPICS INDEX, for easy-to-use searches
8. FEATURE STORIES, for feature articles that could be drafted by volunteers, donors and other partners

Danny’s pick
My favourite online newsroom is Tourism New Zealand. It is practical, intuitive and well indexed. Click on any press release and notice how the bottom of the page features “More information” and other “topics of interest”. Notice too how visitors can “sign up” to receive latest news from the newsroom.

Other interesting examples
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Where to begin?
It’s wise to start with a point person, someone who will manage the online newsroom into the foreseeable future. Then, consider reaching out to PR students, journalist majors or other friends of your organization who have relevant interests, education or experiences, who can make a commitment to providing quality content. At the end of the day, remember that your online newsroom will be visited by media and non-media types (ie: normal people), and so a little investment will likely go a long way!

Listen to this week’s segment: