Here at the WHB, we’re always talking about how fans should click on links to prove to sports editors that there is a strong, passionate interest in women’s basketball and that they should spend money to cover it.
To learn more about what you can to to encourage media outlets to devote time, money and space to women’s basketball, check out Kim Callahan’s handy dandy MEDIA TIPS.
Here are some tips for contacting sports reporters and editors. Note that many journalists prefer e-mail as opposed to phone calls and hand-written letters. Most media agencies (TV stations, newspapers, radio stations, magazines, websites) have contact information readily available.
1. Don’t forget to tell newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, and websites when they are doing a GOOD job too. Several of the writers I have written to have replied with “Tell my editor, please!” as the editors are the ones making the decisions on what to cover. Make sure the editors know people are interested in reading about women’s sports and if there is something you find unique about their coverage. For example: “I wanted to thank you for the great coverage your paper provides of Team A. I especially like the ‘Weekly Notebook’ you print, none of the other local papers provide that information for their readers. Keep it up!” Positive feedback is perhaps more important than negative comments.
2. When complaining, write or call when you are CALM, and be polite. While flying off the handle certainly lets the person you are contacting know you are upset, it may in fact do very little or even have a negative effect on your purpose. Make some notes, even try writing a rough draft then come back to it later. Also be sure to point out things you LIKE about the sports section, not just to “suck up”, but to give them examples of what you’d like to see and show them that you ARE a reader of their newspaper not part of a letter-writing or telephone campaign. For example: “I really liked the feature you did on Joe Smith last month, I’d love to see something similar on Jane Smith” or “I noticed you include a ‘Team Notes’ section at the end of Team A’s articles, I’d like it if you could include that in Team B’s articles too.” If there are consistent mistakes, correct them and point them to a source, for example: “I’ve noticed in recent stories on Team A the name of the team’s center has been spelled incorrectly. The correct spelling is —-. The team’s roster can be found on their official website at ——. You can find a lot of other useful info on the team there.”
3. Give them some ideas. Let’s face it, there are many sports journalists that are not very interested in women’s sports and therefore don’t follow them; or media agencies simply don’t have the staff or space to give full coverage to every local team, especially in towns with multiple teams. Even the most diligent reporter isn’t all-knowing and all-seeing (contrary to popular belief) and needs fresh ideas. Many college sports information departments for example are over-worked, under-funded, and under-staffed meaning they have little time send out fluffy story ideas to local media agencies like pro sports franchises do. If there’s something unique about a player that would make a nice general interest story (for example Player B volunteers at a local hospital every week), or the team is doing something unique (for example undefeated in conference play) alert the staff to it. If you can give the reporter or editor a lot of information, it not only makes their job easier, but they are more likely to do the story. Give them compelling reasons to cover the team, not just “You need to write about them because it’s your job.” Mere existence isn’t necessarily newsworthy.
4. Don’t be a nuisance. Not only do you not want to call or write while fuming mad, you also don’t want to call everyday. If there’s something in particular that’s got you irked on a regular basis, jot it down and use it later. For example, “I’ve noticed the last several weeks you’ve not included a box score for Team B” rather than calling the morning after every game and berating them for not publishing the boxscore. Also be concise, be logical, and stick to your point. Don’t ramble on, don’t make assumptions, and don’t share your conspiracy theories. Your letter is more likely to be tossed aside or your phone message deleted.
5. Be realistic. If the media outlet doesn’t cover every men’s game, don’t expect them to cover every women’s game. Also understand that a team drawing a only a few hundred fans is not going to get the same treatment as a team drawing 20,000 fans, the demand is not there (the media is not a team’s public relations agent). Also keep in mind that most people don’t want to read about a losing team, so if your team is performing poorly then the coverage is likely to drop off.
Study the sports section. What sports do they normally cover? What pro sports teams do they normally cover? How much college sports do they include? What major sports events have they covered? How much space do they normally allot for articles similar to those you are interested in seeing? Base your suggestions on that. Not only does it prove that you’ve done your homework and that you are a regular reader, but the person you are contacting is more likely to consider your suggestion. If the media agency doesn’t normally cover college sports, don’t expect a lengthy story and color photo about the Women’s NCAA Final Four; a more reasonable expectation would be a brief Associated Press article included in the middle of the sports section, maybe even a small black and white photo accompanying it. Remember, even a small step is still a step and if it receives a lot of positive feedback they are likely to continue.
Also remember to respond with a polite “thank-you note” if there are improvements: “I wanted to take a moment to thank you for including an article on the WNBA play offs. I hope you will continue to cover the WNBA.”
6. Don’t send a form letter or be a “campaigner”. The internet makes it extremely easy to share information, especially when trying to provoke people. Countless times I’ve received e-mails about a particular article, TV segment, or radio talk show comment accompanied by a request for a mass e-mailing. This can be as hurtful as it is helpful. A hundred angry e-mails or phone calls saying virtually the same thing about a particular subject is likely to get the person’s attention, but it is also likely to appear as an organized campaign rather than one hundred genuinely concerned fans, especially if most of the fans are unfamiliar with the media agency or the person in question. If a person is known for making inflammatory comments, then they’re not likely to care that you’re angry with them – in fact that’s exactly what they’re trying to do! Make sure you are familiar with the person or media agency and make sure your comments are constructive and unique. “You’re a sexist pig! Go jump off a bridge!” is neither constructive nor unique. Also consider the impact. Was it an announcer on a national network repeatedly mispronouncing a player’s name, or was it some local sports hack saying he doesn’t like women’s sports? Is it beneficial to contact this person and what do you hope to gain by doing so? Finally, is it really important what they think? Not everyone is going to like women’s basketball and they don’t have to. If Joe Schmoe sportswriter can’t stand women’s basketball, the president isn’t going to ban the sport because of it. Life goes on.
7. Be diligent and follow-up. This goes along with tips number four and number five. While you don’t want to be a nuisance, you also shouldn’t expect one phone call to make a significant change. Periodically follow up. If you have seen improvements in coverage, again let the editors know: “I’ve noticed the past several weeks you have included box scores for Team A. That’s a great start for increased coverage of Team A. I hope in the future a brief recap can be included in the paper as well.” If there haven’t been any changes: “A few weeks ago I inquired about the inclusion of box scores for Team A. I’ve still not seen any, however. I’d like to know if this is under consideration and when readers can expect to see them. I would appreciate a response.” It’s also a good idea to keep a log. Keep copies of letters and/or e-mails you send and note the phone calls you make along with who you spoke to. Keep track of the media outlet’s responses too. You can reference these in your follow ups.
8. “They’re ignoring me!. This happens, even if you’ve been polite and followed the other above tips. If you have not received any response to your inquiries within a reasonable amount of time (a week), first make sure you’ve been contacting the correct person. Some larger outlets have multiple sports editors and/or “beat” reporters which are assigned to specific teams or sports. Second, if you’ve contacted them using just one medium, try another. If you’ve only written letters, make a phone call. If you’ve only made phone calls, write a letter. Be sure to note that you’ve contacted them in the past and would appreciate an acknowledgement of your inquiries. If you’ve done that and still haven’t gotten response, contact that outlet’s management (such as a newspaper’s Managing Editors) and let them know, again noting your past correspondance.
9. I got a rude response! Again, this unfortunately happens sometimes. If you believe you received an unprofessional response despite having been polite and followed the above tips, contact the person’s superior and the media agency’s management (this would again include the Manager Editor and also the Ombudsman who oversees newspaper quality – if one is available). Be sure to include all pertinent correspondence when possible (such as copies of letters or e-mails). And again, be calm. Ask for an apology, and inquire what steps will be taken to prevent this happening to someone else (will the person be reprimanded?). If you are polite and respectful then you should be treated the same.
10. Perhaps most importantly, try to put yourself in that person’s shoes before you contact them. How would you want someone to approach you about your job? It’s probably not going to include cursing, insults, and constant badgering. While it may seem like a silly reminder: these are real people doing real jobs. Make friends, not enemies. And you certainly don’t want to alienate the people who are trying to help with a regular barrage of complaints. Remember, this has the opposite effect – and I’ve heard stories from writers to prove it. As one prominent writer told me “kill ’em with kindess.”
11. It’s about the money, stupid! Newspapers sell because they provide information their readers want to know about. A newspaper located in Denver is not going to carry a lot of news about what’s happening in Maui. If they did, Denver residents wouldn’t buy it and they would have a hard time finding local advertisers. Women’s basketball doesn’t have the mass market appeal (and it’s not the newspaper’s job to create it) that many of the pro sports and men’s college basketball do. Media agencies do need to know though that there is a market for women’s basketball in your town and more coverage would equal more readers and subscriptions. For example: “I’m not currently a subscriber to your newspaper as my only real interest is the sports section and there’s simply not enough coverage of women’s basketball at this time to warrant the added expense of a subscription. I purchase the newspaper on game days only. If there were more regular coverage however similar to that of Team B’s then I would definitely subscribe to your newspaper so I wouldn’t miss anything.” Also, let advertisers know where you saw their ad whether it was next to a story on your favorite women’s basketball team, or in the program guide at the game. They too need to know that their money spent on women’s basketball is money well spent. Ask to speak to the manager and thank them for their support of the team. Make it a point to support those advertisers regularly. Frequent a sportsbar to watch your local team’s away games on satellite. Let them know you’re fans of the home team and try to bring a bigger group each time you go. Maybe they will consider advertising with the team in the future – and you might make some new fans while you’re at it.
12. Buy publications that cover women’s basketball. And let those publications know why you are purchasing or subscribing to their product. Do your best to support them financially and let them know how they can make their magazine better. Let other sports publications know that you’d like to see more women’s basketball coverage and that you would be more likely to subscribe to their magazine if they did.
13. The most important thing you can do is continue to support your team! Just because your favorite newspaper or TV station doesn’t cover women’s basketball doesn’t mean you are prevented from following it. Go to games, buy merchandise, donate to your local college athletics department, and encourage your friends to do the same. If there are thousands of people who are going to games, others take notice and that includes the media. Another way to show support is by using the internet! There are many free or lowcost webpage providers, and creating a webpage can be as easy as selecting options and inserting text. You don’t have to be a professional web designer or an award-winning writer. You can recruit other fans to help you create content. Some of the best team websites are those created by loyal fans and note that media agencies have done stories on creative fan sites. There are also many services which allow fans to create mailing lists, message boards, and chat rooms. Again, this is a great way to meet other fans and bring more exposure to the team.
*Thank you to all the sportswriters who offered their wisdom on this project (names withheld to protect the innocent). Your suggestions and insight were greatly appreciated. Keep up the great work!