The tradition started some time around April 2020.
Any time a Scout in the Greater Tampa Bay Area Council made headlines, Brandon Kathman took the news clipping and posted it on the wall of his office.
It was a way for Kathman, a district executive with a degree in journalism, and the volunteers on the council marketing committee to celebrate each of these positive stories about local Scouting.
Over the months that followed, the number of clippings grew. And grew. At last count, there are nearly 90 examples of Scouts making headlines in the Tampa area.
“This ritual became the chaotic, overlapping wallpaper that can be seen today,” Kathman says. “We ran out of surface area first. Then we finally ran out of tacks.”
You don’t need to be a council professional with a degree in journalism to get your Scouts featured in the local newspaper, TV station or digital media outlet. You just need the right pitch.
Why take the time? Because it’s the ultimate win-win-win.
- Your Scouts get recognition for their hard work (and a clipping that could accompany a job résumé or college application).
- People in your community get an important reminder that Scouts are still out there doing amazing things.
- Local journalists get a ready-made, feel-good story that their audience will enjoy.
What kinds of stories do journalists want?
With his background in journalism and professional Scouting, Kathman has seen both sides of this equation. He’s been both the person who pitches story ideas and the one who receives those pitches.
He urges Scouters to remember that not every story has to be worthy of the front page of USA Today. Even if your Scout didn’t save three people from a burning house or build an entire animal shelter by hand, their story is still worthy.
Many of the stories that Kathman has pitched to local media are “not anything your average Scouter would see as out of the ordinary,” he says. “The truth is, most local papers love to run stories about everyday Eagle projects. They’re simple, feel-good and inherently local. And the parents of photographed youth will reliably buy stacks of papers for relatives.”
Get help pitching your story
Nothing is stopping you from visiting the website of a local media outlet and finding that “contact” or “tip” link to share news about your pack, troop, post, ship or crew.
But your best bet when pitching a story might be to start with your local BSA professionals.
Your council marketing person might have connections with local journalists and a standard way of pitching stories.
But they can’t pitch stories they don’t know about. Council professionals probably aren’t at your meetings or service projects to see all the great things your Scouts do.
“The one problem I have encountered is that many Scouters don’t think to notify their local district or council of promotable stories,” Kathman says. “I know we have seen tremendous dividends here for our efforts with the media. Some of the local publishers have even started making financial contributions to Scouting.”
Kathman is quick to point out that he doesn’t do this alone. He gives credit to Joe and Lenora Guidry, Katie Sheffield and David Carlson of his council’s marketing committee.
The scoop: 10 tips to remember
- Keep it newsworthy. A news outlet wants content that’s timely, interesting and relevant — or, to put it simply, something newsworthy. Before reaching out to the media, ask yourself whether the story is recent and will be pertinent to the audience.
- Consider the focus. Yes, your backpacking trek was life-changing, and the campout was unforgettable. But stories about community service might be more attractive to an editor. When your Scouts complete a food drive, for example, the impact on the community is immediately clear to an outsider. (P.S. While your local paper might not be interested in your Scouting outing, Scout Life magazine absolutely is. Submit your idea using this form.)
- Start small. Make your initial round of pitches to community publications — often those hyperlocal news sites or weekly newspapers. These outlets employ a small staff, perhaps just two or three people, and they’re always looking for content. In some cases, they may publish the story you send them as written.
- Avoid jargon. If you write something like, “Before serving as SPL, Abigail Smith attended NYLT,” the editor might stop reading. Remember that many of these journalists don’t have a Scouting background. Use clear language and only use Scouting terms if you explain them. Ask yourself questions like: Do I need to include every requirement for the Eagle Scout Award in this pitch about an awesome Eagle project?
- Keep it short. Today’s journalists are stretched thin. Try to keep your write-ups or news releases to around 400 words. This is the “Goldilocks” length — short enough to trim to a news brief item but long enough to run as a front-page feature story.
- Do the work for them. Give editors everything they need to make a complete story. That might mean collecting quotes, sharing photographs and compiling statistics. While some larger outlets might have the resources to send someone to your event, it’s more likely that they’ll want to complete the reporting by phone or email.
- Avoid staged photos. Which photo better conveys the message that your Scouts completed a river cleanup: an action shot of Scouts in ankle-deep water fishing out garbage or a posed photo of Scouts smiling for the camera? The best photographs for news stories are action shots because they seem authentic to the reader.
- Think about video. These days, TV news stations aren’t the only players in the video journalism game. Print journalists often add video elements to their stories online. If you can provide quality video, your story will be moved to the top of the stack — even it’s only used as “b-roll,” or supporting footage used to provide context for the main story. Capture the video in HD, and turn your phone sideways to shoot horizontally.
- Proofread. Find someone you trust to read over your pitch before you hit send. You might even send the news release to your council for a look — perhaps to the marketing department or committee, if your council has one.
- Share your success. When your Scouts’ story does get printed, posted or aired, tell everyone the good news. Find the online version of the story, and make sure everyone in your unit shares that link with everyone they know. Publications (including Bryan on Scouting!) watch their numbers carefully. If a news outlet sees that Scouting stories tend to garner big numbers, they’ll look for more of them.
Send in your story ideas
Local media aren’t the only ones interested in what your Scouts are doing. Here are four ways to share your story with the BSA’s editorial team.
- Tell Scout Life about your unit’s outing plans
- Tell Scout Life about your unit’s service project
- Tell Scout Life about a Scout in your unit who’s making headlines
- Share your blog post ideas with the Bryan on Scouting team
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