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By Anne Nicholls
Anyone who has been an observer of the education media over the past decade must have noticed some significant changes. The Guardian’s education section, once a meaty 12-page supplement, has disappeared as job advertisements (which brought in over £1 million a week) have migrated to online sites. Other print media covering education, such as The Independent, are now solely online. The TES (formerly the Times Education Supplement) has replaced its newspaper with a weekly features-led magazine with news published online. Meanwhile, some new education media have emerged such as FE Week, Schools Week and WonkHE.
Keeping up to date with who does what and the kind of stories they are looking for is tough. So the CIPR Education & Skills Sector committee, in collaboration with The Education Media Centre. put together a panel of five leading education journalists to answer the questions which keep PR and communications professionals awake at night.
There was consensus about the basic do’s and don’ts. Email is by far the preferred medium for pitching stories but text needs to be short and succinct. Pet hates are emails that arrive too late or, worse still, after an event has happened. All journalists asked for at least 48 hours notice. As softer features are being squeezed out, stories need to relate to the current news agenda which is still dominated by the impact of the coronavirus on education. But several expressed keenness for lighter, quirky stories that buck the trend. Advice on dealing with crises was simple: be open and honest and don’t try to cover up mistakes.
Each journalist talked more specifically about what they are looking for and how best to work with them. This is what they said.
The Guardian www.theguardian.com
Richard Adams, education news editor. Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org
The space available for education stories in The Guardian has shrunk over the past 10 years along with the number of staff journalists now numbering just four – Richard (news editor), Sally Weale (correspondent), Rachel Hall (reporter) and Alice Woolley (features editor). Richard describes the last 12 months as “nuts”, with Covid-related stories such as exam chaos dominating the education news agenda. Pitches need to be short and snappy. Don’t “over think them”, he says. Sadly, there are fewer opportunities for features and meaty interviews with people such as CEO, head teachers or vice chancellors, unless they are saying something newsworthy. One important piece of advice is to make sure that stories are relevant to all four nations of the UK, or make it clear if they are not. Richard admits to receiving angry emails and tweets from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about education stories claimed to be about the UK that only apply to England. However, if you have a story from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland he would be keen to hear from you.
Julia Belgutay – FE editor. E: Julia.email@example.com
The TES calls itself a “global education business”. Although the bulk of its coverage both online and in the weekly magazine is focused on schools, the FE news section, edited by Julia and assisted by reporter Kate Parker, is significant. Recent stories include an increase in positive cases of Covid-19 in colleges and a piece about the new FE commissioner. To get your story idea noticed you need a strong angle, ideally something that’s innovative and a bit different. Julia is a great fan of data-driven stories so if you have figures all the better. But someone just doing their job won’t get taken up, unless it could be repurposed as a by-lined blog. Julia isn’t averse to phone calls, but Twitter could be a better bet providing you send her a direct message (DM). One thing journalists hate is PRs pitching a story that everyone else can see on their Twitter feed.
Times Higher Education www.timeshighereducation.com
Chris Havergal, news editor. E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the past five years the THE has shifted away from print to online and from being purely UK-based to a worldwide focus. This means that whilst there is scope for profile interviews and ‘colour’ pieces Chris can fish for stories internationally which makes parochial stories hard to justify. A UK university researcher doing amazing work may not get much interest unless there is a global perspective. Chris manages a team of journalists and contributors based around the world. Like others on the panel he receives a vast number of emails, most of which are irrelevant. But he is keen to build stronger relationships with PRs and agencies once face-to-face restrictions have been lifted. One issue that needs addressing is how to change the narrative in the higher education sector which is under attack for being too “woke” and obsessed with race and gender. Stories like VCs pay and grade inflation don’t help either. Universities can’t just blame everything on Tory nasties, he says. They need to be more upfront about what they are doing and stand up for values such as autonomy and academic freedom.
BBC Online www.bbc.co.uk/news/education
Sean Coughlan, family and education editor. E: email@example.com
Sean is the BBC’s online correspondent covering education and family stories. The BBC News website includes news, features and analysis, about all aspects of education, social policy and family life. One big change in the news agenda is the decline of the soft feature, as most stories now have to be driven by top-line news. Even features need a strong news hook. Most of recent news has been dominated by Covid-19, but Sean is keen to cover more quirky and optimistic stories that might be more light hearted or unexpected. Unlike many journalists Sean is not great fan of Twitter, believing its impact to be massively inflated. And don’t try to phone him. Email is the best approach. But he does get around 400 a day, so the subject line has to grab him immediately. And apologies for not being able to reply.
PA Media https://pa.media
Eleanor Busby, education correspondent. E: Eleanor.firstname.lastname@example.org
PA Media (formerly known as the Press Association) is the UK's leading provider of multimedia content and services which it distributes to a wide variety of UK national, regional and local media. Eleanor joined them in 2020 from The Independent during lockdown, so hasn’t even been into the office to meet her colleagues yet. This year has been really busy with plenty of education stories linked to the government education agenda, Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and climate change. But Eleanor is also keen on stories than emanate from students calling for action, or something light hearted that’s not been covered before. Timing is critical if you want to get your email noticed. As with other journalists, Eleanor likes plenty of advance notice and advises PRs to avoid pitching stories on days when Gavin Williamson is making an announcement Fridays or Mondays are less frenetic, so good days for emails. Not being able to leave home to attend events or travel for face-to-face meetings is something Eleanor wants to change once lockdown restrictions ease. But if you want her to visit you must have a solid story to offer or her time is wasted. What about multi-media? PA has its own photographers and camera crew but a photograph or video clip is always useful.
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