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What is a media alert and why should I use one?

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“Compared to media releases, which include a full news story along with images, captions and contact details, media alerts are quick and easy to put together and are very effective at getting the media’s attention for news worthy initiatives, so the ‘story’ can be covered in person or via radio interview,” says anglican focus editor Michelle McDonald

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I recall writing my first media alert while volunteering as a refugee rights advocate many years ago. I was helping to organise a live 10-hour reading of the so-called “Nauru Files” outside the (then) Department of Immigration and Border Protection, along with Peter Branjerdporn from our Justice Unit, a number of local Anglican clergy and parishioners, and like-minded community groups. The vigil event was organised very quickly because we needed to be responsive to the call for nation-wide readings following the “Nauru Files” whistleblowing. There was no time to put together a full media release and (of course) no photos of the yet-to-be-held vigil. We knew that the vigil gathering was of public interest and so we decided on a media alert instead.

Media alerts are one-page documents sent to the media to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the essential details of a significant forthcoming event, initiative or announcement. Compared to media releases, which include a full news story, along with images, captions and contact details, media alerts are very quick and easy to put together and are very effective at getting the media’s attention, so the “story” can be covered in person or via radio interview.

Journalists and radio producers are very busy, so it’s important to consider:

Media alert contents

The most effective media alerts are clear, concise, accurate and communicate the news worthiness of the potential story.

Carefully crafted media alert subject lines are critical

Journalists and producers receive scores to hundreds of media releases and media alerts in their Inboxes daily. So it’s important to get the recipients’ attention with a well-written email subject line.

Effective subject lines are typically:

When the “Nauru Files” were leaked to The Guardian Australia in 2016 by a trauma psychologist who had worked in the Nauru detention camp, it was front-page news around the country and internationally. So it was easy to communicate the vigil’s news worthiness and other important details with the following subject line:

“Nauru Files: complete reading – Monday 12/9/16 8am to 6pm outside Department of Immigration, Brisbane”

Note that “Nauru Files” are the first words in the subject line; followed by the two-word summary, “complete reading”, to explain what the event is about; followed by the date and time information in an abbreviated format; and, then followed by the naming of a relevant and news worthy location.

Craft a clear and concise headline

While the email you send will naturally contain a subject line, it’s a good idea to include a headline at the top of the media alert PDF that you attach to the email because the PDF will not include the subject line. For consistency, also insert the headline into the email body text – above the intro para.

When crafting your headline:

Here is a sample headline, which prioritises clear and concise over catchy and clever (due to the serious nature of the vigil event, using a catchy “play on words” or other pun would have been inappropriate):

“Nauru Files: complete reading by community members outside Brisbane’s Department of Immigration”

The following take on my original headline shows the audience-tailored angle taken by local Catholic newspaper, The Catholic Leader:

“Catholics were reading the leaked Nauru Files in public when the Senate proposed an Inquiry into the document”

A media alert’s introductory paragraph needs to be brief and succinct

The best introductory paragraphs are very short and communicate a newsworthy “angle” and (if relevant) your position or perspective.

To ensure the effectiveness of your media alert’s introductory paragraph, ensure that you:

The body of your media alert needs to cover the “what, who, when, where and why”

Media alerts typically contain the following “what, who, when, where and why” essential details:

  1. Explain what is happening in two very concise sentences.
  2. Note the title, full name, role/position and organisation (as applicable) of any community leaders or well-known people who are speaking at or leading the event. Also very briefly note who is organising the event and if any very prominent groups are involved.
  3. Include the date and the start and end times, so journalists know when to turn up or by when to hold the radio interview.
  4. Be very clear where the event is happening, noting any details that will make you easier to find, including full address, building name and level number. Include a Google Maps link. If parking is available, note parking information.
  5. In a single sentence explain why the event/initiative is happening, noting the purpose.
  6. In addition to the “who” section above (and connected to it), include separate media contacts sections outlining the title, full name, organisation (if applicable), role/position, email address and mobile number of the:

In journalism, the “Five ‘W’s” are “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” and “Why.” This is one of the first things you learn in “News Writing 101”.

Insert the “what, who, when, where and why” essential details into a very simple table like this one, which I have adapted from my original “Nauru Files” vigil media alert:

Media alert table

How to format and send your media alert

Make the media alert easier for journalists and producers to read by:

When sending your media alert, ensure that you:

Ensure your email signature details are complete and up to date

Including a complete and current email signature is important because it:

Additional media alert writing tips

It’s good to keep in mind the following when writing and sending media alerts:

Summary of media alert structure

In summary, put together your media alert email in the following order:

Compared to media releases, media alerts are very quick and easy to put together. Ever since the urgent live reading vigil that I organised the communications for six years ago, I have found media alerts to be a highly effective way of soliciting media coverage for significant events and other initiatives. It’s important for media alerts to be brief, strategically written and simply structured in order to get the attention of very busy journalists and producers.

If you would like a copy of ACSQ-branded media alert (and media release) templates that clearly and effectively show you how to structure the documents, please email your full name, church name and church role to the anglican focus Editor Michelle McDonald via focus@anglicanchurchsq.org.au.

First published on the faithful + effective website on 27 June 2022. Check out the Parishes and Other Mission Agencies Commission faithful + effective website for more ministry resources and tips.

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