By Lisa Lochridge

Last month’s FFVA Digest dealt with the dying newspaper industry and its affect on our efforts to tell the story of how important agriculture is to Florida and the nation – both from an economic standpoint and in terms of health and nutrition.

Newspapers continue to be shuttered at an alarming rate. Since March, Hearst took the 146-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer online only, leaving the city with one daily, The Seattle Times. And USA Today may shut down the Tucson Citizen if it can’t find a buyer.

Say what you will about your local daily – it’s poorly written, it’s biased, it’s liberal … but the former journalist in me can’t watch a community newspaper die without mourning. I still believe that newspapers have a direct link to the vitality and health of a democratic, informed society.

In a March 18 USA Today story, Theodore Glasser, professor of communications at Stanford University, said, "We need to view journalism in the same way that we view libraries and public schools, as absolutely essential to any prospering community. A lot of good stuff is published by newspapers so that public officials see it and act accordingly. That's the power of the press. And that's the first thing being cut."

Maybe it’s part of me waxing nostalgic about starting my career working with a group of crusty, chain-smoking old guys in a newsroom where we used typewriters, pica poles and glue pots. But in the meantime, the print-to-online revolution continues to barrel ahead. We’ll see what the future holds.

As promised, here are a few tips gleaned from years of being on the other side of the desk and having news stories pitched to me as an editor. And having done my share of story pitching as a public relations professional, I can tell you that it’s one part skill, one part timing and one part luck.

If you think you have a story, make sure it’s really news.

A good editor (or TV producer) will always ask, “Why should my readers (or viewers) care about this topic or issue?” For example, there’s not much else being covered besides the economy these days, so you might capture attention with a story about how your company is using innovative ideas to survive. Or you can talk about how your company helps the local economy by creating jobs and a payroll, through your business with suppliers – you get the idea.

Put a face on the story.

Facts and statistics are absolutely necessary (and help sell your story), but so is human interest. It’s important to be able to tell a story using real-life examples. During last summer’s salmonella crisis, tomato growers did a great job of talking about how their operations were suffering because Florida tomatoes were wrongly suspected as the source of the outbreak. They personalized it in terms of loss of business and potential loss of jobs.

Localize a story that has national interest.

The economy idea above is an example of this as well. In addition, food safety is top-of-mind and very much in the headlines these days. Now is a great time to talk about how your company is being proactive to ensure your products are safe for Americans to eat. Be ready to offer specifics; don’t just speak in general terms.

Technology and innovation are always good topics.

No one expects you to give away proprietary information; but if you’re using technology to increase production efficiencies, reduce use of pest-management chemicals, or protect soil or water, that makes a great story.

Think visuals.

This is a no-brainer if you’re aiming to get TV coverage. But you also need to offer up photo ideas if you’re talking with a print reporter as well as potential video for the paper’s Web site. It’s all multi-media all the time these days.

Don’t assume a reporter or editor understands your business.

These days newsrooms are operating with a bare minimum of staffers. Stories may be assigned to younger, inexperienced reporters who don’t know the industry or its issues. Or they may be assigned to veterans who have just never covered agriculture. When you’re selling a story, simplify and explain it in an understandable way. (When I was an editor and coaching my reporters to write about complex topics, my advice was to write as if they were telling it to their mother.)

Just as Florida’s landscape is shifting, so too is the media world. But we shouldn’t let that stop us from touting the positives of Florida agriculture.