How a hunt for typos turned into a full-fledged annual media camp

Excerpt written by Jay Robb

The media relations camp at the Hamilton Spectator is in its 7th year.

Back in 2007, the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction held an event where nonprofits and community groups were invited to display posters showcasing their programs and services.

I was asked to proofread the posters. There were nearly 75 posters. I didn’t find any typos. But I did find a ton of stories just waiting to be told.

So to redeem myself as a failed proofreader, I offered to help these groups tell their stories. Most don’t have the budgets to hire PR help or hire dedicated staff.

I borrowed the Community Media Workshop concept from Chicago and then pitched the idea of a Hamilton workshop to Jane Allison, manager of community partnerships at the Spectator. Jane took a good idea and made it 100 times better.

Jane Allison (left) and Jay Robb (right) are organizers of the annual Spec-Mohawk media camp (Photo by: Sherry Mousavi/Hamilton Media Guild)

Jane Allison (left) and Jay Robb (right) are organizers of the annual Spec-Mohawk media camp (Photo by: Sherry Mousavi/Hamilton Media Guild)

The camp is free to local nonprofits and community groups as a thank you for making Hamilton an even better place to call home. A lot of campers are either taking vacation time or having work pile up back at the office so we do our best to make this a value-added experience.

Our goal is to help nonprofits get more and better news coverage. Many nonprofits invite the media to cover grip and grin cheque presentations, groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, annual general meetings and charity golf tournaments and then get frustrated when the media don’t show. While these are worthy events, they’re not necessarily newsworthy.

We help campers make stronger pitches that stand a better chance at getting coverage.

We hold the camp at the Spectator and for many campers it’s their first time in the building. Jane offers a newsroom tour at the end of day one.

Campers get two days of intensive, hands-on training. On day one, they polish and practice story pitches with a team of PR pros who volunteer as camp counselors. Special thanks to camp counselors Trish Nelson, Jane George, Grace Diffey, Brent Kinnaird, Kurt Muller, Lise Diebel, Margaret Lintott, Alyssa Lai, Sherry Mousavi, Marie Verdun, Megan Bieksa and Maria Hayes. On day two, campers pitch their story ideas to a panel of editors and reporters.

Usually two to three pitches from the camp wind up in the Spectator. Last year, the Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra landed on the front of the weekend GO section and had a video on the Spectator’s website.

We also added a very popular session where campers get practice stepping in front of a camera. Mohawk journalism program coordinator Kurt Muller is back and joined by Cable 14 host / producer and Mohawk alumni of distinction winner Linda Rourke. Our friends at kitestring do a primer on social media and Lee Prokaska-Curtis from the Spectator shows how to write and submit op-eds and letters to the editor and request editorial board meetings. Jane and I give primers on how to turn worthy into newsworthy and how to work with the media.

The camp demystifies media relations for nonprofits and provides the Spectator with a wealth of story ideas. It’s also a very good way for nonprofits to build and strengthen a working relationship with the Spectator and put faces to bylines.

Groups that couldn’t attend can follow along on Twitter at #mediacamp. The presentations are also posted to Slideshare.

Some of what we don’t cover off in the camp or cover at a high level and could make for good standalone workshops include how to write a compelling op-ed / letter to the editor, speechwriting and brand journalism. At Mohawk, we’re migrating toward video news releases. A video introducing our new president was embedded on the websites of local media and the audio from the video was used by CHML.

A number of pitches hit the mark with the editorial panel on Thursday (the last day of the camp) – the Immigrant Women’s Centre’s documentary workshops for immigrant women, Salsa on the Waterfront, Live Different’s Zac McDonald, Hamilton Naturalist Club’s Westdale Tree Inventory, the Salvation Army artists who are making the Road2Hope medals, the 60th anniversary of St. Martin’s Manor with two teen moms from very different eras and Living Rock’s pitch about Ian, a 25 year old in their alumni program.

More about Media Camp:

jay robb thumbnailJay Robb has worked in public relations since 1993 for employers in the private, public & nonprofit sectors. The director of communications at Mohawk College has also reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and since 2007, he’s worked with Jane Allison, manager of community partnerships at The Hamilton Spectator, to run a free media relations summer camp for Hamilton nonprofits.

Hamilton Media Guild

Hamilton Media Guild (HMG) is a local platform that aims to connect both emerging young professionals and media industry experts to explore and develop leadership potential in their field.

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