Working with the Media

Working with the press can be a very effective tool to accomplish specific river stewardship goals. This chapter is designed to assist anyone working on issues that, either intentionally or unintentionally, involve communicating with the public through the press. American Whitewater has regularly worked with magazines, newspapers, radio stations, films, and television stations to get our general message out as well as targeted messages on specific issues. These communications provide the general public with what may be their only information on American Whitewater, or on specific stewardship issues. We therefore request that all press communications representing American Whitewater be made through an AW staff member – or with permission of an AW staff member. The following guidelines will help river stewards to work with the press either directly or through American Whitewater.


Every communication, especially when it comes to the media, must answer the following six questions:

1) Who?

2) What?

3) Where?

4) When?

5) Why?

6) How?

While we learned these simple elements in grade school, many times press releases and public service announcements are disseminated without this proper information. When the proper information is clarified, be sure to use words and phrases in which the general public will understand and relate.


Each communication effort to the media and/or public should further the overall mission and five main areas of American Whitewater as stated below:

The mission of AW is to conserve and restore America’s whitewater resources and to enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely.

EDUCATION: Through publication of its American Whitewater Journal, and by other means, AW provides information and education about whitewater rivers, boating safety, technique and equipment.

CONSERVATION: AW is a national expert on restoration of rivers through hydropower relicensing, maintains a complete national inventory of whitewater rivers, monitors threats to those rivers, publishes information on river conservation, provides technical advice to local groups, works with government agencies, and when necessary, takes legal action to prevent river abuse.

EVENTS: AW organizes events, contests and festivals to raise funds for river conservation, including the annual Deerfield and Gauley River Festivals in Massachusetts and West Virginia, respectively, the latter being the largest gathering of whitewater boaters in the nation.

SAFETY: AW promotes paddling safety, publishes reports on whitewater accidents, and maintains both a uniform national ranking system for whitewater rivers (the International Scale of Whitewater Difficulty) as well as an internationally recognized AW Safety Code.

RIVER ACCESS: To assure public access to whitewater rivers AW seeks to protect the right of public passage on all rivers and streams navigable by kayak or canoe, resists unjustified restrictions on government-managed whitewater rivers, and arranges for river access through private lands by negotiation or purchase.


We recommend only sending out communications that have a purpose, asking the community to take action: e.g., a) writing a letter or b) becoming a member. Effective communications that are easily understood, embraced and acted upon follow a standard format with familiar components. Following the recipe that follows, you’ll send out a message that is more likely than not to yield a response.

Check your outgoing communications for the following:

1) FIRST PIECE OF BREAD = AW’s MESSAGE. Start with furthering AW’s mission. Concentrate on having the piece of communication further one area of AW’s mission. (See “What to talk about.”)

2) THE MEAT & CHEESE = EDUCATE! Include public information that the general population can understand.

3) LAST PIECE OF BREAD = COMMUNITY ACTION WITH AW’S MESSAGE AND WORK. End the communication with something like … “You too can make a difference by … ”

Always make it easy for people to contact you: phone number, website and so forth. Double check all phone numbers and websites by trying them out before you distribute the materials.


We’ve heard it before, but it is just that simple with media relations, and in our opinion, with all communications. If you don’t Keep It Simple, Silly, it just won’t get read. Period. When sending out media information, cut it down to a headline and some facts, that’s it. Assume the reader will go no farther than the first line or, at most the first paragraph!


  • Who needs to say or see the message?

Answer this question to determine who needs to APPROVE the communication as well as who needs to GET the piece of communication. When you send out messages, make sure the people who can help you with your issue see it: politicians, reporters, paddlers, public spokespeople and so on.

  • What exactly is the message?

Think about taking a ’rifle shot’ approach via the soundbite, or the elevator pitch. Be as precise as possible. Every message should forward one or all of the mission elements for AW, and should seek to resolve issues and should propose specific actions.

  • Where do we need to say the message?

While most people think “local community” and “paddling community” we recommend really thinking in terms of local, state, regional and national messages. When you identify the geographic reach you want your message to take, you can better write (and get approved) your piece of communication. Also, with regard to the media, here are examples:

1) Local news – community
2) City news – city-wide information

3) State wires and state news venues

4) Regional news: Associated Press, United Press International (UPI) and Reuters are all wires that have regional bureaus that will print your news for free (if they are interested in the public message you provide). PR Newswire and Business Wire are examples of paid newswires that will get your communication up on the same wire where the Associated Press and UPI wire run. Also, smaller papers such as Hendersonville Times News and Greenville News are parts of larger regional papers, such as New York Times and Gannett Papers, respectively. When they run a story, it automatically gets fed to other reporting outlets.

  • When do we need to say it?

A general rule of thumb is at minimum 2 weeks out. Maximum is 3 months out.

Magazines = 3-6 month lead

Newspapers = 2 week lead time

Radio = 1-2 week lead time

TVs = day before lead time

  • Why do we need to say this message?

Think in terms of: political, educational, financial and just public service messages. Once you figure out the “why” you are saying the message you can choose the quotes and distribution methods to fit your campaigns more effectively.

  • How will we say and deliver this message?

With media relations, here are your choices:

1) Mail, fax or email the communication. ALL MUST BE BRIEF AND TO THE POINT. THINK HEADLINES.

2) Send to newspapers (mail with photo is best), TV (fax is best), radio (phone call with follow-up email is best) and magazines (phone and email is best).


- can enable you to send hundreds & thousands of faxes - One time wire postings can be purchased through PR Newswire or Business Wire. - Try the public wires to see if they write about it: AP, UPI, Reuters and so forth. - Radio is always looking for good interviews; when traveling always call up a radio or two and see if you can publicly discuss a campaign that needs public attention. - NEWSPAPERS prefer full-length press releases; title it PRESS RELEASE - TV& Radio prefers tip sheets with the “Who, What, Where, When , Why format and only quick sentences or short paragraphs describing it all; title it MEDIA ALERT - MAGAZINES prefer personalized letters and phone calls.

Follow-up is the KEY!

With each communication, personally outreach to a select group of people. While we have fax, email, phone and other technical wonders, the bottom line is people like people. There is nothing more important than personal phone calls when it comes to getting VIPs to stand by your campaign. Even if it’s a quick, “Hello, thought you should know …” it’s a personalized approach. No matter how pressed you get for time, ALWAYS MAKE TIME FOR PERSONALIZED PHONE CALLS to the media, politicians and so forth.


There are many pieces of information to send out to the media, but most journalists today accept an email with the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, HOW and WHY laid out. Add your contact info and it’s as simple as that! However, if you are interested in the traditional tools, here’s an outline. - Press Release - Article form: 1) first paragraph and headline tell the story 2) important quote 3) background on the topic 4) make the public ‘ask’ 5) AW background

  • Media Alert (Who, what, where, when, how format)
  • PSAs (radios will announce these for free; just prepare and mail them in 15 and 30 second announcements)
  • Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor (these are biased articles written by community leaders; these can be from AW or outside AW.) Every campaign should use this free press to get community support, discussion and interest in AW.
  • Press Conferences: These are just meetings where you invite the press to announce news. We recommend AGAINST doing these and suggest that you throw a “party” with information, instead. You’ll get a much larger turn-out and lots of people can digest the news you have to share in a fun and meaningful way.

This Chapter was prepared largely by Michelle Tennant, who lives, paddles and runs a PR firm, Wasabi Publicity, Inc. ( in Saluda,NC, home of the raging Green River. Wasabi specializes in non-profit and cause-related national and international campaigns. Email her at

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