Media Analysis: Bespoke angle is key to education

As a new editor takes the reins at the Times Education Supplement, Alex Black examines the plethora of outlets that cater for those in the learning profession.

With teaching staff able to start the week with the Education Guardian on Tuesday, move on to The Independent's Education & Careers supplement on Thursday and finish with the Times Education Supplement (TES) on Friday, you would be hard pressed to find a profession better served by the mainstream media.

As well as supplements, most of the nationals have at least two education correspondents. All the regionals cover the industry in varying degrees, BBC Online has a large education section, the National Union of Teachers has its own magazine (The Teacher), and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has launched channel and website Teachers' TV.

Weber Shandwick director of corporate and public affairs DJ Collins spent three years as head of news at the DfES. He says one of the advantages of education is that it generates so much publicity: 'Whether you're dealing with classroom sizes, exam results, bullying or truancy, we're talking about stories with an emotive subject and a high level of human interest.

'PROs need to think about what impact the story they are pitching will have on teachers, pupils and parents. What changes will be seen in the classroom as a result?'

Root issues

Education Guardian editor Will Woodward agrees that the human-interest angle is important. 'Since the introduction of league tables in the late 1980s, the education media have shifted their focus from an industrial approach that concentrated on policy, unions and labour issues, to be more consumer-driven,' he says.

Newly appointed TES editor Judith Judd advises: 'Look carefully at the paper or magazine you are approaching and work out where your story would fit best. Is it a news item? Is it a feature? Would it work best as part of an opinion slot or a column? Then you can target the approach.'

Lucy Hodges, editor of The Independent's Education & Careers, cites an example of how not to do it: an agency recently told her about a new teaching software package, despite the fact that software is not something the publication covers.

Woodward also encourages PROs to think more about the format of the publication concerned. 'I often get a sense that people know their story is something we'd be interested in, but they haven't thought about what section of the magazine it would be relevant for,' he says.

Education correspondents also tend to be wearier than most of excessive jargon and lack of proper contact details. 'Time consumption is a big factor,' says Edinburgh Evening News education correspondent Fiona McGlynn.

'Jargon slows things down, as do poor contact details. If it's a release about a person, I want to get straight through to that person, not via several middlemen. And I want direct phone numbers, not switchboards.'

Media Strategy managing director Charles Lewington handled the launch of Teachers' TV in February. 'We sent researchers into staffrooms and found a number of interesting things that helped us target our coverage,' he says. 'The first thing to remember is that teachers always read the local press in case their school is featured. It's also interesting to note that although The Guardian has the highest teacher readership of the broadsheets, The Daily Telegraph is read by a high proportion of heads and deputy heads.'

Varied resources

Lewington adds: 'Most secondary schools now have broadband, so websites such as TES Online and BBC Online are very important; the most important TV news is Channel Four's 7pm slot, which seems to be ideally timed for teachers.'

Media Strategy's research also found teachers looking for more resources and advice on continuous professional development - an issue right at the top of Teachers' TV's agenda.

'Education is a broad church,' says Geronimo PR managing director Karen Harris. 'But just sending things out without proper targeting is always going to be counter-productive.'

Harris cites the example of the DfES's Star Awards, which was successfully pitched to TES's further education editor. The awards identify staff in the learning and skills sector that haven't necessarily been recognised or rewarded, an issue the TES was keen to cover.

It is important to remember that education correspondents are very passionate about their subject, Harris adds: 'If you try and pitch something to them that they've spoken out against in the past, you are going to get nowhere.'

EDUCATION PRESS CONTACTS

- TES Judith Judd (editor): 020 7782 3000

- Education Guardian Will Woodward (editor): 020 7278 2332

- Education & Careers (The Independent) Lucy Hodges (editor): 020 7005

2000

- The Teacher Mitch Howard (editor): 020 7388 6191

- Edinburgh Evening News Fiona McGlynn (ed. correspondent): 0131 620

8732</Paragraph[xyz]- Manchester Evening News Deborah Haile (ed. correspondent): 0161 211

2327

- Oxford Mail Monica Sloan (ed. correspondent): 01865 425 476</Paragraph[xyz]- Birmingham Evening Mail Tony Collins (ed. correspondent): 0121 236

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