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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

The 2009 "Making Media Connections" conference brought together media heavy weights and nonprofit bleeding hearts. The event reflected the change in times, not the least of which is the Trib's online avatar, Colonel Tribune. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

The 2009 "Making Media Connections" conference brought together media heavyweights and nonprofit bleeding hearts. The event reflected the change in times, not the least of which is the Trib's online avatar, Colonel Tribune. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Chicago – Teams of communications professionals gathered for the final installment of this year’s Making Media Connections conference at Columbia College June 11. Keynote speakers included Columbia College President Warrick Carter, New York Times Chicago Bureau Chief Monica Davey, and the Chicago Tribune avatar Colonel Tribune created and presented by Bill Adee.

Davey said the biggest story of the year is the recession, and nonprofit organizations are in a unique position to be able to provide the real people stories impacting neighborhoods on the ground.

Adee spoke about the new online Chicago Tribune brands he spearheaded including Chicago’s Best Blogs, Chicago Breaking News and Chicago Now. Chicago Now retains 50 to 60 blogs currently, and Adee expected that number to grow.

He said his current project involves a news applications group. Adee did not elaborate on this item.

While the previous day of workshops seemed more hands-on, this day of events seemed to include more panel discussion type of classes. Two of these sessions were “News Columnists” and “Broadcasting Online.”

The “News Columnists” breakout session, moderated by Laurie Glenn of Think Inc., focused on what people need to understand in order to successfully pitch stories to some of the most well-known columnists in the region.

Phil Kadner, Southtown Star, said he was always surprised by how much people can change the world for the better simply by communication. He said the human-interest angle is the most attractive one for stories appropriate for his column. To illustrate the point Kadner said a story about a large veterans’ event was completely different than one about a real veteran. The life story was more compelling to read, and therefore write.

Burt Constable, Daily Herald, said one of the most important factors to consider is the entertainment and interest factor. While there are many important stories out there to be told, many of them go uncovered by columnists simply because their big picture pitches are too boring.

Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, emphasized the importance of timing and the necessity of accurate facts. Sometimes a planned column falls through at the last minute and a call from a public relations person, who at another time would have seemed less likely to yield attention, at that moment, becomes the foremost story to pursue under her looming deadline.

Schmich also said fact accuracy was essential. In one instance she actually decided to discontinue her reliance on a source because name misspellings were given on two consecutive occasions. Yes, Schmich said it’s up to her to do the best she can to check facts, but when sources provided misinformation more than once, that’s a deal breaker.

Ben Goldberger, Huffington Post Chicago, said it is okay to contact writers again when you haven’t heard back from them to let them know you are going to pitch your story to other writers. At the same time, he said tone is key. Do not take a threatening approach such as emphatically telling reporters, “If you don’t jump on this right now I’m going to another publication.” Goldberger said this kind of approach, which he was surprised by how often he received it, would inevitably meet with his answer, “Go ahead.”

Rather, the Huffington editor said to politely inform writers that since you haven’t heard back from them, and if you don’t hear back from them by such and such time, you need to move onto other journalists who might be interested in your story.

Another one of the breakout sessions, “Broadcasting Online” moderated by Center for Neighborhood Technology Director of Development and Communications Nicole Gotthelf, looked at the hows and whys to broadcast messages on the web.

The panelists were Kristine Ostil of Asian American News Network, David Marques of Southwest Youth Collaborative, Carlos Mendez of Radio Arte, and Michael Hoffman of See 3 Communications.

Ostil said her advice to nonprofit communicators is to keep your information up to date. Let your users know when you update your website, and they will trust you more. She also said it’s important to create a visual manifestation of your organization’s mission. Fonts and grammar need to translate into images, videos and graphics.

Marques said hiring young people to expand techno-outreach was not only good for the community, it was also good business. He cited a successful podcast created by a teenager from the southwest side of Chicago about how many police officers are good people. In an area where crime and corruption typically dominate the reputation, a strong young voice was able to counterbalance those views with a positive and true representation of benevolent public servants.

All in all, the conference was a huge success. Like years past, nonprofit communicators connected with influential journalists and media outlets. Also, like at previous conferences, these charity champions established and developed relationships with each other.

What was different in 2009 was the ludicrous level of speed of the evolving media ecosystem. What does this mean in regular words? Technology is changing fast, and it was healthy for professionals with causes to reaffirm their commitments to the public dialogue called the news, and, perhaps more importantly, to each other.

Copyright 2009

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