By Eric Shafer

The focus of this workshop was getting faith news into secular media. Presenter is Ryan Koch and it all took place at the recent Religion Communicators Council National Convention meeting in Chicago.

Ryan John Koch is the LDS Director of Public & International Affairs in NYC which means he is their voice at the United Nations. In his former life, Koch worked for the U.S. State Department at embassies in Sweden and the Ukraine as a press officer.

He began by talking about what makes a good story – qualities such as uniqueness, connection (all news is local), relevance, timeliness, attention getting, fits larger trends, conflict. He noted that a good story idea must have support of your supervisor and be of interest to a news reporter and his/her editor.

Much of this is based on having an ongoing relationship with the news media, regular contact so that they know you and trust you and vice-versa. That way when there is a difficult story you can be proactive rather than reactive.

A news release is basically the story you hope they will print, so it needs to read like a good news story – headline, first paragraph (who, what when, where, why), background (about your institution) and your contact information.

Other techniques to getting a story covered include interviews, news conferences, and roundtables.

A good interview is no longer than 15 minutes and needs to have an articulate spokesperson which may or may not be your supervisor. Generally, you want to feature your supervisor in good news stories and handle the bad news stories yourself.

He spoke of 4 levels of attribution for any story:

  1. On the record – quotable (“Ryan Koch of the LDS Church said….”)
  2. Background – quotable with attribution (“a spokesperson for the LDS Church said…..”)
  3. Deep background – no attribution
  4. Off the record – cannot use anything

Roundtables are useful for background information. News conferences need to be reserved for really big news (media do not like these). Investing in a backdrop (full of your logo) is useful for interviews and news conferences.

But, it is all based on relationships – knowing your media contacts and their interests and how best to help them get the story you want them to tell.


Rev. Eric Shafer is the senior pastor at Mt Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, CA and an experienced communicator from the ELCA.

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