The Pulse of the Press: 5 Tips for Power Media Tracking

5 Tips for Power Media Tracking

The best way to write pitches and press releases that will turn into news articles is to get to know the issue you’re writing about, and how that issue is covered in the news. Clipping services or tracking platforms like Nexis can be great, but many nonprofits can’t cover the cost. Based on a whole lot of media tracking for nonprofits and foundations, here are our top 5 tips for powerful, free media tracking, using Google News alone.

  1. Start with strategy. Like everything else, understanding what you want is a great way to improve your chances of getting it. Tracking news coverage can serve a wide range of communication objectives – from literally just compiling mentions of your organization or its principal spokesperson to media list-building, cultivating journalist contacts, or writing better quotes. But identifying and using the clips you need takes time and effort, so start by getting clear on what you want to learn.
  1. Use the algorithm, but don’t trust the algorithm. I have no idea how the Google News algorithm works, but I do know how it doesn’t work: predictably. I’ve submitted exactly the same search terms and gotten different results depending on how I’ve asked Google to deliver them – real-time, as an hourly as-it-happens email alert, or as a daily summary email. Maybe the alerts favor more recent articles, or maybe the more popular ones – like I said, I have no idea. The differences aren’t huge – an article picked up here that was missed there – but sometimes that article is the most useful one.

So, what to do? Use them all. I track news clips every business day for a project I’ve been working on for a few years now. And I begin every day by looking at a once-a-day summary for articles matching my criteria. Then I flip through the as-it-happens emails (I ignore them until I’m ready to parse the clips), usually finding at least one the daily summary missed. Finally, I punch my search terms into Google and see what pops up. And I might pick up one or two more. It’s not elegant, but it’s effective, and I’ve developed a process that’s pretty efficient.

  1. Track analytically. Pay attention to how coverage changes over time and adjust your search as it does. For example, I work with nonprofits fighting the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant “public charge” regulation, which was proposed in 2018 and took effect this year. For months, journalists referred to the draft regulation as a Trump proposal, so the search terms "public charge" trump worked great. But, especially after it was finalized last fall, journalists started dropping the Trump mention, and my trusty search started missing relevant articles. So since then, I’ve searched for both “public charge” trump and "public charge" immigrant.

The other way to track analytically is to look beyond your own organization. Imagine you work at a children’s advocacy organization that works on health, education, and child abuse and neglect. Track coverage of your closest rival organization, too, and see which outlets covered them and not you. Track coverage of the local pediatric society, children’s hospital, teachers union, PTA, domestic violence advocacy group, and other organizations that work in overlapping fields. You’ll learn a lot about the outlets and journalists who may be interested in your work, and about what they look for in a story.

  1. Track opportunistically. When something in the real world changes, look for connections that might interest journalists in your work. There’s no better example right now than the pandemic, which has prompted coverage of everything from distance learning and child care to racial health disparities and global supply chains, by journalists who’d never before explored those issues.
  2. Read the clips. If you’re doing anything more than tracking mentions of your organization, read the clips. Like a media scan, the day-to-day clips offer insights into the outlets and journalists most likely to cover your work, the types of sources they like to cover, and the sorts of quotes they’re likely to run. Use the same principles as you would for a media scan, and you’ll learn more with every day.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to effectively track news coverage of your organization or issue. A little time, a little planning, and an analytical approach to reading the news can give you all the information you need to improve your media outreach and your chances of securing coverage.