Visiting a newspaper’s editorial board

Lots of people try to get a meeting with an editorial board to win the newspaper’s endorsement. Lots of people fail because they don’t understand how an editorial board works.

Editorial boards are confronted with a daily barrage of requests for meetings, endorsements and a few kind words. Sometimes the requests so self-serving that they’re turned out immediately. Sometimes the requests are outlandish. Sometimes they come PR people who are only interested in meeting the board so they can bill their clients for some extra fees.
Editorial boards will be more attentive to your request if you can show how what you’re pitching is important or interesting for their readers. That should be so obvious that it doesn’t need saying. But as a former editorial board member, I can testify to the many people who don’t understand the first rule.
So, here are some examples of what might work. Say you are:
  • A business facing a crisis because a toxic cloud escaped from your plant and you want to let everyone know how you plan to fix the problem.
  • A civic group proposing a viable economic development plan for the city.
  • A grass roots organization fighting for an ordinance that will help protect your neighborhood from gangs.
  • A congregation that is fighting to keep its historic church out of the clutches of a demolition crew.
  • A legitimate candidate for public or elective office.
  • The new head of a local, troubled university that has plans for substantial change.
  • A volunteer group that’s doing something unique to help the hungry. (Keep in mind that you’re not the only group that’s doing it.)
Here are things that probably won’t succeed:
  • You are a business that plans an expansion in your city. And you want to be congratulated. That’s nice, but it’s most likely a news story, unless your expansion will have an important impact on the city. Likewise, if you are unveiling a new product.
  • Your squabble with some person, institution or business is too parochial. Unless, of course, there is a major question of justice or some other matter of public interest.
  • Some editorial boards are reluctant to tell someone how to run his business. Whether, for example, a local sports team should have more appearances on free commercial TV channels.
 Understand that most editorial boards are busy, extremely so. You don’t always have to hold a meeting of the full board to get your point across. Some editors will be glad to refer you to a board member who is knowledgeable in the subject matter. Save everyone some time and make that a phone interview.
Don’t think you have to bring in an entourage with you. What good does a half dozen or more people sitting in on the meeting do other than reinforce the idea that you don’t really know the inside and outside of the issue you want to discuss? I was always more impressed when one person (or two) people showed up confident and knowledgeable enough to make a credible case on their own.
When you come in, be prepared to answer tough questions.
Editorial boards are appointed by the owners, publishers or top editors to represent the medium’s views. The board members usually are competent and experienced journalists who often have “seen it all.” It wouldn’t hurt for you to see who is on the board beforehand and check out their prior work.
Positions and endorsements generally are arrived at by the consensus although I’vae seen a vote taken on some especially contentious issue facing the editorial board. On some few matters, such as an endorsement of a presidential candidate, the owners or publisher can overrule a board. (It is after all his voice that the board represents.)
Editorials are not to be confused with other items in the paper’s commentary or opinion pages. Those other items in the commentary section are generally called “op-eds”  (shorthand for “opposite editorials”); they represent individual or an organization’s views and not necessarily that of the newspaper.
Oh, and be on time.