Several weeks ago, two men from the Carolina Forest community stopped by with a plea: Add something on the weather page telling people how to check area fire conditions.
Bo Ives and Bob Gagne remembered well the 2009 blaze that raced away from Carolina Forest across the region to Barefoot Resort, consuming more than 19,000 acres. If the gusting winds that pushed the flames toward North Myrtle Beach had shifted, Carolina Forest’s communities could well have borne the brunt of that wildfire.
Ives and Gagne had been working with those in the Carolina Forest area and S.C. Forestry Commission to heighten awareness and improve communication, which is why they sought to enlist The Sun News in what turned out to be a tragically timely effort.
It wasn’t long after their visit that a wildfire destroyed 26 Windsor Green condominium buildings, adding more fuel, if you will, to the idea that residents needed access to more information regarding open burning.
Late last month, we began running information just below the day-by-day forecast icons on our weather page. The blurb tells you how to check area fire conditions and warnings with the county and forestry department.
Rules about residential debris burning vary across the area, so before you toss a match on something, make sure you know the laws in your area. And make sure you make a call to find out just how dangerous tossing that match might be to you and your neighbors.
Alert the media
Email has made it easier to reach the news media and at the same time, harder to get our attention.
I suspect I speak for many of my colleagues when I say that the subject line is your friend. Or at least it should be.
When I speak to area groups about how to work with the media to get their messages out, someone invariably says they’ve sent email but have gotten no response.
When I ask what they put in the subject line, the answer is usually something along the lines of “press release.”
That notation worked in the olden days when things came in envelopes or the slightly less olden days of fax deliveries. Back then we could scan the contents to quickly determine whether it was something we needed to pursue immediately, next week or never and respond accordingly.
Today emails upon emails arrive in our inboxes. When I was out of the office for a week recently, my unread email counter numbered almost 2,000. To process all that information, I scan the subject lines. If it’s not immediately clear that it has some bearing on our coverage area, I skip over it.
Before you ask, just putting “local news release” in the subject line won’t cut it. I’ve opened many of those to learn that it was something about an upstate college’s new art exhibit, or something equally useless to our readers.
So if you want to get our attention, use the subject line as you would a headline. Write six words that sum up what the release is about. “Myrtle Beach man swallows alligator whole” would qualify. But be warned, you lose your credibility immediately if when we open the email we discover it’s really an elementary school honor roll, not that we don’t want to receive those too.
Another way to speed things up is to send the news release in the body of the email. I realize that sometimes you need to attach supporting documents of photos, but please don’t send a news release that says: “Open the attachments for details about our upcoming fund-raiser.” Opening and processing eight or 10 of those can eat up an entire morning.
C’mon down, or up, or over
Several weeks ago I issued an invitation for those who wanted to see how we make our news decisions and a number of you took me up on the offer. We learned a lot from those who did and hope they came away with some understanding of our process.
If you’d like to see for yourself, call newsroom administrator Lisa Urban at 626-0300 and let her know if you’d like to visit the 9:30 a.m. meeting or the 3 p.m. meeting. (In either case, it’s best to arrive about 15 minutes early.)
I would especially recommend a visit to some of my frequent email and phone friends who are convinced our coverage decisions are based on some kind of bias, either political or sports-related.
We’d love for you to join us. Even if you don’t, thanks for reading, calling and writing. It keeps us from being lonely.