University communications offices are often referred to as the “P.R. office” of the institution, and that’s often how I’ve described the OSU Extension Communications office.

It’s correct that the news and public issues team in our office does perform some functions of a traditional public relations firm. We write news releases and distribute them to the media. We respond to requests for sources to interview for news stories, and pitch stories to the media. We monitor coverage of Extension in newspapers and broadcast media.

But the news and public issues team – myself and Kym Pokorny – spend a significant amount of time using other formats to tell the public about the great work you’re doing.

Amplifying impact

Some of you may remember the Bridges to Prosperity website that launched in 2013 to highlight the impact of OSU’s three statewide public service programs – Extension, Ag Experiment Station, and Forest Research Lab. It fell to the news and public issues team to choose impact statements submitted by faculty to be rewritten and included on the site, which we overhauled and re-launched in 2019 as Our Impact.

As I write this, there are 168 impact stories on the site. Although many of you know about the site, you may wonder how to find stories so that you can better let your fellow Oregonians know about them.

First, you should know that the site is searchable. You can find the “Search” field in the upper right corner.

 

If you’re looking for impacts in your county, you can click on the orange button called “View our impacts in Oregon counties.”

Once you’ve found a story you’re interested in, you’ll notice on the right-hand side you can find stories by category, region, Statewide program, county (again), and theme.

Once you’re familiar with how to find impact stories, you can share them with the public in a variety of ways, most notably: on your social media accounts, in presentations and newsletters, and in written and verbal communications with elected officials.

Spreading the news

I’ve worked in university communications offices since 2012. In that time, I’ve seen the precipitous and ongoing contraction of newsrooms, especially at newspapers. According to Pew, employment at U.S. newspapers declined by 51% between 2008 and 2019. All newsroom employment dropped by 23% over that same time period.

Long gone are the days of putting out a news release or sending a news tip to the media and having it covered by the local newspaper, TV station and radio station. Local outlets are still eager to publicize our events — so please, keep sending them your local events announcements – but it’s more unlikely than ever that they have the time or people to cover Extension like they have in the past.

So last fall, Extension Communications introduced the news story. It’s not a press release, and it’s not an impact story. Both Kym and I are former newspaper reporters, so we used that experience to our advantage. We are writing news stories as if they would appear in a local newspaper, and they are being published to the news section of the Extension website.

By telling our own story, we’re not sending a news tip and hoping that the story gets covered, or covered in a positive light. Now, we’re in control. We have been sending some news stories to local newspapers and they’ve either published them directly to their websites or they’ve done their own story. Producing news stories is the No. 1 priority for the news team during the COVID-19 crisis, as we help you share how Extension is still actively serving communities.

You can share news stories just like you share impact: in presentations and newsletters, on social media, in conversations with stakeholders and elected officials. And please feel free to send news stories to your local newspaper, radio station and TV station. They just might decide to do a story of their own.

Always keep in mind that you can contact the news team if you have an idea for a news story, or you have an impact statement that should be added to the impact site. We’re also happy to meet with individuals or small groups who are interested in learning more about how our team works.

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