Writing for the media

Media (press) releases

A media release is a short announcement circulated to relevant media outlets, intended to draw public attention to something. Its purpose can be factual and awareness-raising (e.g. announcing an exhibition opening, a research grant, a new inter-institutional collaboration, or a major research finding), and in this sense it’s an effective way to publicise research work or collaborations to a wide audience (remember that politicians and policymakers keep a close eye on the media).

However, it can also be a way of quickly responding to public events and policy announcements, ensuring you have visibility to policymakers and other stakeholders. The third sector in particular is good at this – you may have noticed that most major policy announcements will be greeted within a few hours (or less) with media releases from relevant groups setting out their immediate response to the policy.

If you want to develop a media release, either to announce something, or to respond to an announcement or event, contact your institution’s communications/press team (most universities have them these days), as they will probably have a preferred institutional template and style. They will also be able to assess the news value of what it is you would like to say or publicise.

In general, though, a media release will:

  • Be very short (around 600 words)
  • Briefly summarise the headline announcement or response
  • Provide all necessary contact details, dates, and places (if relevant), and will explicitly invite further enquiries

Comment pieces

Comment or opinion pieces are commissioned by print and online media outlets to offer outside perspectives and opinion on current issues. Because they are not written by staff writers or editors and are published as the author’s opinion, there is less need to keep to the outlet’s ‘party line’. For this reason, they are a useful way for newspapers and magazines to broaden public discourse on a topic, and to include unorthodox and controversial views. Comment pieces attract a large and, thanks to online print journalism, highly engaged audience, and can be an excellent way to make a significant intervention in a policy debate.

Most major print and online media outlets commission comment pieces, but because of their high impact and reach, they are highly sought-after. An outlet will commission only a tiny fraction of the proposals they receive every day, so it’s important that yours stands out. A good comment piece will:

  • Be no more than 800 words
  • Be an emotionally as well as intellectually engaging read. Telling a story, or weaving narratives through your piece, will hold attention and leave an impression more effectively than the most well-argued analysis.  
  • Offer an opinion, and provoke a strong response. Although you should back up your argument with relevant facts and figures, the aim of an opinion piece is to be provocative.
  • Offer a new perspective
  • Ideally, make just one main point very clearly

Your communications/press office will also be able to help you with comment pieces, and offer advice on where to try to publish.

Where to publish

At the top of the list are highly influential, respected global broadsheets and magazines such as the Guardian, the New York Times, The Times, the Washington Post, or the London Review of Books. These are, obviously, incredibly difficult to publish with, although if you do so you’ll reach a huge audience which will include policymakers and politicians from across the world who know how influential these titles are.

Other publications which also have strong reputations and which seek out informed, evidence-based views include Slate, Salon, the New Statesman, and the Huffington Post. The Conversation is a relatively new blog site which expressly solicits articles from academics based on their research.