Recap & evaluation of the 2013 Media Relations Summer Camp at The Hamilton Spectator

Thanks to the 22 nonprofits and community groups from Greater Hamilton that took part in the 6th annual media relations summer camp at the Hamilton Spectator June 25 and 27.  The camp is offered free of charge as a thank-you to community builders who are making Hamilton a better place to call home. The camp aims to help nonprofits and community groups tell better stories and get more coverage that advances their vision, mission and strategic priorities.

Here’s a quick recap of the camp:

Tuesday, June 25

The camp kicked off with a media relations primer, showing that nonprofits have better stories to pitch beyond grip and grin cheque presentations, groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, fundraisers, annual general meetings and golf tournaments.  Campers were encouraged to build a story pitch around a person with a compelling story, become resident experts for media in their field of expertise and look for opportunities to get coverage through newsjacking.

Campers then broke into small groups and used worksheets to prepare story pitches. Six public relations and journalism pros volunteered their time as camp counselors to help campers polish and practice their pitches (tip of the hat to counselors Megan Bieksa, Trish Nelson, Grace Diffey, Carrie Trembinski, Kurt Muller and Reba Shahid).

Hamilton Spectator managing editor Jim Poling and reporters Joanna Frketich and Molly Hayes did a noon-hour, working lunch Q&A session with the campers, offering advice on how to pitch stories and work with reporters and editors.

The Q&A was followed by a social media primer by Stephanie Shuster, studio manager with KITESTRING.

Campers then finished working on their story ideas, which were formatted as mock email pitches and turned into a handout. A smaller group of campers ended their day with a tour of the Spectator newsroom.

Thursday, June 27

Jane Allison, manager of community partnerships with the Hamilton Spectator, gave an overview of how the newspaper supports nonprofits and community groups.

Editor Lee Prokaska gave campers a primer on how to write and submit letters to the editor and op-eds and how to request and what to expect during editorial boards.

Over a working lunch, 11 campers read their story pitches to a review panel that featured managing editor Hoaward Elliott, city editor Carla Ammerata, editors Aviva Boxer and Cheryl Stepan columnist Susan Clairmont and reporter Emma Reilly. The panel highlighted what worked and what could be improved with each pitch.

The camp closed with a workshop on how to give on-camera interviews and shoot videos by Mohawk College Journalism professors Kurt Muller and David Smillie and student Scott Summerhayes.

The story pitched by the Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra became the first from the camp to land in the pages of the Spectator, running as the GO Weekend cover story on June 29.


Did you learn anything new at the media relations summer camp?

Yes – 100%

Was the media relations camp a good use of your time?

Yes – 100%

Would you recommend the media relations camp to a friend or colleague

Yes – 100%

How did we measure up

  • 18 – exceeded expectations
  • 3 – met expectations
  • 1 – fell short of expectations

What did you value most about the camp?

  • The advice from real professionals about how to pitch stories to the media.
  • Free of charge.
  • Pitching media releases to panel!!
  • I also appreciated the counsellor advice on day one.
  • I really valued learning about the process of pitching stories and the panel discussions about what worked and what was the catch.
  • Ability to hone my pitch by being forced to think like a reporter. It is very logical and basic but because it is not implied, we should make that known.
  • Useful to know what stories work / did not.
  • The pitch concept and practice.
  • Letters to the editor
  • Camera interviews
  • Every day / practical recommendations
  • Input for improvement / keys to success
  • Practical knowledge – great to meet people from the news industry and nonprofits
  • Media contact list
  • The sessions on pitching a news story
  • Feedback from the panel
  • Learning how to contact reporters and to know that they are accessible
  • Learning how to write pitches
  • The tips about getting a story into print
  • Thank you for taking up our story and getting us published immediately
  • Tips from the Spec reporters
  • Realizing wordsmithing  is not overly important
  • Q&A sessions
  • Hands-on, practical activities
  • Learning exactly what media is looking for when writing an article
  • Looking for pitch material that takes the ordinary and frames it as extraordinary
  • Learning how to get media coverage
  • Real people in the business being willing to share their expertise. I really felt that the fears and mistrust I had in the media has been replaced with an understanding of who the reporters are, what their challenges are and how I can best work with them. Having met real reporters, I see they are approachable.
  • Variety of presenters and topics
  • Clarification of how the Spec works and how to approach staff
  • The advice came from people who work in the industry – it’s so valuable to hear what they have to say
  • Putting a face / person behind the media makes it less scary
  • Learning how to work with reporters, make their lives easier
  • Tips for communication – I feel certain that I’ll be successful at getting media coverage in the future
  • Pitch and feedback
  • Camp counsellors helpful
  • General atmosphere was great
  • Camera interviews
  • Listening to the experts
  • Listening to the Spec journalists / editors critiques
  • Hearing from Lee on letters and op-eds
  • Jay’s lesson on how to make a pitch
  • How to access the Spec and stories in
  • On camera interviews
  • Conversations with editors
  • Learning about editorial boards
  • Writing advice – newspaper was helpful

If you could improve one thing about the camp, what would it be?

  • More info on social media
  • Turn down the air conditioning
  • Hear more about Mohawk’s assistance to nonprofits and community groups
  • Provide microphones – I couldn’t hear 60% of the speakers until they were microphoned
  • Make the room warmer
  • Incorporate a lunch break – even if 15-20 minutes. I felt that eating and moving around while presenters were talking could be distracting and I might miss something
  • Perhaps turn off the LCD display while presenters are talking
  • Oval seating might make hearing each other easier
  • Please turn up the heat
  • More on-the-spot practice – loved pitching to the editorial board, loved practicing on-camera.
  • Make the camp longer – maybe a full week – lots to learn and a great use of time
  • The temperature in the room
  • Climate control
  • If it were twice as long, we would learn twice as much
  • Please do not schedule pitches while food is sitting. Move pitches to earlier in the morning. Second morning had wasted time. It felt uncomfortable pitching while judges were looking at food.
  • The room was freezing. Please turn down the air conditioner.

Other comments:

  • Great camp. Thanks to all for presenting and organizing.
  • Great venue, great speakers and food
  • Instead of pitching directly, what can we do as organizations to leave a trail and give reporters the tools to come to us asking for a story? Perhaps a primer / workshop on marketing our ideas, making it easy for reporters to gain information without having to speak to us too much
  • Thank you so much for helping to build my media relations tool belt
  • Thanks to Jane Robb and Jane Allison
  • Thank you for this opportunity – a wonderful learning experience
  • Thank you for the opportunity. It is a valuable resource to the community, increasing accessibility and removing barriers between community and media. Thank you for taking the time and sharing your thoughts with us.
  • Jay and Jane were awesome facilitators.
  • Jay and Jane, you guys are awesome. Thanks so much.
  • Would love some social media training and tips as it is a growing component of the media package
  • I really enjoyed my time and feel much more confident and comfortable with getting media coverage for my organization
  • This was such a great opportunity. I learned a lot. I also enjoyed the tour of the newsroom.
  • Jane and Jay were wonderful facilitators. Thank you.
  • Loved it.
  • I hope this happens again.
  • Greatly appreciated Spec and Mohawk collaboration on providing a free workshop
  • Thank you for the opportunity and for providing snacks and lunch. It was greatly appreciated.
  • Valuable program. Well worth time off work.

For more on the camp, email or . Highlights from the camp were also tweeted at #mediacamp

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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