How to Court and Win Over Editorial Boards

We’ve seen it happen over and over again. A newspaper writes a scathing editorial about a politician, a non-profit organization or a company that did something stupid—prompted, in part, by the refusal of the news source to talk to reporters when the original story was written.

The news continues to break. A few days later, the newspaper prints a second editorial on the same topic. Then a third. Finally, the subject of the editorial is on the phone, begging to meet with the editorial writers and “set the record straight.” But by then, the damage is already done.

Newspaper editorial boards can be one of your most valuable allies if you are promoting a cause, if you’re in trouble with reporters, or if you want to muster valuable support for an event or an issue long before the first story is printed. Yet people seldom use editorial boards, either because they don’t know about them or they’re intimidated

Most newspapers have editorial boards. Generally, they are the top news executives who meet regularly to set the newspaper’s editorial policies, decide which position a newspaper should take in editorials, and meet with readers who ask for their time to discuss important issues. At every newspaper, the make-up of the board is different. But usually they include any combination of the following: the publisher, editor, managing editor, editorial page editor, the editorial writers, and sometimes a reporter who rotates off the board every year and is replaced by another reporter the following year. Reporters often don’t have voting privileges but sit on the board because they can bring a valuable perspective to the discussion. They’re the ones in the trenches covering the story and have background information the editors don’t have.

The board usually meets once a day at larger newspapers, once a week at smaller papers, or whenever a pertinent issue arises. Its most important task is to decide the position that the newspaper will take in its printed editorials. Often there’s little debate and the issue is decided by a simple majority vote. But at newspapers where I have worked as an editor, I have sat on editorial boards that have debated sensitive issues for days.

During election season, editorial boards also interview political candidates before making endorsements. If you’re running for office and don’t like the newspaper, do not refuse to meet with them. If you do, it’s akin to handing your opponent the editorial endorsement.

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