A number of years ago I was working at the Port of Oakland (California) doing PR, media relations. At the time, the Port was in the midst of planning a rather ambitious expansion of all three of its operations, including maritime, commercial real estate, and airport. I was fielding tons of media inquiries about the plans, so I was always having to react, rather than being proactive. So, in an effort to balance out some of the somewhat less-than-positive coverage, I began looking for story ideas that I could pitch to the media that were more human interest rather than just the same old stories they were reporting about the Port: problems with its expansion plans, complicated EIR reports, continuing opposition from the community.
One day, I happen to be talking to someone at the Port who was responsible for overseeing the demolition of buildings at the Oakland Army Base. The base was in the process of closing so many of the wooden buildings would be torn down, with the wood being sold to local recycling companies. Well, it turns out that the Port (at least this man's department at the Port) had come up with the idea of partnering with a local youth employment program to pay its members to come in and demolish the buildings and the organization could make money by their selling the lumber to recycling companies.
Voila! There was my story!
Instead of the Port being just this huge monolithic organization with a misguided reputation for ignoring the issues and concerns of the the community, here was a story that could show the more human side to the Port, and hopefully gain favorable coverage. Plus, I thought this story about the Port employing local youths to recycle lumber from the Army Base, well, it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up! It would send a powerful message: the Port helping the local community by providing jobs to young men and women, AND protecting the environment at the same time.
I drafted the story outline, scheduled interviews with some of the young men and women who would be working on the project, as well as the executive director of the program, and of course, the gentleman at the Port who developed the relationship with the local youth employment organization. All the elements of a good story were there: human interest and great visuals which are good for print and television.
I reached out to a number of local reporters whom I knew, and was eventually able to persuade one of them to write the story. Very important note here: nothing happens overnight. You have to establish and maintain good working relationships with the media first. If you can do that, you'll have more success pitching story ideas to them.
This experience taught me that sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to come up with a story to pitch to the media that can turn a "No thanks" to a "Oh really? That sounds interesting, tell me more" response.
The moral of the story? Look beyond the typical places for a story. Talk to people, ask questions. Because, as I found out myself, the most compelling stories can be found in the most unusual places.