Tag Archives: media

An extraordinary grasp of geography

Luke Hellum, who advanced to the top 10 in National Geographic's National Geography Bee in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Erica Bailin.

This is a story about an extraordinary student. But it’s also a story about an extraordinary teacher, and that teacher’s extraordinarily supportive sister.

I came across it because the sister sent me an email. Alison Bailin, who is a senior account executive at HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, frequently sends me tips on stories. She’s one of my trusted “go to” people, who understands our publication and doesn’t waste my time with story ideas that aren’t a  good fit. She also apparently understands my crazy work schedule (and shares it, I think, because we are often communicating at very odd times of the day or night).

Alison first contacted me on Monday at about 6:30pm.  She was facilitating an email introduction to her sister, Erica Bailin, who was at that very moment on her way to Washington, D.C. with one of her students.

“He is the statewide winner of the Geography Bee and will represent Arizona this week at the national contest!” she wrote. “To me, it is a great story.”

About 24 hours later, I got an email from Erica. “My student, Luke Hellum, is in the top 10 finalists for National Geographic’s National Geography Bee,” she wrote. “We have been documenting it. How would you like the photos and explanations shared with you?”

I told her what Alison already knows — that she could reach me virtually 24/7 on my email.

I asked Erica for some background on Luke and learned that he is 13 and an eighth grader who attends the Digital Learning Center for the Gifted at Sunrise Middle School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District. Erica told me that she was in Washington, D.C. to support Luke along with Luke’s father (Eric), mother (Jen) and brother (Noah).

Finalists board. Photo courtesy of Erica Bailin.

“After winning at the school level, Luke went on to the state competition, and won,” Erica wrote. “This qualified him for nationals. Today, in Washington D.C., the preliminary rounds took place. The competition started this morning with 54 contestants, and ended with the top 10 finalists, with Luke Hellum among the victors of the day. He now moves on to the championship round hosted by Alec Trebek. There was a media storm here today that he went through that is really quite impressive.”

At about 7pm Wednesday, I got another message from Erica:

“Here is Luke’s interview by National Geographic. His ‘If I ruled world for a day…’ response is pretty incredible and will give you a better look into the mind of this brilliant young man.”

And more from Erica’s message today:

“Alex Trebek called Luke ‘Mr. Congeniality.’ The former first lady and current Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, read questions to the contestants via a live feed. After the second round, Alex Trebek introduced the contestants and spoke with each one. Luke referred to the Nat Geo bee staff as ‘classy’ and NatGeoLive tweeted, ‘Luke Hellum from Arizona just called Nat Geo staff  classy. Thank you, sir!’

At 8:25pm Wednesday (11:25pm in Washington, D.C.!) I got one more message from Erica.

“Luke finished seventh out of 5.3 million students and 54 that came to nationals,” she said. “We appreciate your interest in this AMAZING child.”

I look forward to learning more about the whole experience from Luke and his AMAZING teacher.

Luke Hellum as he appeared on the big screen monitor during the competition Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Erica Bailin.

Here’s another video. This one was made by Luke’s teacher, Erica Bailin:


Powered by interns

When you run a small media company like ours, maintaining a steady stream of capable interns is the difference between muddling through and really moving forward. When you can confidently offload some of the routine tasks involved in creating and editing content for publication (for print and web), you finally find time to tackle the big-picture tasks that hover too long on the “when I can get to it” list.

So it was with a sense of excited anticipation that I returned to Phoenix after a five-day trip to Seattle (where I spent some all-too-rare time with my two brothers) to welcome two summer interns to the RAK family.

Robert Balint. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

One is very familiar. Robert Balint, son of RAK multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, is something of a returning veteran. His first stories appeared in Raising Arizona Kids in 2008, when he was still in high school at Brophy College Preparatory.

“Girls on the Mat” was about a female high school wrestler, “When Your Child Doesn’t Make the Cut” was about young athletes facing rejection and “Physicals Keep Athletes in the Game” explained what doctors look for during sports physicals.

That same year, Robert shared insights on his participation in the Phoenix Sister Cities program and many of us followed his blog posts during that trip. (We look forward to reading the next installments in his “Daily Occurences” travel blog when he leaves in July to spend six months studying in Argentina.)

Robert, who just completed his sophomore year at Boston College, will be with us for about six weeks before he heads to South America. During his internship, he will be writing for our collaborative Sports Roundtable blog, to which my husband Dan, who missed his calling as a sports reporter, periodically contributes. Dan and Robert teamed up in the multimedia department during Robert’s internship last summer, when they produced a great video piece about a high school football lineman competition.

I look forward to working with and getting to know our second summer intern, Sadie Smeck. Sadie is a graduate of Arcadia High School and currently is attending Washington University in St. Louis, where she will be a junior this fall, majoring in international studies and Spanish and minoring in writing. Although Washington University does not have a school of journalism, she is a reporter, writer and editor for the university’s independent newspaper, Student Life.

Sadie Smeck. Photo by Daniel Friedman. I have Vicki to thank for Sadie, too. Vicki introduced me by email  to Sadie, whom she described as “a family friend from our neighborhood, a good student and a hard worker.” While she’s with us this summer, Sadie will be covering community news, education and more.

In the “small world” department, it turns out that Account Executive Catherine Griffiths also knows Sadie. When Catherine showed up at work this morning (with her mom, who’s in town for Hunter Griffiths’ eighth-grade graduation), she immediately rushed over to greet Sadie warmly.

Turns out Catherine, whose older son Harlan has Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes, was once offered some very wise advice by Sadie’s mom, who was also navigating that journey because Sadie’s older sister lives with diabetes.

Read Catherine’s story, “What I Wish I’d Known about Managing My Son’s Diabetes.”

Reading tea leaves

Like many fans of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, I was glued to the TV Sunday night watching the “60 Minutes” broadcast reporting allegations that parts of Mortensen’s original memoir never happened.

Like many fans who have followed Mortenson’s story, I didn’t want to believe it was true. Even though it was CBS doing the reporting. Even though CBS interviewed Jon Krakauer, a renowned author whose own works of nonfiction are meticulously researched, who donated money to Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and who now believes Mortensen made up some of the most dramatic and emotionally engaging scenes described in his first of two books about his experience building schools in desolate areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’ve read The New York Times take on the story, and NPR‘s. I believe these media entities to be reliable vehicles for information that is presented with integrity, caution and care. And still I don’t want to believe it.

Continue reading

Pet peeves about press releases – #3

A good friend of mine works in public relations. I love her approach. She takes time to learn about her client’s business. She works hard to cultivate meaningful relationships with contacts in the media. She thinks of creative approaches to her story pitches that leave an editor or producer curious to learn more. She becomes familiar with deadlines so the timing of her pitches is appropriate. And she understands that the quality (of a story’s placement) is sometimes more effective than quantity (of media outlets that run with it).

As someone who works on the other side of this equation — and gets tired, sometimes, of all the publicity-seeking people who want, expect and often demand that I do something for them — I appreciate the value of my friend’s approach. I wish more people in her industry would model it. Because here’s what happens. When I get bombarded with press releases from public relations contacts who haven’t taken the time to learn about our publication, our audience, our deadlines or our needs, I eventually stop paying attention.

And when I get a little nugget of something from a PR rep who has done his/her homework, and it turns into a good story for us, I am very much apt to pay attention the next time that person gets in touch.

Editors are human. Sometimes we’re arrogant, sometimes we’re lazy and sometimes we’re just overwhelmed and understaffed. So when someone figures out a way to help us look good, and make our lives easier, we’re grateful. And when someone wastes our time, fills our inboxes with meaningless information or doesn’t have a clue about our publication’s real needs, we’re dismissive.

How to get it right:

Research the publications you plan to approach. Find out about deadline, target audience, focus and specific departments in which your material might work. Request an editorial calendar that will give you a general idea of content themes planned for upcoming months. (We post ours online.)

Find out who does editorial triage. Focus your communication efforts on the person in charge of the specific section in which you feel your information belongs. (For a small company like mine, that would be me.) Trust that person to relay items of interest to the appropriate writers and editors. When you send your press release to everyone on the editorial staff, hoping it gets to the right person, the wrong people are forced to spend time dealing with it, which reduces their productivity.

Write your press release as simply and straightforwardly as you can. Stick to the basics: who, what, where, when and why. Make sure any timely aspect about your information is prominent. Don’t hide the main point on the second page. Don’t have a second page!

Be as specific as possible. We get numerous requests to “write a story about our school” or community group or upcoming fundraiser. You need to think of a unique or interesting angle that would make us want to follow up with a very specific story and that’s always going to come from some smaller piece of the big picture.

Include your full contact information. We need a name, phone number and email address to contact if we have questions. We also need to know who members of the public can contact, if that’s different.

Make sure your release is reviewed by a second set of eyes. Nothing irks an editor more than glaring errors in a document and I don’t think “irked” is the response you are hoping for. Have someone (or two) read behind you before you send it.

One last thing. When you’re seeking publicity for someone or something, don’t expect to control the outcome. No professionally run publication will allow you to review an article prior to publication. (You’d be surprised how often that question is asked.) And while you’re welcome to suggest how we focus a story, we can’t guarantee it will come out that way.

Pet peeves about press releases – #2

When you are writing a press release, watch your words. They can do just as much to harm your case as they can to help it. Your goal is to be persuasive, not annoying. Here are some classic mistakes:

Too many words. If you can’t explain your story idea or request for coverage in less than one page, you’ve already lost me. I have to look at hundreds of these requests each week. I can’t afford the time to linger.

Subjective words. I think it can be assumed that if you are sending the press release you believe the source/subject/story to be important/valid/meaningful. So just give me the facts and let me decide for myself. Language that is gushingly enthusiastic or accompanied by numerous exclamation points is a red flag. It means the real message isn’t interesting on its own.

Words that promise more than they can (or should) deliver. In a recent example we received, a private school promised to teach 2-year-olds to read. Aside from the sad, developmentally insensitive aspects of that (so now even a 2-year-old has to feel academic pressure?) it smacks of luring parents with the false premise that their offspring will become super-achievers if they just cough up the tuition each month.

No “who,” “what,” “when,” “where” and “why” words. You’d be surprised how many press releases we get that are missing one or more of these essential elements.

Words like “famous” and “celebrated.” If the person you are promoting is already getting that much attention, especially in the national arena, they certainly don’t need anything from me. Double demerits if you apply those words to someone I’ve never heard of before.

The words “must have.” If the moms and dads who read our magazine really had all the “must have” stuff that is routinely mailed to our office or described in emails stuffing my in-box, they could audition for one of those “hoarder” reality shows.

Insincere words. One press pitch that started out, “I hope you are having a great Wednesday.” Um, no you don’t.

Insulting words. I seriously got one story pitch that started out like this: “I am not sure if you are currently working on anything specific at the moment….” Are you kidding me? Like there is ever a moment when we are not working on something? Maybe I should try sitting around twiddling my thumbs to see what it’s like.

Out of touch words. These typically accompany those “blanket the universe” releases that don’t bother to consider the specific needs (or climatic conditions) of a particular media outlet. A release I got for a brand of children’s boots from Australia started like this: “As the winter months are rapidly approaching, it is time to bundle our little ones up in all their winter gear.” I got that one last summer–when it was 110 degrees in Phoenix.

Tomorrow: The ones who get it right.

Time for climbing trees

This morning, after I checked my email, looked at my personal Facebook page, looked at the Raising Arizona Kids Magazine Facebook page, perused the latest postings on the RAKmagazine Twitter account and logged some tweets in my personal Twitter account, I sat down on the couch to read the morning papers. My husband and I get both the Arizona Republic and the New York Times. (We used to get the East Valley Tribune before they stopped delivering to our area. Now, sadly, they’re not publishing at all.)

I don’t always make it through both papers but I try to at least scan the headlines. Today I was struck by the irony on the two front pages.

If your kids are awake, they’re probably online, warned a headline in the center of the Times. Thanks to remarkable multitasking abilities, children ages 8 to 18 are packing up to 11 hours a day of media activity into their daily routines, according to the story. “The average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.”

Then I turned to the Republic, where I saw that More K-12 classes [have been] approved for online instruction. So now, in addition to “every waking minute” outside of school, children can spend even more of their day staring at a screen?

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I love the efficiencies of today’s electronic devices. I can get a lot more done in the same eight-hour work day than I used to be able to do. But every time I’ve upgraded my personal technology arsenal — from pager to cell phone, from cell phone to iPhone, from one email account to several, from no social media to Twitter and Facebook — I pay a price. These tools allow me to do more in a day, so I feel compelled to do more. And my internal expectations, instead of shrinking, are growing exponentially.

Online learning serves a great need in today’s society and Arizona has many fine schools that specialize in it. Many of these “virtual” schools (which we list in our 2010 Schools, etc. guide to education) are already free, public charter schools.

Increasing access to online learning within our regular public school districts has me feeling a bit uncomfortable. What is the effect to a child’s imagination and inherent need for contact with the natural world when even school time is spent online?

I am reminded of a recent conversation with a career educator. Piya Jacob is the founder and director of Desert View Learning Center in Paradise Valley, a small private school my own two sons attended during grades K-3.

Piya described a conversation she’d had with two parents who were debating whether they should enroll their child as a kindergarten or first-grade student. The mom was leaning toward a kindergarten start; the dad insisted the child was academically ready for first grade.

“What is the goal?” Piya gently prodded. “Is the goal to get this child to into the work world that much more quickly? Because we all have plenty of time to work. We have such precious little time to be children.”

In another story, she described a parent a who was watching students during independent reading time. One child (perhaps her own? I don’t remember) finished reading a book, then ran outside to climb a tree. “Why do you allow them to climb trees during reading time?” this parent asked Piya. “Why don’t you make them read more books?”

“Because,” Piya replied. “They need to climb trees.”