Getting the Word Out... The role of the UI News Bureau

An editor of a Boy Scouts magazine published in Texas calls the UI News
Bureau to find out how he can make arrangements for one of his free-lance
writers to visit the campus for a story he's working on that takes a look
at the experiences of freshmen at a number of campuses around the country.
The News Bureau gets in touch with the writer, who lays out exactly what he
wants to do while on campus for a day and a half: get a guided tour, meet
one-on-one with four students of different ethnic and economic backgrounds,
and arrange for photos to be taken of the students and campus.

The News Bureau routinely gets requests such as this - and responds as
quickly as possible, because a delay not only can make it appear the
university doesn't care but also that the reporter ultimately turns
elsewhere for information. And, after all, providing information is what
the News Bureau is all about. Giving reporters quick access to the
expertise of the UI faculty and staff promotes the institution among the
many audiences the university serves.

One way the News Bureau capitalizes on the faculty's expertise is via a set
of monthly "news tips," one-page news releases widely distributed to the
news media throughout the nation. The tips are designed to pique a reporter
or editor's curiosity rather than tell the whole story about a particular
project a faculty member is working on. A recent tip, on a UI-run project
benefiting children in Hope Village at the former Chanute Air Force Base in
Rantoul, has generated front-page articles in the Chicago Tribune,
Christian Science Monitor and New York Times, as well as a televised report
by CBS News. Occasionally, small newspapers, with correspondingly smaller
staffs, will publish a news tip verbatim. More often, a reporter or editor
will call the News Bureau to get more information about the tip or to
arrange an interview with the faculty member mentioned. Sometimes the call
will go directly to the faculty member.

Frequently, the news media call the News Bureau, seeking help with a story
in the making. "Do you have anybody who knows anything about mad cow
disease?" (Yes, we do, as a matter of fact.) "I'm looking for someone who's
an expert on folklore. Is there someone there who can help me?" (No, but we
know of someone at another university who may be just the source you're
looking for.) "I need to know if you've got someone who can talk to me
about Stephen A. Douglas." (We do.)

Sometimes, it's a photo the reporter is after, either of the faculty member
or of the research. Recently, the New York Times called, asking for a
diagram of a process to accompany an article a reporter was preparing for
Science Times, the Tuesday science section in the paper. A member of the
News Bureau was able - after a series of phone calls and e-mail messages,
including several between continents - to track down what the paper needed.
(And it was published.)

A relatively new way for the News Bureau to be queried is electronically,
via ProfNet, a service that allows the news media to post questions to an
electronic bulletin board read by hundreds of subscriber colleges and
universities. The key to getting the word out about the  UI when responding
to such inquiries is speed. Because so many institutions have the same
opportunity to reply, the News Bureau tries - and usually succeeds - in
responding within minutes.

UIUC -- Inside Illinois -- 1996/04-18-96