Kids learning to dig the taste of vegetables. Youth powering up model rockets and engineering Lego robots. Children exploring their cultural heritage through dance.
These activities make 4-H, the Oregon State University Extension Service’s youth development programs, shine. The state fair and animals have always been vital to 4-H. But its nontraditional programming exposes kids to science in ways that could radically transform education.
That’s all powerful, important stuff. But not much of it is newsworthy — it stays the same year to year and it’s often not controversial. My task was to raise visibility for 4-H. This in turn would recruit new families and funds for the programs.
For some time, I wrote press releases about scholarships and awards. I broadcasted them to dozens of newspapers all over the state using a press release distribution service. These occasionally got attention in smaller-circulation hometown newspapers, if they had space that week.
So I got to thinking. Who’s my audience? 4-H families and future recruits, pretty much. What do they want to read about? What impacts them? They want to read about the cool ways their friends are making a difference in 4-H. They want to read personal, human stories. They want to read what sets 4-H apart from other after-school clubs and sports.
So I developed a series of web-only stories focusing on how 4-H served culturally diverse audiences with nontraditional programming. I explored programs that exposed kids to science, technology, engineering and math. To develop these stories, I made cold calls to regional 4-H leaders, checking in with what they were doing. I scoured websites and newsletters for ideas. I mined their social media pages. I deepened already good relationships.
As a result, I produced the stories below.
- Young entrepreneurs turn creative ideas into businesses
- Molalla eats its veggies and goes the extra mile
- Modeling healthy choices
- The language of science
I distributed these stories via email to staff and administrators connected to the sources in the story. I encouraged them to repurpose the content in newsletters, websites and social media sites. I posted the content on Extension’s social media sites. I sent strategic news tips to local reporters. I got attention from the Molalla Pioneer, the Burns Times Herald, the Curry Coastal Pilot and KMUN local news radio in Astoria, who said they were interested in pursuing a story or running the story I wrote. A couple of these stories also appeared word-for-word in the Ag Weekly/Prairie Star online newspaper.
These stories take a little more legwork to report, as I always round up testimonials from people impacted by these programs and talk with multiple sources. But they are more effective than merely broadcasting. Newspapers want to get an exclusive, and it’s a good way to build a relationship and trust. Plus, the content can be repurposed in so many other ways as well. The ripple effects go far in these digital times, increasing the footprint of 4-H in the process.