Check out this story about magician Jay Shatnawi, of Windsor, California. It’s a great piece with an amazing photo, a good write-up of his performances at a Petaluma steakhouse and a a ballsy performance for Criss Angel and his “Believe” audience. The Press Democrat isn’t the New York Times, but that doesn’t matter to its readers. It’s a great story about one of their own community members, a rising star with talent to share and a story to tell.
That should raise the question: Why not you?
You live near a newspaper, or TV station. You perform magic. You have a story to tell, and you’d make a great subject for a story! You’re gonna start writing press releases right now, right? Wait, no! Just drive to the TV station! They’ll put you on live instantly!
Slow down. In addition to writing for Ellusionist and a performing close-up magician, I am the features editor for a daily newspaper in the Midwest, and I can tell you exactly what happens to most overly aggressive news seekers. To put it in magician’s terms, there’s a lot of ditching involved.
That doesn’t mean I’m a heartless editor. My position as features editor means I’m a little more accepting and flexible for a variety of stories, because I’m in charge of the sections people WANT to read, not what they NEED to read. I’m always looking for stories about people in our coverage area, and your story may be quite newsworthy.
So you should definitely pursue media coverage, if you think it will benefit you. But you should have reasonable expectations of the reception you’ll get from the media, and what — if any — kind of coverage you’ll get. We could dive into how to write a good press release, how to ask for coverage, etc. — but for now, the best thing to know is a little bit about the media business. I’m happy to share these four points, and hope they help you get good local coverage.
PRINT IS DIFFERENT THAN TV
This seems obvious, but these differences cannot be overstated. A print journalist (newspaper or Internet site) will want to dive much deeper into a story and ask you questions that will make you uncomfortable, where TV and radio will concentrate on the visuals and imagery. Where a newspaper will ask you pointed, focused questions about how you got started and your magical influences, TV reporters will ask you to perform a few tricks for the camera.
My apologies for making my field of print sound more noble, because that isn’t always the truth. Most TV stations pay close attention to their websites, and ensuring that their digital content reads as well as it airs, and newspapers are constantly adding visual video elements to their websites. The key thing to remember is that there’s a written way to tell a story, and a visual way, and those mean different things for you.
JOURNALISTS DON’T COVER MAGIC WELL
It’s true: As a whole, we journalists are terrible at covering magic. I know I’m good at it, but I can’t say the same for a lot of my colleagues. I wrote a column about that very subject about two years ago, and not much has changed. A majority of coverage I see is focused on either performing or revealing, and that doesn’t happen with any other art form.
What does that mean for you? It’s something you might find an angle on, but for the most part, it will lead to disappointment when you realize the story they see is not the same story you see.
You may think your story needs to be printed everywhere, but the people in charge of the ink, paper and pixels may disagree. “Newsworthy” is an easy term to define in a big-picture way, but it takes on a variety of different meanings when figuring out what goes on tomorrow’s front page. As an editor, I’m always evaluating what my readers want to know about. I hear from them constantly, and make decisions based on those comments. That means my needs change almost on a weekly basis. A story can go from “meh” to “wow” in just a few news cycles.
This means you need to be patient, and learn the different ways news outlets communicate news. Newspapers have briefs, short stories and long reports. TV stations have briefs, features and entire programs. There’s plenty of ways to get coverage, and even a brief listing in a community calendar is much better than nothing at all.
STORY IS KEY
The main thing journalists are looking for is a great story. James Lanaras found a great story in Jay Shatnawi. There are a variety of ways he could have discovered it: Maybe he was having dinner at the steakhouse and engaged him in conversation, maybe a friend told him about Shatnawi, maybe Shatnawi called the newsroom of the Press Democrat, maybe an editor assigned Lanaras the story. All that matters is that Lanaras did a great job finding what readers would want to know.
Good media coverage is like love — it will find you when you’re NOT looking for it. So the best thing you can do to snare some of this kind of coverage is to make your story better. Get out in the community. Perform. Network. Sharpen your skill. Hone your art Be the best magician you can be. When you pursue that, word will spread, and your story will demand telling.
BONUS: GOING ON TV? STAY ORIGINAL
Some magicians get lucky enough to land a gig on a TV news show, where they get to perform for personalities live on TV. If that happens to you, congrats! One piece of advice: Make sure you perform original magic on air. While many magic suppliers are happy to sell teaching materials, a majority of the magicians who create these effects intend for you to use the secrets in pursuit of your own presentations and performances. Those creators have different thoughts about whether you should perform those over a live broadcast — most frown on the practice, in fact.
Remember that people want to see YOU perform tricks, they don’t want to see just tricks. They are interested in the magician, not the magic. Performing others’ material in the way that they created it doesn’t help you write your own story.
FOUR POINTS is a regular feature that celebrates magicians’ favorite number by highlighting four critical bits of importance, awesomeness or otherwise. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.