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Stashing the dope
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THIS WEEK MARKS the debut — in this paper, anyway — of Cecil Adams’s seminal “Straight Dope.” Long a staple of alternative newsweeklies since its first appearance in the Chicago Reader, where it still runs, Straight Dope is Adams’s (a school of thought exists that his name is actually a pseudonym) offbeat journalistic take on those common questions that the mainstream media never gets around to answering.

Given the popularity of our News of the Weird feature, I suspect Straight Dope will be a great companion piece. We hope you enjoy it.

Because we get so much correspondence from them, I’ve been quietly building a list of tips for how local PR professionals can do a better job of reaching out to us dunderheads in the media.

I’m not saying you should do our job for us, but let’s face it: If you can do yourself a favor while doing us a favor, that’s just good business.

Here’s my quick and dirty bullet-point list:

E-mail Us First. My attitude is: Voicemail is there so that I don’t have to answer the phone. (Plus, it’s much easier to forward an e-mail to a staffer than a voicemail.) Introduce yourself and your cause via e-mail and we’ll call you if we need to.

And faxes? A total waste of paper and time.

Images, Images, Images. You’d be amazed how many people, even visual artists, don’t think to include digital images in their communications. Obviously some story ideas and announcements aren’t conducive to images, but most are if you use even a little imagination.

Don’t ask if we need images and don’t say “if you want images just let us know.” I’m letting you know now: Just send images!

• But Make Them Good Images. Decent-size files at 300 dpi are what we need. These little 100-kilobyte postage stamp things that people send are worse than useless.

And whatever you do, don’t tell us to “just download whatever you need from our website.” Unless you have a professionally-done, dedicated media section, the images on your website — no matter how nifty you think that website is or how much you overpaid somebody to design it — are probably way too poor for print.

• Keep Media Schedules in Mind. They’re all different, folks. I can’t tell you how many releases we get a couple of hours before deadline and therefore cannot follow-up on in a timely fashion. By all means send a wave of releases for the daily paper and local TV stations, but we’re a weekly and need the info earlier.

So what’s the optimum time frame? For basic announcements, we need them Wednesday-for-Wednesday — that is, get them to us no later than the Wednesday before the Wednesday you’d like to see them hit stands in our paper.

For story ideas with real newsworthiness, I suggest a two-week lead time at the very least. Sending us something on a Friday and asking us to “do a write-up on it” for the next issue is pure folly.

• But Don’t Go Overboard. By the same token, don’t send your releases out two or three months in advance. I appreciate foresight and discipline, but this basically assures that your announcement will fall through the cracks.

To the media, a month is an absolute eternity. You may as well be talking about the day the sun finally burns out, extinguishing all life on earth. I don’t devote a single brain cell to thinking about what will be in the paper more than thirty days out, except for major calendar items such as St. Patrick’s Day or the Best of Savannah issue (last chance to vote this week, by the way).

• Focus on One Thing Only. I know you think you’re doing us a favor by sending a blanket e-mail with several developments or announcements all listed in one handy-dandy place. But you’re not, nor are you doing your business or cause a favor.

Separate all your news/announcements in individual e-mails with individual subject lines. That goes for exhibits, concerts, lectures, movies, everything. We bounce your e-mails back and forth between us, and you have no idea how ridiculous it gets when an item we really need that minute is jumbled up with a bunch of items we really don’t need.

Please pass this column on to the PR professional in your life. It will make our job easier — and therefore theirs as well.