Afterschool Alliance

Reach Out to the Media

Spread the word.

Lights On Afterschool provides a wonderful opportunity to generate positive news coverage of your afterschool program and to remind the public of the need to provide sufficient funding for afterschool.


News Release




Afterschool PSAs


Sample Media Alert


Media Plan
& Timeline

Reporters seek out stories that affect the community—they will want to tell readers, viewers and listeners about threats to afterschool programs.
So plan your Lights On Afterschool activities with the media in mind. 

Here’s How:

Create a Media List

If you don't already have a list of reporters, editors, columnists, photo editors and producers who cover education, children and families, parenting, workplace, and feature stories in your media market, this is a good time to create one.  United Ways sometimes have media guides that are available to community agencies for a nominal fee, and the public relations offices at community colleges are often willing to share their media lists with other education agencies.

To build your own media list, make a list of:

  • Local TV and radio stations (including college and university-affiliated stations)
  • Daily and weekly newspapers (including ethnic, community and other specialty papers)
  • Wire services
  • Magazines
  • Websites with a local focus
  • Newsletters and bulletins from interested community- and faith-based organizations.

Call and ask for the name and contact information (phone number, fax and email) of the editor, reporter, columnist or producer who covers education, children and families, parenting, workplace, and features.  Media lists should be updated twice per year, as journalists tend to shift beats and jobs fairly often.

Structure Your Event with Media in Mind

Some things to remember:

  • The media—particularly television reporters and newspaper photographers—look for good visuals.  Make sure your event has lots of color, action, and signs or banners with your program name and "Lights On Afterschool" prominently placed.
  • Journalists need to file their stories during late afternoon hours, so plan the program or presentation portion of your Lights On Afterschool event as early in the day as possible.  If your event goes from 3 to 5 p.m., for instance, hold the program at 3:15 or 3:30 p.m.
  • Choose two or three spokespeople to speak.  They might include your program director, a mayor or other prominent official who supports the afterschool program, or an articulate student who participates.  Make sure the spokespeople know your key messages and are familiar with all aspects of your Lights On Afterschool event.
  • Be sure you have parental permission for any students who will talk to journalists, on- or off-camera.
  • Sign in reporters and identify them with badges or nametags of a specific color when they enter your event so everyone knows who they are.  You might want to assign volunteers to stay with reporters, introduce them to people, explain activities and answer questions.

Issue a News Release

A few days before your event, write a news release.  A news release is written like a news story, but has the advantage of being written from your point of view.  It contains quotes from important people, background on your afterschool program and Lights On Afterschool, and features your key messages.  It should not exceed two pages.  It is essential that it list a contact person with daytime and evening (or cell) phone numbers.  Because the news release will be distributed in the press kits at your event, it should be written in the past tense.  You should also fax it to journalists who don't come to your event.

Manage Media at Your Event

At your event, set up a media sign-in table.  It should be easily recognizable to reporters and be placed at the entrance to the room or area where your Lights On Afterschool event will take place.  Assign a staff person or volunteer to the table throughout the event to assist journalists.  Have a sign-in sheet with columns for: “name of reporter,” “media outlet,” “phone number” and “email.”  Each reporter who signs in should be given a press kit and verbal information about your rally.  If something special is happening in half an hour, make sure to tell him/her that.  Give each reporter a badge or nametag to wear so everyone at the event can easily identify press people.  Do not be surprised if journalists (photographers and camera crews in particular) “take over the room” briefly by setting up special lights for cameras, clipping their microphones to the podium or putting tape recorders on the podium.  Be prepared to help them, as long as their needs do not disrupt your event.


Be sure to collect clips from local newspapers in the days after your event.  Then, relax.  You mastered the fine art of media relations, and your afterschool program and the children you serve will benefit from your work.  Congratulate yourself and your team on a job well done!

Invite the Public to Your Event

Once you’ve designed your event, use the media to encourage people to come.  Send an announcement to everyone on your media list in the middle of September.  Be sure to include your name and daytime phone number in case there are any questions.

Identify Your Key Messages

Develop key messages for your Lights On Afterschool rally.  These messages should be integrated into all your media materials and be the focus of remarks by your spokespeople.  If possible, narrow your key messages to three and keep them simple, clear and concise.  The following is an example of messages; be sure to tailor yours to reflect what afterschool programs mean to your community and the unique challenges facing afterschool programs in your state.

  • [Name of program] keeps kids safe and healthy, inspires students to learn, and helps working families.  Children who come to our program every afternoon have a safe place to go, a range of fun and challenging activities, and supervision by adults who help them learn and stay out of trouble.  Afterschool is key to kids’ success.
  • Afterschool programs need more resources and more support.  Funding shortages are denying too many kids the opportunities that afterschool programs offer.  Too many afterschool programs are being forced to cut back or even close because of budget cuts, or because they were unable to secure enough funding in the first place.  We ask law makers, business and community leaders, parents, and others to do more to make afterschool available to every family that needs it.

Appeal to the Press

A few days before your event email, mail or fax a media alert to everyone on your media list.  It serves as an invitation to reporters to cover the event.  An alert is very basic and gives journalists information on who, what, where, when and why the event is important to the community.  It is not a news release and need not include quotes or give great detail.  A media alert should never exceed one page.  If you have a wire service in your community (Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters or a local City News Service), fax a copy of the alert to the Daybook Editor there.  She or he publishes a calendar of newsworthy events for other reporters to check each day.

The week of your event, update the media alert you sent the previous week by adding new speakers or more information about student activities, and email or fax it again first thing in the morning.  Over the next few days call everyone on your media list to make sure they received your media alert and to ask if they (or someone from their media outlet) will be covering the event.  If they are unable to make it, plan to email or fax them a news release immediately following or during the event.  Many news outlets may be willing to write a story from a press release if they are unable to send a reporter.  If you call a talk show producer, ask about booking your afterschool program director as a guest on a future show to discuss the benefits of afterschool and the harm that would come from budget cutbacks.

Develop Press Kits

Assemble press kits to distribute at your event—enough for all the journalists you expect will come, and then a few extra.  The kits can be assembled in plain folders with a label from your afterschool program on the cover or, if you want to be creative, have students decorate the covers and write “press kit” prominently under the drawing.  The kits should contain:

  • Your news release
  • A one-page background sheet on your afterschool program
  • A one-page fact sheet on afterschool programs with data added on your state or community
  • Copies of speaker remarks

They may also contain:

  • Letters from parents, volunteers or students describing why they support the program
  • A proclamation from your mayor or governor declaring “Lights On Afterschool Day”
  • Notable facts—for example, how has your program grown since inception, how many students are on your waiting list, the number of program volunteers, etc.
  • A page describing your program’s upcoming events

Event Management

Don’t let the story end on the day of your event.  Make copies of any articles or broadcast stories about your Lights On Afterschool event that appear and circulate them to your board of directors, funders, parents, volunteers and policy makers at all levels.  Assign people to monitor local TV news shows and tape any stories about your event.  Keep those tapes to show at future fundraisers, orientations or meetings.

Stay in contact with reporters who attend your event or produce stories.  Contact them in May or June to see if they'd be interested in doing an end-of-the-school-year follow-up on your afterschool program.  Or have the students in your program create a thank you card to send the week after Lights On Afterschool in appreciation for a good story.  You might even contact the reporter to see if he or she would host a group of kids from your program, so they can see what it's like to work in a newsroom.  Maintaining that relationship after the event will help you the next time you are looking for publicity.


Pointers from the pros:

Day in the Afterschool Life of a Dallas Child’ event forges new relationships with media & policy makers

The Dallas AfterSchool Network hosted a bus tour of afterschool programs in north and south Dallas for local dignitaries and community leaders, affording them a realistic look at “a day in the afterschool life of a Dallas child.” As a direct result of the bus tour, the local ABC television affiliate committed to doing a weekly segment on afterschool, and Dallas AfterSchool Network, Executive Director Tanya McDonald was able to establish relationships with federal and state representatives and schedule follow-up meetings.