Using photos to generate media coverage

August 19, 2013

Want to win the race to front-page glory? Pitch media using photos. Photos are a great way to garner media attention and public support. Bernard Gwertzman, former foreign editor of the New York Times once said, “A story is more likely to get on the front page if it’s a feature that has a good picture.”

Resource Media worked with Seattle Audubon Society several years ago on a campaign to protect North American songbirds. We focused on the visual aspect – a stronger appeal anyway for the birding crowd, whose hobby is “spotting birds” – and alerted photo desks when bird-banding and other highly visual events took place. We got a lot of coverage which was simply a big photo with a caption, but landed on the front page of the newspaper, or the front page of the local section because it was such good eye candy. An article would have been buried.

If you are holding an event with an especially visual opportunity, you can send a photo advisory to staff photographers at news outlets, such as your daily newspaper or neighborhood journal or blog. Sometimes the photo can lead to a larger story. The editors know there are many readers like me who look at the pictures first when scanning a news page, deciding to read the article if the photo is intriguing.

And, sometimes, you need to just send your own photographers to the scene. The International League of Conservation Photographers does just that. In 2011, the International League of Conservation Photographers sent 13 photographers and several videographers to the border between the U.S. and Mexico to document the beauty of the area and the destruction also taking place as the U.S. government builds a wall along the border. Their philosophy was that if you help people discover the wonders a particular place like the border region has to offer, you have a better chance of getting them to care enough to protect it.

Krista Schlyer of was one of the photographers who went on this trip. She took her photos on a road show which began at the Rayburn Building at the U.S. Capitol. Some dub this photo-lobbying. While she was putting up her photos a man came up to her. He pointed at a picture of a road being built through a wilderness area. “Where was that picture taken?” the guy asked. She explained that it was in the Otay Wilderness near San Diego. The man looked disturbed. He said that he managed that sector of the wilderness for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and, while he had seen written reports, he had not seen the extent of the damage that had been done. One hour later he brought five or six other BLM staffers working in his department to have a look. Later he used the photos in internal presentations around the issue of mitigation dollars for damage done through the building of the wall. Pointing at Schlyer’s pictures he would say, “You cannot mitigate this.”

In a resource-starved media environment, many other iLCP photographers have been successful in getting their photos from field expeditions published by traditional media.

Think visual and you’ll see victory on the front page.

Liz Banse