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Using the Media

Minimum Measure: Public Education and Outreach on Stormwater Impacts

Subcategory: Promoting the Stormwater Message

Photo Description:  Television can be an effective means of imforming the public about stormwater problems and outreach events


The media can greatly enhance a stormwater pollution prevention campaign. Through the media, a campaign can educate a targeted or mass audience about the problems of and solutions to stormwater pollution. A campaign can use the media to build support for remediation and retrofit projects. It can raise awareness of and spark interest in stormwater management. Best of all, packaging a stormwater message as a news story is virtually free! Surveys show that the public is interested in environmental issues, particularly when they involve water quality, drinking water, or recreation. Reporters are always looking for informative articles, features, or columns to fill their pages or broadcasts. As with any public education activity, however, it is important to refine your message to ensure that it is delivered effectively.


Delivering educational, promotional, or motivational messages through the news media is similar to delivering them through other channels. For the best results, the message should be repeated periodically and linked to something the audience values. Covering watershed issues from several different angles can help to accomplish this. News is the lifeblood of the media, so the message must be packaged to attract coverage. Tailoring the message to the workings of the media and the needs of reporters will help keep the message focused and effective.


The following are some of the ways the media can communicate stormwater news and educational materials.

Newspapers and Magazines. Newspapers are powerful vehicles for delivering educational information, policy analyses, public notices, and other messages. In recognition of the importance and impact of newspaper coverage, many displays at watershed seminars proudly post newspaper articles on the projects being presented. Published news articles are almost always longer and more analytical than television stories, and they can be read by several people at their own leisure without the "hit or miss" nature of broadcasts. Graphics such as photos, charts, and tables can provide added perspective to published stories, and they can deliver complex information in an easily understood format. Public access to newspapers is usually excellent; no specialized equipment is needed. In addition, the unending need for new articles means reporters may be particularly interested in covering stormwater issues.

Newspapers can be accessed in several ways. Depending on the message or event, the appropriate format might be a news release, news advisory, query letter, letter to the editor, or (for urgent, timely information) a news conference.

It is important to obtain information on deadlines. In some cases, it might be more strategic to place an ad in a weekend paper if circulation is stronger on the weekends. Also, there might be certain times of the year when fewer stories or ads are purchased, which would make any ad or story more prominent.

Magazines. Magazines, like newspapers, allow for greater length and analysis than television, but they provide the additional benefit of targeting specific audiences (e.g., landscapers, automobile mechanics, farmers, or recreationists). It is also important to follow the news on a regular basis. If a magazine will be publishing an article on stormwater in an upcoming issue, it would be appropriate to post an ad in that issue. However, unless a magazine is local, it is unlikely that an article relating to stormwater will reach the targeted audience.

Radio. Due to its affordable production costs and creative possibilities, radio remains a strong media presence. Radio is everywhere - in the home, at the office, in the car, on portable headsets. Nearly everyone hears it during their day, almost every day. Of course, radio's ubiquitous presence can also dilute the take-away message of public service announcements. To some, radio is mere background noise. Messages must be repeated to reach such listeners. To saturate whole markets, the message should be distributed to many stations.

Local radio stations offer feature programming, but may not cover news in-depth. Public stations may devote more time to news and educational programming, but might not reach the target audience. To ensure the target audience is reached, match the message to the radio station's format. Radio formats range from metal to talk, country to jazz, classical to rock. Although radio's spot news coverage does not lend itself easily to in-depth analysis, radio can still play a valuable reinforcing role for other outreach efforts.

Airtime is short, so when preparing a radio spot, get right to the point. To minimize production costs, prepare scripts ahead of live radio spots. Scripts should be concise, well written, and easy to understand. Community calendars and other public notice programs require typed, double-spaced copy. The ads release date can be tied to a special day or event (like Earth Day) and updated later with different angles to improve its effectiveness. Submissions should be supported with follow-up calls or letters or even promotional items like posters.

Television. Television is the primary source of news for the majority of the population, and local reporters are generally interested in covering environmental stories that pertain to their area. Television news stories tend to focus on people. Therefore, they must be engaging and compelling. Issues will attract television coverage if they:

  • Involve local people or issues
  • Focus on the unique or the unusual
  • Affect many people throughout a region
  • Involve controversy or strong emotions

News Conferences. A news conference may be appropriate when breaking information requires a higher profile, or when an event is too important for a news release. To publicize the news conference, a media advisory should be sent to area outlets two days in advance. The advisory should be followed by a phone call to confirm attendance and to answer questions. A typical news conference begins with the handing-out of a news release. A news release explains the conference's purpose and includes contact information and quotes from involved parties. A moderator then makes a few introductory remarks, reads a statement, or introduces other speakers. All remarks should be carefully prepared. The floor is then opened for questions, most of which can be anticipated and prepared for beforehand. After the conference, a news release is sent to media members who did not attend.

When preparing for a planned event (such as Stream Cleanup and Monitoring, Storm Drain Marking, Volunteer Monitoring, Adopt-A-Stream Programs, Reforestation Programs, or Wetland Plantings), a news advisory can be sent to local stations. Every advisory should include a description of the event, when and where it will take place, who will participate, and a contact phone number. The press advisory can be sent 1 or 2 weeks before the event. It should include the name of the organization, a contact name, and the reason for calling. If reporters do not show up at the event, a follow-up news release can be sent immediately afterward so the event can still be covered.

Public Service Announcements. Public service announcements (PSAs) can be a successful outreach approach if they are widely broadcast. Newspapers will run PSAs for events or activities that are free or sponsored by a nonprofit organization. Radio stations will air PSAs if they feel they are of interest to listeners. Information on watershed festivals, stormdrain stenciling, river clean-ups, or pollution hotline numbers make good PSAs. Although free, radio PSAs sometimes air late at night or early in the morning, not always the best times to reach the target audience. Television PSAs can be highly effective if aired on selected stations at appropriate times. All PSA information should be submitted at least one month in advance. Any municipality preparing a PSA for the first time is advised to seek advice from another agency or hire a professional agency. The Stormwater Quality Management Committee Exit EPA Site in Clarke County, Nevada has several examples of radio and television PSAs on their website.

Internet Message. The Internet is becoming an increasingly powerful means of communication. It provides worldwide access to hundreds of thousands of sites containing database/mapping features, chat rooms for special interest groups, and millions of documents. Because agency personnel, environmental groups, and the business community use the World Wide Web extensively, it can be a valuable tool to convey a stormwater pollution message. Average citizens, however, still get the bulk of their environmental messages from television, radio and other traditional venues. A web-based message is geared toward a specific "connected" audience that may be more receptive to the cause and its objectives than an "unconnected" audience.

A municipality's website is a good place to post stormwater information. Information should be placed on the stormwater department's page and any other relevant department's page. If there is enough interest, the department can develop an automated e-mail address list (list server). A list server is a distribution list recorded in an e-mail account. It allows a message to be sent to everyone on the list at once. Active stormwater programs can establish an e-mail list server to keep stakeholders updated on meetings, policy discussions, and other developments. Implementing this communication link is simple and inexpensive. Because it is convenient and provides a written record of the communication, e-mail is the preferred communication medium among many citizens, business people, and agency officials.

Interest-group websites can be a good way to reach specific audiences, such as recreational fishermen, automobile mechanics, farmers, etc. Such websites can reach not only a local audience but also a national one. Explore these sites before deciding to use them in an outreach program. The Internet's importance to local watershed outreach efforts will likely grow in the future.


During its stormwater pollution prevention program, San Diego County's Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) used the media several times. They placed PSAs in newspapers advertising a watershed collection event. They developed a media kit on urban runoff, and they held two new conferences. The first, held aboard a cruise ship, announced the release of the Chollas Creek Watershed Protection Calendar. Winners of an student art competition designed the calendar's pages. After the news conference, all participants were invited to remain aboard for a tour of San Diego Bay, the object of the Coalition's preservation efforts. San Diego's leading local TV station carried the event.

The second news conference announced the release of the urban runoff media kit. The conference, which featured the stenciling of stormdrains near the San Diego Administrative Building, was attended by representatives of the Surfrider Foundation and a state senator. All the major media outlets covered the event. The City of San Diego funded the media kit.

Neighborhood Association Newsletters. Many neighborhood and homeowner associations publish newsletters. Adding stormwater information, especially steps individuals can take to help, would target specific areas and increase the sense of community involvement. Such associations frequently look for new topics and speakers for club events.


Many neighborhood and homeowner associations publish newsletters. Adding stormwater information, especially steps individuals can take to help, would target specific areas and increase the sense of community involvement. Such associations frequently look for new topics and speakers for club events.


Working with the media is usually free, but not always. While news releases and articles are generally free, some television stations may charge fees to air PSAs. And while newspapers and radio station rarely charge fees to run PSAs, you should contact local stations for cost estimates. Existing websites usually don't charge to post Internet messages, but an Internet host company may charge for messages posted on new sites.


Environmental Health Coalition. 1992. How to Create a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Campaign. Environmental Health Coalition, San Diego, CA.

The Council of State Governments. No date. Getting in Step--A Guide to Effective Outreach in Your Watershed. The Council of State Governments, Lexington, KY.

Kaiser, J. 1995. Culvert Action: How to interest your local media in polluted runoff issues. Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Walnut Creek, CA.

Stormwater Quality Management Committee. No date. Public Communications. Clarke County, Nevada. [ Exit EPA Site]


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Last updated on May 24, 2006