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Blog: Positive local press coverage

By Susanne Retka Schill | January 09, 2017

It’s always nice to read positive stories about ethanol.  A few weeks ago, Sterling Ethanol, Sterling, Colorado, was featured in a two-part series written by Jeff Rice, reporter for the area newspaper, the Journal-Advocate. The first article describes Sterling Ethanol’s role in the community, how it got its start, how it supplies cattle feeders in the area and the benefits from converting the starch to ethanol and feeding the coproduct. 

The second article takes on the myths around ethanol. “Corn growers and the ethanol industry they welcomed soon found themselves struggling against a combination of urban legend, bad logic, and old wives' tales. What was supposed to be the fuel industry's Jedi knight had turned into Darth Vader, something good turned into evil,” Rice writes. He goes on to discuss the food versus fuel argument, the supposed harm to engines and whether ethanol is good for the environment, when all factors are considered. He’s done his homework, and goes deeper than many such articles, citing multiple reports to back his discussion.

This could be a model for other ethanol producers to use with their own regional newspapers.  If you have a regional publication with a reporter that tackles in-depth stories, give him or her a call, or take them out for a cup of coffee. Ask about their knowledge and interest in ethanol and extend an invitation to tour the plant Demanding a story be written isn’t the best approach, of course, but offering to answer questions and provide some links to helpful background information in a followup email is a possibility. Most reporters are avid readers and even if nothing comes from the first contact, you will have helped educate them.

While in-depth stories are great, many local newspapers don’t have the staff to do stories that take a lot of research. But, with a big round of 10-year anniversaries coming up, many plants have an opportunity to seek coverage. Inviting the local newspaper to an anniversary event is a good idea, but you can use the occasion to get more coverage, by contacting the newspaper well in advance. Ask for help in promoting the event and volunteer to line up interviews with early organizers, long-time employees or board members.

News hooks can be invented, too. Holding an appreciation meal or event, offering public tours, giving an award to an employee or board member – all can be newsworthy occasions that can be turned into a story.

Getting local coverage is important. We surveyed ethanol producers recently for a story in the January issue, asking about the level of concern about support for the RFS. The greatest concern lies on the national level. What caught my eye, though, was about 30 percent are very concerned and 38 percent somewhat concerned about the level of support in their local area, and 29 percent were very concerned, and 52 percent were somewhat concerned about state support. That strikes me as a call for local action to build that support.

Inviting press coverage can be scary for fear of being misquoted or factual errors. Asking to read the story before it gets printed is not a good idea, however. Newspapers that cover government bodies often have strict policies that no sources read the article before publication. After all, if readers learned the mayor read every story about the city before it was published, the credibility of the newspaper would be damaged. Reporters do want to get the story right, however. 

One idea is to create a fact sheet—a page or two with relevant facts—a brief history, significant milestones and names of key people, plus the numbers for ethanol capacity, production of distillers grains and other coproducts, perhaps efficiency data. It’s a good idea to share figures on the local economic impact, if you have them, or give the latest state or national report data.

Such a handout is handy not only for reporters, but other visitors, tours or annual meetings. For a big anniversary, it’s nice to have a good-looking brochure to hand out, but there’s no need to make a handout fancy—a simple document that can easily be kept up-to-date works well.