Q&A With K-12 Education Journalist Kara Arundel: Working with PR Professionals for Effective Collaboration
By Lindsay Hull
I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with Kara Arundel, who currently serves as an education reporter for K-12 Dive, on various educational stories over the years. Normally, it’s Kara who works her journalistic magic to interview my clients. However, today, I had the honor of interviewing Kara to gain her perspective on working with public relations professionals and achieving effective communication. She also generously shared some valuable advice for those in the field of PR.
Thanks to Kara for taking the time to conduct this interview with me! You can read Kara’s stories on K-12 Dive here: https://www.k12dive.com/editors/karundel/
LH: Can you briefly tell us about your background as a K-12 education reporter?
KA: I knew I wanted to be a news reporter since I was in middle school. I still feel so lucky I am still working in a job I love and am passionate about. I am a senior reporter at K-12 Dive, a publication of Washington, D.C.-based Industry Dive, which is a business journalism company. Here, I cover national education issues from birth through grade 12. Specific education topics I write about include early childhood education, special education, education funding and Congress.
LH: How long have you been reporting on education topics, and what motivated you to focus on this field?
KA: I have worked as an education reporter for the past two decades, first at newspapers in Virginia and Florida, and more recently for online publications. Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve met people dedicated to improving schools and supporting students. I’m so grateful to everyone who has helped me tell these important stories.
Collaboration with PR Professionals
LH: Can you share examples of successful collaborations or interactions you’ve had with PR reps?
KA: My daily reporting is very much influenced by PR professionals, whether they are alerting K-12 Dive of an upcoming release of a report, a meeting about a top-of-mind topic, or an innovative school-based program.
Some of the most successful collaborations I’ve had with PR professionals happen when they hear about a school- or district-based promising practice and share that information with me. I can then dig into that topic and ask school and district-based educators what steps were taken to make that program successful, what were the roadblocks and what advice would they have for others who may want to replicate the model. Our readers appreciate learning about how schools and districts are addressing barriers in education, such as chronic absenteeism, teacher shortages and funding shortfalls.
We like to focus on these advice-driven stories and include the real-life examples of the efforts educators are undertaking in the schools. PR professionals are extremely helpful in alerting us to these examples.
LH: What communication strategies do you find most effective when working with PR professionals, such as pitches (length), press releases, research, etc.?
KA: The communication strategies from PR professionals that I find most effective are emails pitching a unique education-related angle, a promising practice, insights into school and district operations, and data or research about timely education issues.
LH: How can PR professionals best tailor their communications to meet the needs of education reporters?
KA: We receive many emailed pitches a day and honestly it can be difficult to sort through all the messages. This is why the subject line is critical to encouraging reporters to open the message to learn more. I do try to read all my messages, but I would encourage PR professionals to send follow-up messages or to call reporters if they don’t get a response.
It is helpful when pitches are as specific as possible. That said, I also respond to and appreciate shorter emailed pitches that give a brief overview and ask if I’m interested in learning more.
At K-12 Dive, we write a mix of shorter articles, called briefs, and longer articles. The longer articles often take several days of reporting and interviews with multiple sources. I appreciate pitches for both of these story formats.
LH: Are there any specific elements or information that you consider essential in a press release or pitch related to education topics?
KA: One of the biggest pieces of guidance I can share is how important it is for education PR professionals to read the education news so they can help put a spotlight on unique activities that relate to current issues facing schools. I really appreciate pitches that highlight real-life examples or case studies of how a school or district is addressing problems in education.
Pitches that are sent ahead of an anticipated news event, such as an offer to review an embargoed report or an interview with an education professional, are most helpful as we plan our short- and long-term news coverage. Also, it is key for reports and press releases to include dates so we can verify how timely the release is.
Story pitches that are overly promotional of a product or service from a for-profit business tend not to get as much attention because our news stories cannot be viewed by readers as being influenced by paid or sponsored content.
Advice for PR Professionals
LH: What are some best practices for PR professionals to build positive relationships with reporters of any beat?
KA: I view the work between news reporters and PR professionals as teamwork in sharing stories with readers to help them better understand a topic. It’s most helpful when PR professionals understand that our news stories can’t promote a for-profit service or product.
LH: How can they effectively pitch stories and information to you and your colleagues?
KA: The PR professionals I work with most frequently have proven track records of being trustworthy and reliable. They have delivered on promises of interviews with education leaders, are available for clarifying follow-up questions and are familiar with our news coverage. They also are understanding when an interview or pitch doesn’t lead to a story. I am often working on several stories at the same time and, depending on the news cycle, I may request an interview or information right away or several weeks or months after the first pitch was sent.
It’s helpful for PR professionals to know the “beats” or focus area of each reporter so they can tailor messages to the reporter for that specific topic. The K-12 Dive team talks regularly, and we are all familiar with what stories each of us is working on so there is no duplication of efforts.
LH: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about the dynamics of working with PR professionals?
KA: I strongly believe that there are a lot of untold stories in education. Don’t be hesitant to pitch a story idea to reporters even if you are unsure how it may land. There are several times I will get a story pitch and it aligns with an article I’m already working on — or sparks a new idea. We all need to help tell the stories about the challenges and successes our schools are facing.