Writing & Editing

The writers and editors at OPA work in a variety of ways to keep the public, campus community and alumni informed of noteworthy accomplishments and activities at Mississippi State. Key staff members also work with broadcast and print media to provide answers to questions about the university, background for stories, and expert commentary on current events or breaking news.

Share News with OPA

What We Do

The Office of Public Affairs maintains positive relationships with local, state and regional media and our staff should be the university’s first and primary contact with members of the news media. OPA edits and distributes all public news releases and announcements, except those from MSU Athletics and the Office of Agricultural Communications. OPA strategically works with communications specialists in colleges/units throughout the university. University employees should contact the communications specialist in their college/unit to facilitate a news release request or employees can submit requests directly to OPA.

Requests for interviews from media outlets should be routed through OPA, which will coordinate with appropriate faculty or staff. Please share notice of outside media contacts with OPA in advance of interviews.

When submitting information to OPA for a news release, keep in mind the five W’s and H of journalism: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. The Office of Public Affairs will ensure releases meet OPA and Associated Press style guidelines. All material submitted for publication on university news platforms is subject to review, proofing and editing by MSU’s Office of Public Affairs, which also makes publication and platform decisions. OPA staff will work with university employees or students to identify the best outlets for news items.

For more information, contact Allison Matthews, news editor, at amatthews@opa.msstate.edu, or Harriet Laird, associate director, at hlaird@opa.msstate.edu.


What Merits a News Release?

When deciding whether a media release is appropriate, the following elements of newsworthiness should be considered. Office of Public Affairs staff can assist in determining what necessitates a university news story and when other options may be considered for disseminating information.

—Impact or Significance

  • Is the story about high-impact research, especially with clear clinical, practical or society-impactful implications?
  • Will the news impact a large number of students or others on campus, in the community or the economy? Does it have a potential future impact?
  • Is it compelling to prospective students or faculty or the community-at-large?
  • Is it a significant grant or award amount within the field or is it an unusually prestigious or competitive accolade?
  • Is this of interest to a local, statewide or national audience?
  • Does this content help position MSU as a leading university?
  • Does this story describe the MSU experience and support the current We Ring True! branding campaign?

Timeliness

  • Recent events have higher news value than earlier happenings. Of particular value are stories brought to the public ahead of the event, competition, etc.
  • Please give at least two weeks prior notice for university events. We understand that sometimes stories need to be generated with less lead time, but please make every effort to give advance notice so there is time for editing and other elements of story preparation and distribution.
  • For scholarly research publications, please give advance notification to OPA of faculty who have pending journal or paper publications. OPA will respect embargos but may begin work in advance to prepare news stories about a faculty member’s major research publications and announcements.

—Exceptional Quality or Novelty

  • Anything out of the ordinary or unusual may have more news value. The classic example remains: Dog bites man—no story. Man bites dog—story. Routine academic activities, such as attending conferences, as well as commonplace achievements and frequently awarded scholarships, typically are not considered newsworthy.
  • Anytime a student or faculty member is honored or recognized, this is good news for the university; however, there are so many honors for students and faculty, that all will not be the best fit for a university news release. OPA is looking for the most significant awards and scholarships to write about in university news. Some of these include President’s, Provost’s, and Astronaut Scholars, and several other prestigious external scholarships like the Goldwater, Fulbright, Marshall, PPIA and prestigious fellowships, among others. For many honors, scholarships and other recognitions, a better fit may be for a college and/or department to share this news on its website or social media, and there are some other outlets, such as MEMO, that can help share the good news. OPA usually identifies honors with significant monetary awards attached or other prominent distinctions in determining the best outlets for news items.

—Human interest or broad appeal

  • Does the story have any special human interest, like someone overcoming odds to achieve something great?
  • Does the story have national or international appeal? Does it align with current happenings in the country or abroad?

Grants, Awards, and Scholarships

  • OPA writes and distributes news releases about large grants, with significant funding amounts awarded, as well as highly competitive fellowships. News about less competitive grants and awards may be directed to college/unit communications specialists for use by that particular area of the university, and these also may be considered for the MEMO employee newsletter.
  • OPA writes and distributes news releases about major student honors such as prestigious scholarships like the Rhodes, Goldwater and Truman scholarships, while also writing about institutionally significant scholarships such as the Presidential and Provost scholars. News stories about departmental scholarships are typically not distributed through OPA. However, this content is appropriate for colleges/units.
  • Other grants, awards and scholarships may be considered for a news release, but OPA is looking for unusually prestigious items to highlight in university news. While all faculty and student honors and recognition are a point of pride for the university, all will not be the best fit for a university news release.
  • Key student and faculty awards that exemplify the university mission and further its presence among other land-grant and SEC institutions are considered for an OPA-distributed news release as well. Internal examples include the Spirit of State, Zacharias Distinguished Staff, and Community Engagement awards.
  • Student and faculty recognitions such as Fellow, first-place awards, and presidential offices in professional organizations at the state, regional or national level are also sent to media by OPA. Moreover, when MSU student teams are recognized as exemplary among other university teams in the state, region or nation, OPA will write about these honors. For organizations that may win multiple competitions in a semester, it may be preferable to report these news items at the college or departmental level and write an overall recap news release at the end of a term.

Crisis Communications
During a crisis or emergency, the university will deploy official communication through its Crisis Action Team and Public Information Officer. MSU’s PIO is Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter or his designee. The university requests that in an emergency, all students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders be alert to official university communication channels and please do not propagate potential misinformation or theories.

Graduation Honors
OPA writes and distributes news releases each semester on the general outline of graduation ceremonies, including number of graduates, featured speakers and any honorary doctorates given.
OPA also will prepare the graduation and deans’/president’s lists each semester for distribution to media—specifically hometown media—and for presentation on MSU’s homepage so it is easily accessible to students, families and friends. OPA prepares and distributes the lists provided by the university Registrar’s Office.

New Hires and Promotions, Faculty Activities

  • OPA news releases on new hires and promotions generally are those at the director level and higher. However, colleges/units will internally publicize new hires and promotions as deemed appropriate.
  • See the Grants, Awards and Scholarships section above for information on publication of faculty and staff awards. Routine faculty activities such as conference presentations are usually not reported by OPA due to the sheer number of these each year.
  • OPA encourages and welcome news and information on faculty research that has the potential to or is making an impact on society in some way. These stories can be very powerful and tell how MSU faculty are leading the way and are passionate about making a difference.
  • Faculty authors or co-authors on published books or in major, well-known journals such as Science and Nature among others, are encouraged to let OPA know about this work or contact the communications specialists in the respective college/unit.

Promoting Faculty Research in the Mainstream Media: The Conversation

OPA promotes faculty research through its partnership with The Conversation. OPA serves as the primary point of contact for this national news analysis and commentary outlet and regularly works with faculty to develop and pitch article ideas. The Conversation publishes faculty-written articles under a Creative Commons license, meaning that other news sources can republish The Conversation’s content. Many MSU faculty articles in The Conversation have been viewed by thousands of readers. New collaborations with other institutions and media interviews by national outlets also have been generated as a result of faculty contributions. Contact Allison Matthews at amatthews@opa.msstate.edu or Harriet Laird at hlaird@opa.msstate.edu to discuss article ideas. For more on writing for The Conversation, visit https://theconversation.com/us/introduction.