In May 2014, I gave birth to my second child – a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Since then, most of my time has been devoted to caring for and nourishing my new kid. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the optimal source of nutrition for the first year of a baby’s life, which makes breastfeeding a newborn a full-time job. Those first few months were a real struggle. Oftentimes, in the middle of the night, I needed reliable advice and a safe place to vent my frustrations, without having to leave the house.
A good friend told me about a new volunteer support group in central Connecticut for nursing mothers called Breastfeeding USA. I’m not the type to join an in-person support group – a commitment made even more challenging with a newborn in tow. But this particular group attracted me in because it made access to breastfeeding support and information simple — through social media. I didn’t have to be there in person. I could participate (or just lurk) through the group’s very active Facebook page at any time that was convenient.
Newborn babies are up at all hours, which means worried mothers (and fathers) are up at all hours, too. Luckily, we modern moms (and dads) have socially networked digital tools: mobile devices and wi-fi. That means scrolling through Facebook at 2 a.m., looking for support at 3 a.m., posting questions at 4 a.m., and scanning others’ posts for answers at 5 a.m.
I found the camaraderie and resources on the Breastfeeding USA Connecticut Chapter’s Facebook page to be so helpful that the experience inspired me to pitch a story to the non-profit Connecticut Health Investigative Team about the rates of breastfeeding in Connecticut. A few weeks of research and interviews with experts led me to the news hook for a story: a growing number of mothers in Connecticut are breastfeeding their babies and breastfeeding for longer periods of time. Support groups, such as Breastfeeding USA, that make use of digital technology and social networking are contributing to the rising numbers, among a handful of other factors unique to Connecticut. That’s good for Connecticut babies.
Here’s what else I was able to glean from the experience – journalistically speaking. After the fine folks at C-HIT.org published my story on their website on December 28, 2014, the next trick was to make sure people interested in the topic of breastfeeding found my story. There’s nothing worse for a journalist than to work really hard on a story and have no one see it/read it/watch it/share it. That means in addition to reporting and writing and producing news stories, freelance journalists also need to formulate a distribution plan to gain recognition for their stories.
My distribution plan went something like this:
First, I posted a link to the story on my own Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. My C-HIT editors posted on their social media feeds, too – both professional and personal. I also tweeted the story at the accounts of institutions mentioned in the story, such as the two hospitals.
Next, I sent the URL of the story to everyone I interviewed. The doctor at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. The chairwoman of the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition. The lactation program leader at Hartford Hospital. All the mothers and volunteer counselors I met through BreastfeedingUSA.
One of those volunteer counselors shared my story with the national chapter of BreastfeedingUSA, which posted a link to my story on their Facebook account. That share to the group’s more than 300K followers, made the audience for my story grow exponentially.
C-HIT’s editor-in-chief Lynne Delucia said my breastfeeding story was the first ever on C-HIT.org to garner more than 1,600 Facebook likes.
Another terrific aspect of writing for the non-profit Connecticut Health Investigative Team is its great network of print distribution channels. C-HIT syndicates its content to more than 19 other news organizations in Connecticut. So my story also appeared old school-style on the front page of newspapers, including The Hartford Courant, New Haven Register and Middletown Press and on those newspapers’ social media feeds.
A localized Fairfield County version of my story with additional reporting by Amanda Cuda of the Stamford Advocate attracted another 2,100 Facebook likes, and was picked up and distributed nationally by the Associated Press.
Journalists, especially freelancers, can’t expect an audience to discover our stories organically. There is too much competition, too much noise, too many distractions online. If we want the information we’ve worked so hard to gather, filter and craft into a news story to be seen, heard, read and understood, we have to be smart and proactive with the digital tools at our disposal. We have to try to get the story into the “network” of people who care about the topic and put it where those people are spending their time and attention so it can be stumbled upon.