What is Newsworthy?

­ ­

­How journalists write

Journalists usually describe what they write as sto­ries. They're storytellers and they want their readers to read their work. If they don't, what was the point of writing it?

Before you even begin to write a press release, think of your intended readers. Ask yourself for whom you are writing and what makes your announcement a news sto­ry worth publishing. Your local newspaper or broadcast editor will have a clear idea of his target readership. But what else makes a 'good' story? 

Timeliness 

The essential element of a story is that it's new. It must be timely and immediate. So your press release must answer the question, “Why now?” 

News gets out of date quickly; it's timely if it happened recently. But how recently? That depends upon the publication cycle of the news medium in which you want your story to appear. On a television rolling news channel events that happened during the past half hour are timely. In a monthly journal events that took place over the past 30 days are timely. Stories that are out of date are dismissed as “stale news”, and usually receive little attention. 

The ingredients of a ‘good’ news story

So is news always bad news? Well, no. Professional journalists are not all cynics simply looking for shocking stories. News is about the unexpected. We all hope for good news; it's when events take a surprise turn - for better or for worse, that they become news.

The famous New York Sun editor, Charles A. Dana said: "If a dog bites a man, that's not news", because it happens often, "but if a man bites a dog, that's news!"  Such stories have the element of surprise.  They raise eyebrows, grab people’s attention and may make the front page. 

One simple guide for evaluating the value of a news story is to imagine yourself as the subject. 

What makes a story interesting?

An interesting news story will contain some of these elements, but it’s highly unlikely it will contain them all.   

So do you have a story to tell the press?

Be careful with the "conflict" stories. Politicians, for instance, frequently debate their differences publicly.  Unlike their business and commercial counterparts, they are free to air widely their views and beliefs in the media.  But that makes them vulnerable to damaging press stories.  A journalist, hungry for sensationalism, may be tempted to present harmless dialogue between party members as ‘a political party tearing itself apart’.  Is that the image you want to convey? If not, take care when you speak out. 

In practice, the best newspaper stories don't sensationalise or exaggerate, particularly those in the category of business, technical and scientific news. Never be tempted to bend the facts to attract more interest. News stories must be accurate and truthful.  

There's a wealth of interesting everyday stories that can generate good publicity for their cause.   Local press and radio are hungry for news of events, appointments, fundraising appeals and anniversaries.  The national press often publishes strong, but sound opinion features, such as the merits of Government action or social policies.  

So be pro-active and keep in touch with the media whenever you can. 

Beware: if you don’t use the media, it may use you. 

© Owen Spencer-Thomas

 

22 October 2013


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