Businesses often have upcoming events, news, or changes in the company that they want to share with the media. The problem, however, is how to convey the message to the media. This is where a lot of communications specialists and public relations professionals get a bad wrap. If you’re sending your press release to thousands of journalists on your media list via the BCC mass-email method, chances are, people hate you. Journalists are far more willing to pick up a story that they think is newsworthy, rather than one you send to them just to benefit yourself and your organization. Put yourself in the journalist’s shoes. Modern journalists are expected to track down their own stories, do their own interviews and sound, set up their own cameras for filming and cover the stories in writing as well as on social media. To put things simply, journalists are busy. You need to send them a story that is going to benefit them as well as benefit you. Everyone has a boss, and everyone has a deadline–if you have a little empathy, it can take you far. The more work you do for journalists, the more likely they are to pick up your story. Below, I will highlight seven newsworthy factors that you should consider before sharing a story with the media. Your story does not (and probably will not) have to have all seven qualities, but must have at least one. Any additional factors your story possesses after the necessary first are major bonus points. The more factors your story possesses, the more likely your story is to be picked up.
Note: Making up factors of newsworthiness to get your story picked up is nothing short of deplorable and violates the public relations code of ethics.
- Timeliness: In the world of news, the newer a story is, the better. Plus, stories grow old in the blink of an eye. After all, it is called news for a reason. Some people use the analogy of a baked good for news–you don’t want to serve it before it’s ready, but you don’t want it to become stale either. Thoroughly cooked (thought out), and hot out of the oven (still relevant), is usually best.
- Proximity: Ever heard the phrase, “out of sight, out of mind?” Well, it doesn’t just imply to that junk drawer in every family’s kitchen, oh no, it applies to news as well. People tend to care more about news in their hometown than news about far-away lands. Read: if it affects them, they care
- Impact (or Consequence): Before sending a story to the media, read your story objectively. Ask yourself “so what?” Does the story have the potential to impact the lives of others? Will they care about your story?
- Unusualness (or Novelty or Rarity): Is your story unusual? The old saying in the news business is that when a dog bites a man, it’s not news. If something becomes commonplace, no one will care. However, if something is unusual or weird, people will care. If a man bites a dog, that’s news. See: Impact
- Conflict: Although you’ve probably heard the cliche “no news is good news,” a lot of media outlets seem to follow the formula “good news is no news.” A good story always involves some sort of conflict, some sort of struggle. Your media release is not the time to become editor-in-chief of The Good News Daily. “In today’s news, skies were sunny and strangers stopped to smile and say hello.” *Chandler Bing voice* Could you be more boring?
- Human Interest: The general idea is that people are interested in other people. A fire burning down an empty building doesn’t have nearly the same response as a fire that burns somebody’s home, leaving a family homeless or killing somebody. We identify with other people, and that’s part of what gives a story human interest.
- Prominence: This is part of human interest. People are more interested in famous people than in non-famous people. If Bob Johnson, a farmer from Nebraska, has an affair, it’s not going to make the newspaper. When the President of the United States has an affair, it’s front-page news.
So, next time you want to send out any PR or communications-based writing, you can ask yourself if your story is something a journalist would want to read, not something only your mom would want to read.
Some content and definitions adapted from the Evangelical Press Association.