today's constantly connected, media centered world, this is the billion
The basic premise that attracts a reporter to a story is friction -- two
competing agendas; two people facing off over a contentious issue, two
groups that are at odds with each other.
Friction tends to lead to interest, and that's what reporters and editors
want. Ultimately, they want a story that will cause their readers,
listeners, or viewers to sit up and pay attention. If the story isn't out
of the ordinary -- if it's just every-day stuff -- it will not be read,
heard or seen.
Once journalists have found a story that their audience will find
interesting, they stick to a simple formula -- the five W's.
We are taught to use the formula of who, what, where, when, why and
how from the earliest years in school. And, it's just as important
today as it was when we first learned to frame a story. However, there is
one significant difference when dealing with the media.
There's a sixth W: Why
should anyone care?
This is, perhaps, the most important W -- as every editor will ask it
before letting a story see the light of day.
The bottom line is, that we as communicators have to make the stories we
tell newsworthy. The more that we strive to hit the right buttons with the
media, the better the chances of seeing them on the evening news.
But what makes a story newsworthy?
Let's take a look at some headlines and see what gets a story published or
Thousands of Farmers Protest - Plea for Government Aid to Avoid Crisis
This story is newsworthy. It deals with a point of friction between two
organizations. Disagreement generally leads to an interesting story. The simplest example is politics. Political arguments and posturing get a
lot of press for precisely this reason. There is disagreement, conflict,
What about this one -- is it news?
Wall Street Firm Wants to Purchase NHL
Absolutely! It's dramatic. It's shocking. It's emotional.
How about this one?
20th Annual Oakville Polar Bear Dip Raises $49,000 for Tsunami Relief
This is a local twist on a larger story (i.e., the December 26, 2004
Tsunami in Southeast Asia). Local angles are important as they have a
direct impact on a targeted audience. Brent Hanson, news anchor for CKCO
TV, describes the relevance of localization, "The viewer will want to
know if they know anyone involved and if it will have an impact on their
In addition to the examples above, the unusual and unexpected often make
interesting news. You just have to look at the popularity of tabloids such
as the National Enquirer for proof.
Another important aspect of newsworthiness is universal appeal. That is, a
story that has an impact on 'everyone.' Consider the outpouring of
sympathy from around the world when Pope John Paul II passed away. Those
that went to St. Peter's Square and tuned in on television were not all
members of the Catholic faith. There was universal mourning for a man that
had managed to reach out to people of many faiths during his pontificate.
Last but not least, entertainment or celebrity often garner instant
newsworthiness. A little over ten years ago, viewers were glued to their
television sets as OJ Simpson led a squad of police cars down an L.A.
highway in a white Ford Bronco. Today just as many people are following
the daily reports of the case against Michael Jackson.
To conclude, the words that seem to repeat over and over again as I write
this piece are story and interest. Ultimately, it's all
about the story and how you package it. An awareness of the components of
what makes a story newsworthy will help you become successful in getting
your key messages to the right audiences.
Turkington is a partner in Strategic Communications Solutions (SCS),
a public relations consulting company. SCS offers more than
50 years of expertise in the public relations field.
For more info: www.stratcommsolutions.ca
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