The TRUTH about what makes a story newsworthy
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, newsworthiness is largely in the mind of the journalist. Put bluntly, a story is only newsworthy if a journalist is willing to cover it.
This of course begs the question, what makes a journalist want to cover a story? And as a technology PR agency it is a question we need to consider for our clients each and every day.
The world is currently revolving around COVID-19 which is monopolising the news agenda and disrupting publisher operating models. Speaking on a recent Roxhill webinar, City A.M. editor Christian May explains how – with the print version of the paper temporarily paused – the focus of the publication has shifted away from sport and lifestyle towards stories of how people are responding to the crisis. He also suggests that although the paper always looks for unique and interesting stories, the bar for covering news has been raised due to a temporary reduction in reporting resource.
But even in this time of unprecedented disruption, the basic rules around what makes a story attractive to a journalist still apply, and they are based around the word ‘truth’. This isn’t quite as virtuous as it initially sounds, although of course truth does play a crucial role in journalism in the more traditional sense. Truth is actually an acronym for the five key elements journalists look for in a news story – Topical Relevant Unusual Trouble Human.
Let’s take a look at each of these elements in turn:
The first T in truth stands for topical, but it could equally stand for timely. News stories need to be of the moment, relating to something people are currently discussing and want to hear about. There is little point pitching a story linked to an event or occurrence that happened last month, the media conversation will already have moved on. In the current climate a lot of newsworthy stories are linked to COVID-19, but as the situation improves other topics are inevitably returning to the fore and these vary greatly by industry.
To attract a journalist’s attention, the story must be relevant to their readership. While some news publications have a wider audience, with multiple sections covering different verticals and areas of interest, more niche publications will be targeted towards a very specific readership. This means stories need to be carefully tailored to the interests and concerns of that group, taking into account their likely level of knowledge. For instance a story around remote learning from an EdTech client should be pitched very differently depending whether the publication is aimed at teachers or parents.
A truly newsworthy story will always provide something new or unexpected to surprise or inform the audience, rather than simply regurgitating information that is already widely available. It could be exclusive results from research or a fresh perspective on an existing situation from an industry expert. The story should progress the conversation already taking place in the media and add something new and valuable to guide its direction. If the story relates to an event or occurrence what is unusual about it? Is it the first, the last, the biggest or the smallest? Naturally any claims to this effect will need to be verifiable.
Every good story has an element of conflict, and journalists will always look for that angle as that’s what makes the story interesting and engaging for the reader. This can present something of a dilemma to businesses looking to put out a positive message but it is not an insurmountable obstacle to being newsworthy. For our clients, bringing the vital conflict element to a story often involves outlining a problem that needs addressing, and then illustrating how their technology can be used to solve the issue.
The human element may be the last in the truth acronym but it is arguably the most important. People engage with stories about other people, rather than about technologies, regulations or statistics. Before they decide to cover a story, a journalist will want to know how the news impacts real people and what the repercussions might be. The news itself is often far less interesting than the potential impact it will have on individuals and communities.
One of the roles of a PR agency is to unearth the TRUTH elements in their client’s news and present these to journalists, making it more likely they will cover the story. For more information about how we can make your story newsworthy and generate positive press feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.