If you’ve ever pitched a story idea to a reporter by phone, you know how hard it can be to succeed.
When reporters say “no,” the person pitching them on the other end of the phone often protests, “But this issue is so important!” They’re probably right. But there’s a big difference between what you consider important and what the reporter considers newsworthy.
For example, more than 33 million people are living with HIV worldwide. That’s an important story. But in the eyes of reporters, that story will be no more important tomorrow than it is today—unless something happens related to HIV today.
If physicians discover a new vaccine or a drug company pledges to provide free drugs to one million HIV patients in Africa, the “important” issue will suddenly become “newsworthy.”
As a spokesperson, it’s important for you to understand what reporters consider newsworthy. You can often propel your story from important to newsworthy just by highlighting a different angle.
So take out that story you’re about to pitch and see which of the following 11 elements it has (and let’s hope it has several). If you’re not prioritizing those elements enough, what are you waiting for? Turn them into your lead!
Here are the 11 things reporters find newsworthy:
1. Conflict. Reporters are professional storytellers, and good stories have conflict. If you disagree with a competitor’s approach, for example, you’re more likely to receive coverage than if you agree.
2. Local. Most news organizations cover a specific geographic range. A newspaper in Iowa may report on a local charity event, but is unlikely to report on a new condo development in Florida. 3. Incident. Anything that goes wrong has the potential to become newsworthy, such as an industrial explosion, a car crash, or a school shooting.
4. Extremes or superlatives. Reporters love extremes or superlatives: the first, the last, the best, the worst, the biggest, the smallest. If your story contains one, highlighting it will usually make it more newsworthy.
5. New. It’s no coincidence that the word “news” contains the word “new.” News stories have to answer the question, “why now?” Stories that don’t are considered “old news” and usually receive little coverage.
6. Timely and Relevant. Timely stories, often about an upcoming event, are often considered newsworthy, as are stories relevant to the news organization’s specialty. A Boston-area real estate journal will consider a story about next week’s annual gathering of local real estate pros newsworthy, but the Boston Globe probably won’t.
7. Scandal. The Congressman who hides money in his freezer, the hedge fund manager who rips off his clients, and the music mogul who murders his companion are almost guaranteed to be deemed newsworthy.
8. David vs. Goliath. In many stories, there is a “big guy” and a “little guy.” Since the media often view their role as being the protector of the exploited, the little guy usually receives more sympathetic coverage.
9. Incompetence. The corporate executive, politician, or celebrity who can’t seem to get it right will almost always draw the critical eye of the press.
10. Surprising. Stories with an unexpected hook are candy to reporters. If your study discovers that fried foods have previously undiscovered health benefits, you can bet the media will lavish your work with coverage. That story, incidentally, would also make me very happy.
11. Hypocrisy. I saved my favorite for last. Say you’re an anti-gay rights politician who gets caught with a gay lover. Or the president of an animal shelter who’s caught abusing animals. There are few stories as delicious to reporters as powerful people betraying their own publicly-stated positions—and they’re almost guaranteed to remain in the headlines for days or weeks.
Visit the Mr. Media Training Blog to see the 21 Most Essential Media Training Links. Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog and president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training.
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