Watching or following news is a daily habit for most people, whether that’s buying and reading a newspaper, watching TV news, listening to the radio or scrolling for news on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.
Many people consume the news passively, while driving, working, cleaning or making dinner.
The average member of the public gives little thought to why certain stories make the news and what’s involved in editorial selection or journalistic decision making.
Do you understand news and the news agenda?
If you’re here because you’re looking to hire a PR Consultant, create a PR Campaign or work in public relations already, then you absolutely must understand what is ‘news’ and what makes news.
According to a survey of leading UK journalists covered by PR Week, 64% of journalists say PR people don’t understand what makes a news story.
The ability to think, write and communicate like a journalist can help you realise maximum impact for your PR campaigns, frame your media relations strategy and at a micro-level, help your press release to be picked out from the hundreds of emails that journalists receive every day.
This guide to understanding news is based on my 20 years working in media, both as a journalist and now as a PR consultant working to tell stories that directly benefit my clients.
You will learn:
- What news is and how to spot a story?
“The more you can give journalists what they want, the better your chances of that all-important coverage.”
Charlotte McConkey, director at ON-Broadcast, which commissioned the above survey
What is News?
Lots of people have different ideas about news.
Here are some definitions:
- News is something that someone, somewhere, doesn’t want you to know about
- News is something that you’d talk about with your friends down the pub
- News is something that elicits an emotional reaction – good or bad
- News is something important, happening right now, that means something to your life
- News is bizarre and out of the ordinary
- Dog bites man isn’t news – man bites dog – that’s news
Historically, the British public has had a huge appetite for stories about the Royal Family, medical discoveries/ scientific achievements and money/finance.
There are lots of different types of news and the news cycle is constantly evolving and shifting as major political events like Brexit or the global Coronavirus pandemic demonstrate.
Trends and societal change are acutely mirrored by news reporting, reflecting the pace of change in our hyper connected, globalised and digital world.
The media is a big broad church.
The public love to refer to it as a singular entity but in reality it’s a vast and diverse representation of human society and culture.
House style and editorial standards differ dramatically depending on audience demographics and what makes the front page of The Sun may not even be covered by The Economist.
Despite this, there are certain universal characteristics of news which all journalists are trained to identify, scrutinise and report on.
Regardless of nationality, politics or social factors, journalists and editors agree on the same fundamental principles of news.
FUNDAMENTALS OF NEWS
This means news is “new,” happening right now or in the immediate future.
- IMPACT & PROXIMITY
Impact means news affects lots of people and impacts upon many potential readers, viewers or listeners.
It is something everyone should know about: i.e Covid vaccination programmes, changes to tax or interest rates, petrol price hikes, cuts to public services or extreme weather.
Proximity means that the news is ‘close’ to people and their lives.
The Covid-19 pandemic is the ultimate example of an ongoing news story that affects the daily lives of almost everyone, globally and domestically.
This can also refer to emotional impact, the ability to make lots of people feel happy or sad, uplifted or outraged.
This might include natural disasters (earthquakes, tsunami, floods, extreme weather), Royal babies, Olympic medallists, feats of incredible human achievement (endurance challenges, sports, charitable fundraising or bravery in warfare).
This is the reason you see so many news story about rare animal births, such as cute baby panda born at Edinburgh Zoo and pictures of new born lambs born each Spring.
Conversely, it’s why images and reporting of war, famine, human suffering or the threat of extinction to rare animal species are also prominent media storylines.
Anything that is deeply shocking, or which arouses feelings of anger, outrage and injustice in readers is news, this might cover serious crime, criminality, corruption, misuse of public office, affairs among the rich and famous or avoidable loss of life through personal or corporate negligence.
If it’s controversial, it usually makes the news.
It’s an obvious fact that famous faces, well known prominent people are an endless source of news and stories for the media.
If you can gain the advocacy of a famous person for your brand, cause or product – it has a far better chance of being covered in the media as a result.
Famous people also naturally fall under far greater media scrutiny because demand exists for stories about their lives and personal conduct, from what they eat to who they date.
This is where news can become fun and where there is a lot of creative licence to tell stories.
Novelty means “something totally out of the ordinary,” and usually for media falls into categories or labels – the biggest, best, longest, tallest, smallest, oldest, youngest, widest – and opens the door to stories about world record breaking attempts, eating competitions, bog snorkelling, or shrove Tuesday football competitions.
If it’s bizarre, unusual and exceptional – there’s a good chance it’s news.
What can you do to create bizarre, unusual, funny stories and pictures?
In another example, a Scottish butcher launched a Haggis 20 miles above earth – to the edge of space – to mark Burns Night January 25, 2021. Read story
It was covered in most major UK national media and in international media also.
- PEOPLE FOCUSED
One of the major truths about news is that people love to read about people.
People connect with people.
Its human nature, it feeds on our innate curiosity about ourselves and others.
That’s why entire sections of the news stand are devoted to celebrity gossip magazines.
At every level of the media, people are the bread and butter of news, and journalists always prefer ‘human interest’ stories ahead of PR stories about concepts, initiatives, schemes, ideas, products and launches.
If a charity is launching a fundraising drive, then include a case study and opportunities to interview someone who will benefit directly from donations – rather than the charity’s Head of Fundraising, who the public may feel is one layer removed from the real human impact of the story.
The more you can bring inspiring stories of people into your press releases/ PR work, the more likely you are to catch the attention of journalists and by extension their readership and listeners.
Developing a full understanding of what makes the news and why is the first step to shaping your media relations strategy and turning stories about your brand or business into influential media coverage.
Learn the fundamentals of news and bring them to life in your storytelling.
Keep checking in at my blog to pick up more valuable tips and advice on media relations, public relations and communications.
Check out my Case Studies to see how news values were applied to strategies and tactics in campaigns that generated local, regional, national and international media coverage.