What makes news?

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By Consultant Ned Worledge

Throughout working in media and PR, I’ve come across a common theme when approached to help publicise a story or issue.

When we work, and effectively live in the bubble of our world, issues which have relatively little interest or importance to the wider community often seem highly important to us because of our close involvement.

I am certainly guilty of this. The work done by an organisation I am part of, in my opinion, is incredibly important. However in the grand scheme of things, I understand while the work the organisation does may be interesting, it may not be important to many people outside those directly affected.

In short, a good news story has to be interesting and important to the general public. Some stories might be important but not interesting, while others might be interesting but not important. The latter is more likely to be run however depending on its novelty value.

There is an old saying in journalism; if a dog bites a man, it’s probably not news, but if a man bites a dog… then you’ve got a news story.

Now this is by no means to say small news stories are uninteresting or unimportant but there are a few news values you can measure your story against to see if it is likely to get the media coverage you desire.

These news values are;

Impact

How much of an impact does the issue have on the community? Is it isolated to those involved or does it affect the wider community?

Proximity

Physically, how close is the issue to the media outlet you wish to report the issue and people who will absorb the news story?

Prominence

Are there any well-known people involved who the wider public would be interested in reading about?

Human interest

Does your story involve ordinary people doing something interesting or important, and how interesting or important is the information?

Novelty

How rare, unusual or bizarre is your news?

Conflict

How high is the level of conflict in your potential news story?

Currency

Is the issue linked to either another issue recently in the media or a significant event such as a particular date or time of the year?

The measurement of a story’s news value is fairly fluid. However, as a rule of thumb, if we give a news story a rating out of five on its strength against each of the news values, a good news story would probably score close to, or above 15 points.

If you’ve read through the news values and thought, maybe your story might not be all you’d hope it would be, don’t despair. There are many ways to skin a cat.

Just as there are multiple news values, there are often multiple angles to a story; it’s just a question of finding the angle which gives you the most interesting yarn.

For example, if you’ve gone through our imaginary scoring system and your story scored highest in the human interest category, is there any more information you can find about the people in your story to make it stronger?

Generating a good news story is about asking the right questions to the right people and if first you don’t succeed, keep scratching the surface until you find the angle which leads you to the pot of gold.

Southern Waste Solutions, a long-term client of Font PR’s, recently asked me to assist in the announcement of EPA Tasmania approving the final stage of the project, meaning construction of their C cell at Copping could go-ahead.

At its bare bones, the story was about a hole in the ground, however the ‘hole in the ground’ brought with it a high level of conflict due to parties opposed to the development, the proximity value for southern Tasmania was high due to the developments location, there was a high degree of prominence because of the political involvement, and there was impact due to the development’s benefits to Tasmania’s environment and the perceived impacts on the local community.

When coupled with a strong media strategy, the ‘hole in the ground’ became a front page story. The strongest news values were understood and utilised to make the story the most interesting and important it could be. If I had pushed the story as a human interest yarn, with its poor human interest news value, it would not have achieved anywhere near the same result.

To conclude, know the strengths of your story. And if your initial angle isn’t strong enough, dig around, because sometimes there is a gem buried in there.

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