What makes a good news story?
Many people think that journalists are only interested in negative or sensationalist stories. This is not the case. Journalists are only interested in good stories.
Good stories are those that interest, surprise or shock people. And for stories to be accessible people have to be involved – what’s commonly known as ‘human interest’. People like to read and hear about other people. They like stories they can relate to or about issues they can talk about.
For instance, if an announcement is made in a trade magazine about a company going into administration, it is likely to be presented in terms of job losses. If a new mobile phone has been launched, it is likely to be written about in terms of what it has to offer the user, be it time saved or better functionality to make life easier. If a charity hits the headlines, it is either about the difference it has made to someone’s life, how much its chief executive earns or how irritating the public finds particular fundraising techniques.
The best stories are those which have people at the centre. Here are some of the news values to consider when thinking about how newsworthy your story is.
Shocking news such as that involving change resulting in widespread impact, tragedy, political upheaval, extreme weather or unexpected victory.
Audiences relate more to stories that are close to them geographically, or involve people from their country – for instance British athletes winning an international sporting event.
Journalists are competitive about breaking news – revealing stories as they happen. They want to be the ones that brought it to you first.
Stories that are already in the public eye but are deemed valuable and so run and run, even if nothing new really happens, such as the birth of a royal baby.
Events that are likely to have continuing impact have a high news value as they will develop into an ongoing narrative that will encourage audiences to come back for further updates. Wars, elections and sports tournaments are good examples of this.
“Dog Bites Man” is not a story. “Man bites dog” is. Any story that covers a unique or unusual event has news values.
Stories that are easy to explain (local man wins lottery twice) are often preferred over stories that are not (Libor rigging). When the story is complex, it is the journalist’s role to present the information in a way that is easy to understand. That might be via an interview with an expert who has to explain what has happened in layman’s terms.
Stories that centre around a particular person, especially if that person is well-known, as these can be presented from a ‘human interest’ angle.
Does the event match the expectations of a news organisation and its audience? If a news story conforms to the preconceived ideas of those covering it then it has value. For example, violence at a demonstration, horrific casualties in a terrorist attack.
Any story that covers an important, powerful nation, organisation or person has greater value than one that covers a less important one.
If a newspaper or broadcaster is the first and only news outlet to be breaking a story then they will rate it highly. The Sunday papers are fond of this approach.
Size does matter. The bigger the impact, the more people affected, the more money or resources involved, the higher its value.
This article is an extract from Effective media relations for charities: what journalists want and how to deliver it by Becky Slack. Find out more about the book here.