It all comes down to one basic principle: news is what news editors think it is. They are the gatekeepers.
Their job is to know what will interest the public. Then, choosing from all the stories available to them, they decide what will make up those TV and radio news shows, or the articles that will appear in newspapers and magazines.
To get noticed, proposals for stories must be newsworthy, as defined by a news editor, or by a reporter who may have to ‘sell’ the idea to a news editor.
Watching the local media is the best way to learn this. Document and analyze not just what news stories are covered, but also how they are covered. That is, get to know how different media approach the stories they air or publish.
Preparing News Releases
Use this knowledge to prepare news releases. They are the best way to deliver key facts for a potential news story to a news editor or reporter. Don’t try to write the news story for them.
Start news releases with a brief one-sentence summary written in a way that will catch the attention of the news editor or reporter. Adopt their approach. That is, most media coverage begins with a tight focus on one aspect of a broader news story. This is often called a ‘news peg’. The focus, or lead, will vary according to the type of media, but in all cases it is designed to capture the attention of readers, listeners and viewers.
Keep the news release to one page. Editors and reporters are busy people. Use brevity to help catch their attention, but include enough content to help them understand how the proposed story might work for them. Always provide contact names and numbers.
Be forewarned. News stories intended for imminent use face constantly changing circumstances. A top news story one minute can become a secondary story the next. And what was a secondary story moments earlier can get sidelined. It all depends on what else is happening at any given time.
Just because a reporter returns a phone call, or records an interview, don’t count on coverage later in the media until it appears. And if it doesn’t appear promptly, a sidelined story does not necessarily mean it won’t be used later, unless it is time sensitive or succeeded by developing events.
A story passed over but with a long ‘shelf life’ is often welcomed by news editors. It may be held for a while as a backup story. So-called ‘bank’ stories serve as insurance for the news editor in the event some other story falls through at the last minute, leaving a hole to fill.
News Attracts Advertising
Not surprising, a key role for news stories is to help attract viewers and readers to the media outlets, and above all the paid advertising these outlets carry. After all, advertising pays the bills. Just like websites.
Always find out the most appropriate contacts in the media and email the news release to them. Send news releases about a business expansion to the business editor. News releases about a service club’s latest sponsorship go to the lifestyles editor.
Opportunities for media coverage can come other ways, as well. One can be when a local issue is receiving heavy coverage in the media, and some aspect of that issue coincides with the expertise or interests of a business or an organization looking for coverage.
Someone from the business or organization might be well versed on some aspect of the issue, and could become an expert adviser to a reporter or media outlet. To be considered, get on the lists many reporters and news editors keep with the names of experts they can call upon for quotable quotes.
Another option would be to offer a product or service the company or organization might provide to assist with the issue. One example would be compassion aid.
These are win-win opportunities for the media and the company or organization, by ‘piggybacking’ on a news event or message.
It’s Show Biz
For the broadcast media, entertainment is their raison d’être. While the majority of the public today get their news from the broadcast media, make no mistake, it still is ‘show biz’. Radio and TV news reporters are indeed reporters, but they are also very much a part of the show biz/entertainment milieu.
Competition is fierce in the broadcast media, especially in major markets. Ratings come first. Careers depend on ratings. News managers constantly exhort reporters to find exclusives and fresh angles ahead of their competitors.
As a result, TV and radio reporters are always looking for stories with the potential for “sound bites” that are exclusive, quotable, memorable and controversial.