Media, Media training, Public relations

What is news? Part One

In the first of a two part blog Hayley tackles the age old question: “What is News?”. This week it’s all about how to identify a story and the second week looks at how to make sure that story hits the headlines.

What is News?

Dead Sea newspaper

Noun [mass noun]: newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events.

But don’t just take the dictionary’s word for it….

“A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.”
Arthur Miller, American playwright, 1915-2005

The best news is the story that you can’t wait to tell other people about. The topic should start conversations, it should make people want to dig deeper, and it might even trigger a debate around the boardroom, the kitchen table, the coffee shop counter, the playground and everywhere else news is dissected and discussed.

“When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news.”
Charles Anderson Dana, American journalist, 1819-1897

Even before the times of travelling freak shows we’ve all had a fascination for the unexpected. If a story alters someone’s long held preconception, illustrates a conflict of some kind, rips apart a stereotype or takes someone out of their comfort zone then you can safely call it news. Journalists are always looking for an ‘angle’. How can they make an otherwise run of the mill ‘boy meets girl’ story into one which hasn’t been told a hundred times already and resonates with even the most jaded of readers. Does your story have an angle or is it flat-lining?

“What you see is news, what you know is background, what you feel is opinion.”
Lester Markel, American journalist, 1894-1977

Clients can be excited by their company’s happenings but before these count as news in the strictest sense of the word there should be a neutral analysis of whether the wider world is likely to join them in their excitement. Will people who have never heard of the company before respond with ‘So what?’ or ‘So tell me more?’ As a third party, PR consultants are ideally placed to provide such an acid test.

“It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day just exactly fits in the newspaper.”
Jerry Seinfield, American comedian, 1954-present

Occasionally, a story will appear in the media that doesn’t seem to be ‘news’ and a client’s reaction will be ‘we should be getting coverage like this’. One weak story that makes it through to the presses on a slow news day but whose impact fades as quickly as the ink dries is not a sign that the competition is one step ahead. Good PR consultants will advise clients to promote stories with elements that consistently make the news and can stand up on their own merit even in the most hectic newsroom. For time poor journalists one fascinating and timely story is worth much more than a flood they have to wade through in hope.

“All men by nature desire knowledge.”
Aristotle, Greek philosopher, 384BC-322BC

Ultimately, the fundamentals of news will never change. People will always want to know why, where, when, who, how and what has happened in the world around them, and if your story helps them in this quest then it’s news.

– Hayley Burwell

Read part two here.

Hughes PR is a communications and public relations consultancy with proven and extensive experience in publicity and media relations, issues management, crisis management, digital media and social media strategy and implementation, community consultation, event management, media training, publications and strategic problem solving. Find out more.

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Media, Public relations

How to cook up a gourmet news release

Hayley Burwell writes…

Last year the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and Crikey found that nearly 55% of news stories analysed were driven by some form of public relations. This neatly illustrates how journalists are under such pressure to generate instant copy in today’s 24/7 world that an interesting press release is worth its weight in gold. But what makes a good press release? Well, I find that if you channel your inner Nigella or Jamie and approach it as you would a dinner party then you can’t go far wrong….

Hear how to plan the perfect dinner party

First, you have to decide what your main dish will be. News will always be news and everyone likes an old favourite but if it’s going to stand out as a centrepiece it needs a twist. So instead of ‘Fireman saves cat’ how about ‘Fireman saves cat…lost at sea’? And of course the ingredients must always be fresh and simple, you can’t use a reaction three months later to a piece of news that used to be top story but now can’t even be found on Google and certainly not incorporate waffle that uses a ten sentence quote to say absolutely nothing at all!

Planning and preparation are key to both a good meal and a good press release, so take your time. You may need to stir it a little to get it in order, mix in a few choice phrases or quotes, just a dash of panache and don’t swamp it with sweet nothings. Why not ask someone else to try it before you put it in the oven, you may have missed some vital seasoning or their reaction may not be quite what you were looking for.

Next, work out how long it needs to cook and how far in advance to start so your media coverage is ready just when you want it to be. Breakfast is when journalists are most hungry, so that’s when it should be served, but how many hours or days do they need to digest it and prepare their review? Are you looking for an instant gut reaction or a more intense weekend feature?  Fast food can be great when you’re hungry and there’s nothing else to eat, but generally slow-cooked has a lot more flavour.

Third, decide very, very carefully who you’re going to invite to join this party. You don’t want to be known as the boring or insensitive host, so make sure what you are serving will suit the tastes and preferences of your guests. You wouldn’t serve a roast to a vegan so why send a sports press release to a fashion critic? And if you decide that after all your slaving away in the kitchen there’s really only one or two people that you have in mind, then don’t even bother with a mass email invitation – simply pick up the phone, make them feel special and give them a personal call.

Lastly, never serve the same meal to the same guests more than once. The impact of your story will be diluted and guests will get so fidgety they’ll cross over to your neighbour’s party to see what’s happening there instead. And if a journalist has declined your invitation once, it’ll be more difficult to get them to RSVP the next time, even if you do present them with a sparkling new menu.

– Hayley Burwell

Hughes PR is a communications and public relations consultancy with proven and extensive experience in publicity and media relations, issues management, crisis management, digital media and social media strategy and implementation, community consultation, event management, media training, publications and strategic problem solving. Find out more.

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