How to spot a good news story

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A client asked me the other day, “How do you know when a company milestone is worthy of a news story?”

This wasn’t an easy question to answer off-the-cuff without simply saying, “I just know.” I suppose after working in PR for 20 years, spotting a good news story among the myriad of things happening at a company has just become instinct. I’ve “developed a nose for news” as the saying goes.

So, here are a few factors that make up my litmus test for newsworthiness:

Is it unique?

This is non-negotiable. If it’s not unique, it’s rarely news.

If you’ve developed a product that is the first of its kind in the country or the world, that is a news story. If you’ve discovered something no one has ever discovered or achieved a milestone no other New Zealand company has ever achieved, that’s a news story.

And remember, when it gets to the point of talking to a journalist about your unique news, you’ll likely be talking to a journalist who knows little about your industry or products. So, you’ll need to be able to very quickly develop an elevator pitch that easily portrays just how amazing your milestone is.

It’s one thing to have a unique achievement, but you also need to know how to convey that without industry jargon to a journalist who can in turn convey it to their readers, listeners or viewers.

Would it make an industry colleague take notice?

Sometimes your news isn’t something the mass population would find interesting, but it could be something industry colleagues would recognise as a major milestone. If this is the case, then you might have a news story that the editor of an industry magazine or business media outlet would find interesting.

Test your news with a few colleagues and see what reaction you get. If they want to know more and ask a lot of questions, you might just be onto a winning news story.

Does the news have a ‘clickable’ angle?

As much as you hear people complain about online media channels publishing a lot of “click bait,” it is the world we are living in. So, you can complain about it or play the game.

If your news lends itself to a sensational, controversial or alarming angle that can draw a reader in to read more, media could be interested. That’s because if you can give online news channels a story that results in clicks, it’s a win-win: the media gets more eyeballs on its website and you get a lot of eyeballs on your story.

My advice on this point, however, is to create a clickable headline or first paragraph that is authentic and honest. Resist the urge to go over the top.

Does it appeal to a mass, national audience?

News that appeals to a very local or niche market is much harder to get picked up by mainstream media channels these days. That’s because NZ Herald and Stuff are primarily looking for stories that have national appeal.

And there’s the added challenge that many community papers have folded in recent years. So there are fewer places for an ultra-local story to land. But if you are one of the lucky communities that still have a community paper, they are always interested in good news stories that appeal to local people.

Does your news have a human angle?

If your news involves a staff member or customer who’s done something extraordinary, media could be interested in the story. That’s because at the heart of great news stories, the most interesting points are about people involved.

Most of us want to read about people achieving great things, struggling and overcoming or even encountering the quirky.

So, next time you think you might have a news story, think about how you can humanise the angle.

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