Is it Newsworthy?

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During the past 34 years of my public relations career, I have had countless conversations with public and media relations colleagues on the issue of their clients not understanding what makes a story newsworthy.

"My clients want us to alert the media," my colleagues have often quietly lamented. "But they don't have anything newsworthy to talk about. They have virtually nothing of value that would get journalists interested.”

Journalists are busy people. If you bring something to their attention that captures their imagination—or, more importantly, the imagination of their readers, listeners and/or viewers—it has a chance of being newsworthy.

Newsworthiness is critical to gaining and keeping access to journalists. If you contact them with information of marginal value that wastes their time, barriers grow. And, each time you waste their time, access becomes harder the next time around.

So, when deciding whether or not to contact the media about a story (or asking your public or media relations professionals to do so), the most important thing to ask yourself is: Is this newsworthy?

If you’re uncertain, please take a few minutes to read the following.

Newsworthy Often Means “Event”
The first thing to keep in mind is that the word "event" is often implied to follow the word newsworthy, as in it must be a newsworthy event.

The first test to newsworthiness is to imagine that you're at a dinner party and you mention your event in a pithy statement designed to capture the attention of people around the table. Will they start asking questions? Are they interested? Or do their eyes glaze over? Does the subject quickly change?

If the answer to the first two questions is “yes,” you stand a chance of having a newsworthy idea or event. If the last two questions prevail, you might want to rethink your desire to contact journalists.

It's called "news," not "olds." Old news is no news. In today's world, five minutes ago may not be news, unless there's some other compelling reason to pique journalists' attention.

How does your news impact people's lives? Changing a toothpaste formula slightly and putting the words "new" and "improved" on the packaging isn't newsworthy. Creating a toothpaste that requires brushing only once per week is a story “with legs,” as the expression goes.

People are generally more interested in newsworthy events that occur close to them. If someone is injured in a traffic accident in your neighbourhood, you might ask questions about it. If it occurs in someone else’s neighbourhood or on the other side of the city, would you be as interested? Probably not, unless there is some other compelling reason to capture your attention.

Finally, even if you have something newsworthy is one geographic location, don’t assume it will be newsworthy everywhere.

Your story has a greater chance of capturing journalists' attention if it is about (or includes) a well-known place, company, group, or person for whom broad interest exists.

People are more likely to care about things that occur to the rich and famous than the average person on the street. The average person having an affair isn't newsworthy, unless they are having an affair with the prime minister or the president.

Conflict, Crisis or Scandal
Because readers, listeners and viewers love conflict, journalists love it too. This has been a human reality since the birth of literature and culture, and is a fact of life in the world of smartphones and social media accounts.

Conflict has sold newspapers for centuries. It enhances ratings of TV and radio news programs. In our modern vernacular, it drives eyeballs to web sites.

Human Interest
Remember mentioning your news at a dinner party? If there is a reason for people to genuinely care or be interested in others—stories with a deeper human element are more newsworthy—the people around the dinner table may be more motivated to ask questions.

A genuine human touch can never be overestimated when it comes to creating a newsworthy event.

Extreme, Unrivalled, or Out of the Ordinary
Journalists like superlatives. It's newsworthy if it's the first, the last, the biggest, the smallest, the best, or the worst. If it is, great! If it isn't, they'll think you've wasted their time by contacting them and saying it is.

People are always interested in stories that are unusual or out of the ordinary. There is an old adage that says if a dog bites a human and 10 stitches are needed, it may not be news. If a human bites a dog and 10 stitches are needed, you can rest assured it is.

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Eric Bergman, BPA, ABC, APR, MC, FCPRS
Eric Bergman is Canada's most experienced and credentialed media training consultant.

He conducted his first media relations campaign (and coached his first spokespeople) during the summer of 1981 while promoting two student theatre arts productions, Pal Joey and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

He has bee self-employed since 1985. For the past 25 years, media training has been his core business.

His media training program, At Ease With the Media, has provided thousands of spokespeople from five continents with the tools needed to manage exchanges with journalists to win-win outcomes, while protecting themselves and their organization every step of the way.

Eric holds a bachelor's degree communication studies from Athabasca University and a two-year diploma in advertising and public relations from Grant MacEwan College.

He is an accredited business communicator (ABC), an accredited public relations practitioner (APR), and a master communicator (MC)—which is the highest distinction that can be bestowed upon a Canadian member of the International Association of Business Communicators. In 2014, he was named a member of the College of Fellows of the Canadian Public Relations Society (FCPRS).

If you're interested in learning about how his proven approach can help your spokespeople, please explore this website or contact Eric directly.
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