What do journalists look for in a story?

Pitching a story to journalists can be really tough.

I can recall being a journalist getting annoyed at story pitches I felt offered no news value – particularly when they were made on deadline – and rejecting them without any real explanation.  

I can also clearly remember working in comms and the frustration of sometimes trying to pitch what I felt were important stories to carefully selected, yet apparently disinterested reporters.

The key theme in both these memories is that journalists hold the power.

Most organisations believe their story is important and newsworthy. However, only journalists and their Editors get to decide whether a story should be covered.

So what exactly is it that interests journalists and what are they looking for in a story? What makes something newsworthy?

In our media training we teach participants that journalists are always looking for the TRUTH when searching for the story (no sniggering at the back).

It is an acronym used to demystify the ‘newsworthy’ term. It means journalists are looking for something which is:

 

T – topical; of the moment, timely, new and something people are talking about

R - relevant to a specific audience

U – unusual; not what people already know or expect. Something which will surprise the audience. Is it the first? The biggest? The smallest? In the world of social media it is something which will make people click through to the story (clickbait).

T – trouble. Show how you are solving a problem. If your story is not strong enough a journalist will look for the conflict angle.

H – human interest. What is in it for people? What impact will it have on your customers?

 

If a story includes at least four of the five elements of TRUTH, you have the basis of something which could attract media interest and pass the newsworthy test.

The human aspect is absolutely crucial. The most common phrase you will hear in a newsroom is ‘so what?’

Journalists will look at a potential news item and ask ‘so what does this mean for people’.

At the very least they will want to know who the people are behind the story.

The reason is simple - people are fascinated by stories about people. They do not share the same fascination for policies, initiatives and protocols. Heart-breaking and heart-warming stories always get attention.

In many cases the story you have been trying to pitch will already have some of the elements of TRUTH. The key to getting the coverage you want is to change the angle of the pitch to make it clear to the journalist you have a story worth telling.

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.

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