Criteria for a good story

Clients, friends, colleagues and even family members ask me to help them get a story in the news all the time.   The conversation usually starts with “Can you help me get a story in the papers about….(a product, person, organization, issue, etc)?”  The first thing I say is, “Tell me more”.  This is a telling moment because it is tantamount to a ‘media pitch’  — they are trying to sell me their story.

Invariably the pitch is not relevant and lacks a newsworthy angle.  The story is important to them but it is not crafted to garner attention of the media and hence the general public.   I spend a lot of time educating people about the criteria for a good story.  In this post, I thought I’d share with you some of the criteria that I use (and hence editors and producers) to decide whether a story has enough meat to get attention in newsrooms:

news-150x150Criteria for a good story:

  • Focus:  Does the story have one main focal point, “hook” or angle?
  • Timely:  Is it relevant to a current issue? Could it relate to a holiday or special event?
  • Novelty:  Is there something unique or different about how you run your business? Is your product a novelty in its industry?  Have you found a new way to do something?
  • Impact:  Is there an impact on a particular market segment that uses your products, programs or services? Will it change how your customers work or live? Does the topic appeal to a specific group of people?
  • Human interest:  Is there a story behind your product or company?  Have your services resulted in a high-impact result for a customer? Has your product saved a life? Has a customer realized exceptional results with one of your products? Is the story idea of particular interest to the audience of a specific publication or does it have broad appeal?
  • Prominence:  Do you have you a high-profile individual affiliated with your cause or organization? Is the product achieving an award or reaching a leadership position in your industry?  Can you tie your product or service to a prominent event?  Is your product achieving an award or reaching a leadership position in your industry?
  • Proximity:  Does your product or service have a local angle? Is it a national story? Is there a geographical region most suited to your solution?
  • Conflict:  Is your story contentious in a way that would breed debate or opinion?  Are you little David, the underdog, fighting against big Goliath?   A common example is residents in a community battling against a corporate giant – perhaps it’s power lines, an industrial site or a big box store.  These stories always make it in the news.
  • Weirdness: information has weirdness if it involves something unusual or strange.

There are more criteria but these are the main ones.  Hopefully they shed some light on how the media decide to cover a story.  Remember, the media cover legitimate news, they don’t write stories to do you a favour!  – Maria Loscerbo

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5 Comments

Filed under Media Relations, PR Planning & Strategy

5 responses to “Criteria for a good story

  1. I wonder how assignment editors ranks the above news criteria? Any insight?

  2. I would say the same is true about blog posts and press releases. I’ve heard people complain about their story or release not getting enough attention when it’s ill-crafted or just simply missing the point: WIFM (what’s in it for me) as the reader. Writing from that perspective, using your model is guaranteed to generate some interest.

  3. Hi Tom,

    To answer your question, editors decide what to publish based on their judgments and not on a some formula. Basically, whatever they believe is newsworthy (the above list is a good guide). The content is based on several factors: the readers or viewers that make up their market, space available for news, the editors’ own judgments, the feedback the media outlet receives from meetings with readers and focus groups, and so on. One thing I like to do is compare the first 15 minutes of the 6pm news among the two main stations as well as the front page news (or whatever section is of interest) of our two major dailies in Vancouver and nationally. It gives me a good sense of the kinds of stories covered and helps me better understand how editors’ (and different media outlets) prioritize news.

  4. This is really helpful Ms. Maria Loscerbo! Thanks for this. I guess some people are too self-promotional sometimes. This summary is a good reference for my company!

  5. Starting a story is kind of confusing sometimes especially being a college student. I agree that you always need to start by making sure you have a focus to go off of. If you don’t have a main focal point in a story, the story is pretty much useless a lot of the time. I like this blog a lot, The advice really works!

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