The 11 Things That Journalists Consider Newsworthy

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 25, 2012 – 2:00 PM

If you’ve ever pitched a story idea to a reporter by phone, you know how hard it can be to succeed.

When reporters say “no,” the person pitching them on the other end of the phone often protests, “But this issue is so important!” They’re probably right. But there’s a big difference between what you consider important and what the reporter considers newsworthy.

As an example, more than 33 million people are living with HIV worldwide. That’s an important story. But in the eyes of reporters, that story will be no more important tomorrow than it is today – unless something happens related to HIV today. If physicians discover a new vaccine or a drug company pledges to provide free drugs to one million HIV patients in Africa, the “important” issue will suddenly become “newsworthy.”

As a spokesperson, it’s important for you to understand what reporters consider newsworthy. You can often propel your story from important to newsworthy just by highlighting a different angle.

So take out that story you’re about to pitch and see which of the following 11 elements it has (hopefully it has several). And if you’re not prioritizing those elements enough, what are you waiting for? Turn them into your lead!

Here are the 11 things reporters find newsworthy:

1. Conflict: Reporters are professional storytellers, and good stories have conflict. If you disagree with a competitor’s approach, for example, you’re more likely to receive coverage than if you agree.

2. Local: Most news organizations cover a specific geographic range. A newspaper in Iowa may report on a local charity event, but is unlikely to report on a new condo development in Florida.

3. Incident: Anything that goes wrong has the potential to become newsworthy, such as an industrial explosion, a car crash, or a school shooting.

4. Extremes or superlatives: Reporters love extremes or superlatives: the first, the last, the best, the worst, the biggest, the smallest. If your story contains one, highlighting it will usually make it more newsworthy.

5. New: It’s no coincidence that the word “news” contains the word “new.” News stories have to answer the question, “why now?” Stories that don’t are considered “old news” and usually receive little coverage.

6. Timely and Relevant: Timely stories, often about an upcoming event, are often considered newsworthy, as are stories relevant to the news organization’s specialty. A Boston-area real estate journal will consider a story about next week’s annual gathering of local real estate pros newsworthy, but the Boston Globe probably won’t.

7. Scandal: The Congressman who hides money in his freezer, the hedge fund manager who rips off his clients, and the music mogul who murders his companion are almost guaranteed to be deemed newsworthy.

8. David vs. Goliath: In many stories, there is a “big guy” and a “little guy.” Since the media often view their role as being the protector of the exploited, the little guy usually receives more sympathetic coverage.

9. Incompetence: The corporate executive, politician, or celebrity who can’t seem to get it right will almost always draw the critical eye of the press.

10. Surprising: Stories with an unexpected hook are candy to reporters. If your study discovers that fried foods have previously undiscovered health benefits, you can bet the media will lavish your work with coverage. That story, incidentally, would also make me very happy.

11. Hypocrisy: I saved my favorite for last. Say you’re an anti-gay rights politician who gets caught with a gay lover. Or the president of an animal shelter who’s caught abusing animals. There are few stories as delicious to reporters as powerful people betraying their own publicly-stated positions – and they’re almost guaranteed to remain in the headlines for days or weeks.

What have I missed? Please add your thoughts to the comments section below.

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Comments (23)

  1. By Juliet C.:

    This is a terrific list! Using this list and being realistic about not how but if your story fits these categories, will help you identify which media will be most interested in your news.

    I would add to dig deeper with your stories. For example, suppose you are pitching a story about a gadget that has new functions, that the competitor has not developed yet. Well, unless it pilots a jet, it may not be considered that surprising or new (except to a very niche market).

    So, for more mainstream media, it’s neither particularly NEW nor very SURPRISING. What if you dig deeper and find a woman who uses the device in an entirely new way, and the *result* is (for example) that she can communicate better with her mute daughter. Now, that story angle is both new and surprising.

  2. By Dave Statter:

    Brilliant idea for a post and very accurate. I wish I had thought of that.

  3. By Holly H.:

    Obviously you haven’t seen this fried food story yet! http://www.smh.com.au/national/health/fried-food-not-to-blame-for-heart-attacks-study-shows-20120126-1qjsd.html

  4. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Holly,

    I love it – what a sublime coincidence!

    Now, the only trick is to get restaurants to serve fried foods that are cooked using olive oil or sunflower oil.

    Thanks for the link and for reading,
    Brad

  5. By William Runge:

    I agree with everything here but would like to add one more category… heartstrings. Believe it or not, there are still media outlets that like a feel good story that tugs at the heartstrings. These are especially good during the holidays.

    I say this because I am charged with getting covereage for events at my church and running the Communications Committee there. It is hard to apply a lot of this list to a church because church news can quite often be, well, boring. UNLESS of course the priest or staff member does something horribly wrong. Then I start looking at the list as more of a tool in a crisis managment situation.

    But feel good stories CAN be sold if you dig deep enough as Juliet pointed out. You often need to do your OWN interviews before you pitch a story to a newsroom.

    Case in point. There is a cross that is on the steeple of my church and stands as a beacon to an entire historic neighborhood. The church decided to change the neon in the cross to LED for a brighter cross and as a cost saving measure. The church thought this would make a nice story.

    Sorry guys… I need more than that. “But it’s a gorgeous cross!” I agree… but I need more. “Workers are repelling down the side of the steeple to make the change.” Visual, but I need more.

    “That cross has remained lit since the Great Depression. It hasn’t been dark since. When the country was asked to turn off all lights during WWII, people from all over town petitioned the city to leave the cross lit. Train conductors knew they were coming into town because they would look for the cross.”

    Bingo. Heartstrings. The result? A story at 5 with a live shot so viewers could see the newly lit cross.

  6. By Brad Phillips:

    William,

    That’s a great addition to the list. Your new lead about the Great Depression is nothing short of brilliant PR strategy. I hope other readers use your successful pitch to create some of their own.

    Thanks for commenting,
    brad

  7. By Jane Jordan-Meier:

    Brad – great post as always. And lovbe that my home country of Australia got the “nod” as an example!! I really like the list of news values that came from work done by Aussie academic Murry Masterton. The list he developed is based on research conducted in ovr 60 countries with hundreds of reporters, journalists and editors. Here’s the list:

    1. Impact (how big a deal is this, consequence,)
    2. Timeliness (trigger for the story, the now, the when – whay stories on SuperBowl are now newsworthy, Valentine’s Day)
    3. Currency (context, links to other BIG news on the supeermarket shelf of news; tax, health are staple items, and today the economy and debt)Journalists issue-link
    The top three are the most important and we use this formula I+T divided by C = news!
    4. Proximity – the where, hyperglobal V hyperlocal nature of news, the comparisons, China V America.
    5. Novelty – the bizarre, unusual – man bites dog story!
    6. Prominence – BIG names make news! The more prominent the more likely you are to be in the news
    7. Human Interest – world’s oldest person gtype story, stories about the “people” aspect, personalities of CEO’s,heroes, rescues

    Conflict, interstingly, is last as it is not conflict per se that drives news stories but the IMPACT of the conflict.

    Clearly, the more news values you have then the higher the chance of getting a story run (if you are pitching.) Also think about how you can use the list to prepare for (and/or anticipate)a crisis.

    Food for thought. And a list that we have used for over 15 years in our media and crisis preparedness work. And still taught in journalism schools.

  8. By Susan Pepperdine:

    Milestones would be another category to consider adding.

    For example, last spring I promoted a new book, “A Tour Guide to Missouri’s Civil War,” for the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the war. (Shameless plug for author #GregoryWolk).

    And last fall we heard about the 7 billionth baby on Earth. The baby born just before 7 billion and the next one after were not newsworthy.

  9. By Brad Phillips:

    Susan,

    You’re exactly right. Thanks for the great addition to the list, and no worries – great additions deserve a plug. :)

    Thanks for writing,
    Brad

  10. By “Newsworthiness” – Geoff Campbell:

    […] Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN’s Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang, wrote about 11 Things that Journalists Consider Newsworthy. Let’s begin with them. 1. Conflict: Reporters are professional storytellers, and good […]

  11. By 9 Things Journalists Do & Do NOT Find Newsworthy - Einsight:

    […] is an important issue does not mean it is newsworthy, as Brad Phillips points out on his blog, Mr. Media Training. For example, the growing number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children is an […]

  12. By Noela Kathumba:

    Its important that we as readers should be given accurate stories in order to improve our lives

  13. By Blog Post: Chapter 5, Media Relations and Placement | clarkstrategiccomm:

    […] their information in the most media-friendly forms. There are many things that make things “news worthy” such as if it is unusual or exciting and if the material is time appropriate. News can be broken […]

  14. By sac vanessa bruno:

    There are many things that make things “news worthy” such as if it is unusual or exciting and if the material is time appropriate.

  15. By sac vanessa bruno pas cher:

    News can be broken

  16. By Small Business PR – What’s Newsworthy to Reporters? | World Business Lenders:

    […] Phillips of Phillips Media Relations offers “The 11 Things That Journalists Consider Newsworthy.” It’s a solid list of what journalists like to cover. Take Brad’s No. 4 as an example – […]

  17. By Ellie Shuster:

    Good list, but beware that superlatives and extremes can sound like puffery. If you can’t prove it, be careful how you use it.

  18. By Brad Phillips:

    Ellie —

    Fair point! So I’ll stop short of saying, “This is the greatest list on the subject ever published in the history of humanity.” :)

    Thanks, as always, for stopping by and reading the blog.

    Best wishes,
    Brad

  19. By Mark Anderson:

    One other important category, closely related to scandal, is a story’s titilation value. The only Islamicist ever to make the front cover of Time was a German scholar named Christophe Luxenberg, who, among other things, challenged the standard Muslim interpretation of the Qur’an’s promise of multiple virgins to every Muslim killed fighting on behalf of his faith. Luxenberg said the word ‘virgin’ there actually means ‘grapes’–that the promise is of sumptuous fruit, not a sexual paradise. This led journalists (not to mention talk-show hosts!) to spin out lots of titilating jokes about the surprise awaiting Muslim soldiers killed in battle and another writer to write a book entitled “Virgins? What Virgins?”

  20. By Fletcher Doyle:

    Here’s one to add: Tell me something that will help my readers, and tell me how it will help them.

  21. By Where Does News Come From?:

    […] that explore different perspectives on the big news of the day. The key is being able to recognize what makes a story newsworthy to different outlets and nailing the […]

  22. By Publicity -:

    […] Make it newsworthy! What does that mean? Write about what your customers would care most about. Can you tie it into a trending topic? Tell an intriguing story about the product.  Here is a great list to reference; The 11 Things that Journalists Consider Newsworthy by Brad Phillips. […]

  23. By 7 Reasons Good PR Goes Bad via @Onboardly:

    […] could give you a list of things that are newsworthy, but as I stated in my last point, even the most tried, tested, and true stories can totally flop. […]

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