Public Relations Writing: Lesson #3 - p. 6

When you're working on your angle, how do you know what editors consider newsworthy?

I've already mentioned that editors are looking for Timeliness and Proximity ... but when you're trying to come up with a good, sharp angle , that's not enough. You're competing for the editor's attention with hundreds of other stories -- you need to be more than timely and local.

What are Editors Looking For? Editors were polled to learn what they look for in a press release. Here is a tally of their responses.

  • Timeliness... Thirty men, women and children were killed in cold blood on the lakefront, near the site of McCormick Place. This fact is not news, since it happened in 1832 -- Chicago's "Dearborn Massacre." Editors want to know that your story is news -- that it's all about what's happening now.

  • Proximity... That flash flood that killed five people -- if it happened in Schaumburg, it's news. If it happened in Sri Lanka, you probably won't read about it in the Chicago Sun-Times. Editors want to know that your story is local -- that it's all about what's happening here. (How can you make a national story local?)

These first two items -- Timeliness and Proximity -- are so important that you probably won't even make the cut unless your story is both timely and local.
So, if you are writing a release in early March about an event that will take place in mid-April, how can you make that timely?

  • Eminence or prominence ... If you get stopped for driving while intoxicated, it probably won't make the news. If the governor gets stopped, you can look for it on the TV news tonight, and the front page of tomorrow's papers.

  • Impact... If your story affects 1,000 people, an editor will find it more interesting than one affecting only ten people -- but it's likely to be bumped by a timely local story that affects a million people. Big money talks, too -- not to sound too much like Dr. Evil in "Austen Powers," but "$1 million" will catch an editor's attention.

  • Unusualness ... Editors are always willing to pay attention to the unusual -- because they know readers want to read about the unusual. Sometimes you can frame a story in the context that it's a departure from common assumptions, or business as usual.

  • Conflict ... News reporting thrives on conflict. Often this hook will seem counterproductive -- why would you want to emphasize conflict in a positive piece about your client? -- but there may be ways to use conflict, especially if your release is about a service or product or event that will appeal to the majority while protecting them against adverse interests.

  • Human Interest... This is a catch-all that covers a multitude of attractions -- children, kittens and puppies, love relationships, humorous or ironic complications. Hard to describe, but you know them when you see them because they're so much a part of our human nature. Different editors will have different definitions, of course.

  • Other things editors look for include such things as stories that reflect the interests of their publisher or owner... stories that flatter major advertisers... stories that adhere to a political or ideological point of view... etc. These are specific to certain editors more than others, but should not be overlooked.

  • Go on to the next page
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