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Three Ways to Help Reporters See Your Story as News

By Rusty Cawley
Posted Saturday, October 23, 2004

At the core of PR Rainmaking is the question: "What makes a story newsworthy?" If we cannot answer this question, then we have nothing to guide us in the selection of story ideas.

At first, the concept of "newsworthiness" may appear both abstract and subjective. Fortunately, in the century since Joseph Pulitzer began to define journalism as we know it today, patterns have emerged in how the news media define "newsworthiness."

We may disagree with these patterns. We may find them trivial, irrational and even offensive. But they exist nonetheless and we ignore them at our peril.

These patterns fall into three basic categories: identification, significance and fascination. The more of these patterns that appear in your story, the more likely the media are to recognize your story as newsworthy.

1. Identification: Will the public you are targeting recognize at least one major element of your story? (Now the word "public" will change meaning with context. For example, "ABC World News Tonight" targets a very broad general public, while "Field & Stream" targets a very narrowly defined public.)

a. Awareness: Does the public possess a basic understanding of the issue around which your story revolves?

b. Celebrity: Does the public recognize the spokesperson delivers your message?

c. Fashion: Does your story fit in with a recognized trend that is rising or peaking?

d. Proximity: What is the geographical reach of your story? Exactly whom does it affect in an immediate, tangible way?

2. Significance: Does your story's central issue threaten to have a real effect on the public?

a. Conflict: Does your story feature a struggle between two or more easily defined groups?

b. Impact: Will the central issue of your story change the public in any measurable way?

c. Immediacy: Is your issue timely? Is it happening now?

3. Fascination: Will your story appeal to the public at a primal level? In other words, is your story interesting?

a. Drama: Does your story offer the trappings of dramatic works, such as plot, characters, suspense, setting and the like?

b. Human interest: Can the public relate to the characters in your news story?

c. Emotion: Will your story touch the public's heart?

d. Images: Will your story naturally supply or suggest powerful video, photos or other graphics that will help tell the story? (This is especially important for TV, but is equally important for print if you want to receive a primary position in a newspaper or magazine.)

e. Myth: Does your story tap into the stereotypes of the mass media? For example, the powerbroker, the underdog, the workaholic, the iconoclast, the eccentric, the selfless advocate and so on.

f. Surprise: Does your story offer an unexpected twist? For example, "man bites dog." PR Rainmakers look for these patterns in the stories they sell to the news media. If the patterns don't emerge naturally, then PR Rainmakers search for ways to inject the patterns into their stories.

Without the patterns of newsworthiness, the media simply will not recognize your story as news.

About the Author
Rusty Cawley is a veteran journalist who now coaches executives. For your free copy of the ebook “PR Rainmaker: Three Simple Rules for Using the News Media to Attract Customers and Clients,” visit (


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