News Values: How to Determine if your Story Deserves Media Coverage
You understand the ins and outs of your product, service, and business. You study how it might appeal to specific markets. You learn the name of every important journalist who could be interested by heart, and you follow them on Twitter and Instagram. You put time, effort, and creative energy into crafting a press release that’s sure to captivate mainstream and trade media alike.
But then you release it – and suddenly it’s less ‘hot topic’ and more ‘damp squib’.
It’s an all-too-familiar feeling for PRs: one that can be demotivating to the point of soul-destruction. But it happens for a simple reason: the things that are important to your company often simply aren’t newsworthy, and don’t adhere to the core news values.
So, what is and isn’t newsworthy?
We asked a few journalists what they thought. Here’s what they had to say.
Asked about his PR bugbears, one journalist said: “There’s those really contrived things that the PR outfit for that drone company sends through every few months. Wedding edition drones. Drones for your dog. Drones for blah blah blah…”
Technology that everyone’s already been talking about – at length – for the last 24 months does not really qualify as news: the conversation has already moved on. This obviously varies from business to business: in areas such as cloud software, the subject is versatile enough that you can often find new product-centric angles. If your product is more niche, though, there’s only so much you’ll get out of talking about yourself.
A cute, novel concept might be headline-grabbing at first – but through sheer repetition it can become anathema to most news sites. One reporter recounted their annoyance at this: “The news site we own keeps getting pitched surveys comparing the stress of student debt to other things. For example, more people are more scared of how they’ll clear their student debt than the thought of being involved in a major terrorist attack.”
Here’s a soundbite that sounds good to your average PR, and utterly banal to your average person. Of course they’re more scared of clearing their student debt, because most people don’t die in terror attacks and most people do need to pay thousands of pounds to the SLC. It’s not news if it’s common sense.
Old news isn’t good news
When you’re stuck with a product that isn’t particularly innovative, you shouldn’t pretend it’s a game-changer. According to one senior journalist, a PR came unstuck with a key publication for doing exactly this: “When I was a tech editor, I received a press release claiming a product I’d worked on as a development engineer 15 years before was ‘leading edge’.”
The erstwhile editor also commented on the practice of re-pitching old news – receiving press releases for products that have already been covered years previous. In brief: don’t do it.
USBs have no USP
Nobody gives a shit about USB sticks. They’re tiny and they store things. That’s it. According to one writer, they’re the “cheese sandwich of the tech world.”
Cheese sandwiches are great. But they’re not news.
Finally, sometimes a product’s USPs are so outré or highly specific that they veer into the absurd. One unfortunate reporter received a media release for – and we’re not making this up – a telephone battery that prevents cancer and eliminates ‘WiFi intolerance’ (whatever that is).
Sometimes a product isn’t that special. Alas, you can’t make it special by claiming that it will cure all ailments with its magical anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and memory-boosting properties. Stick to what’s true and what’s interesting.
The importance of news values
What these stories have in common is simple: a complete lack of news values. Nobody’s going to cover your story without ‘em.
So what are the key news values?
1. Audience impact. Who cares about your company’s empathy training courses? Who gives a crap about its line of robot toilets? Which readers or viewers will be most interested in what you have to say? Figure it out before pitching. Most importantly: why should they be interested right now?
2. Authority. Who’s your spokesperson, and why do they matter? Do they have special qualifications or expertise? Why should the journalist quote them or run their piece – and why should the audience take them seriously?