What makes a story part II: it’s not always about bad news

What makes a story part II: it’s not always about bad news

Back in the 1960s, Johan Galtung and Mari Ruge, media researchers from Norway, analysed international news stories to find out what factors they had in common. The news values they developed off the back of this research still hold true today and provide a good starting point for any charity PR considering what type of story to pitch.

Negativity: Bad news, such as that involving death, tragedy, bankruptcy, violence, damage, natural disasters, political upheaval or extreme weather.

Proximity: Audiences relate more to stories that are close to them geographically, or involve people from their country – for instance a plane crash where British people were among those killed.

Recentness: Journalists are competitive about breaking news – revealing stories as they happen. They want to be the ones that brought it to you first.

Currency: Stories that are already in the public eye but are deemed valuable and so run and run, even if nothing new really happens, such as a child abduction or the birth of a royal baby.

Continuity: Events that are likely to have continuing impact have a high news value as they will develop into an ongoing narrative that will encourage audiences to come back for further updates. Wars, elections and sports tournaments are good examples of this.

Uniqueness: “Dog bites man” is not a story. “Man bites dog” is. Any story that covers a unique or unusual event has news values.

Simplicity: Stories that are easy to explain (train accident kills 100 people) are often preferred over stories that are not (Libor rigging). When the story is complex, it is the journalist’s role to present the information in a way that is easy to understand. That might be via an interview with an expert who has to explain what has happened in layman’s terms.

Personality: Stories that centre around a particular person, particularly if that person is well-known, as these can be presented from a ‘human interest’ angle. (see page x for more on using celebrities).

Predictability: Does the event match the expectations of a news organisation and its audience? If a news story conforms to the preconceived ideas of those covering it then it has value. For example, violence at a demonstration, horrific casualties in a terrorist attack.

The elite: Any story that covers an important, powerful nation, organisation or person has greater value than one that covers a less important one.

Exclusivity: If a newspaper or broadcaster is the first and only news outlet to be breaking a story then they will rate it highly. The Sunday papers are fond of this approach.

Size: Size does matter. The bigger the impact, the more people affected, the more money or resources involved, the higher its value.

That said, don’t forget that journalists and editors also draw heavily upon their own knowledge of their target audience, which stories have performed well in the past and what fits with the individual publishers’ and broadcasters’ own agenda, so getting to know individual reporters and writers can also help you to determine what angle to present.

Image licensed under Creative Commons

This blog was originally posted on Charity Connect