The first step in a successful public relations media policy is understanding what editors and reporters want – and crafting a story idea that meets their needs. To pique the interest of editors and reporters, story ideas must be newsworthy. They must also be authentic.
It is the job of editors and reporters to uncover and report the news, which is defined as information their readers, viewers or listeners need to know in order to make good decisions about their personal or professional lives, or their businesses.
In spite of how proud lawyers are about a particular development, news rarely consists of the internal workings of a law firm. Generally, the mainstream media do not care about legal awards and rankings, internal promotions, new practice groups (unless related to an emerging trend) or anniversaries (unless the firm is doing something unique and community-oriented to observe the anniversary).
What makes an idea or an event newsworthy in the eyes of a media gatekeeper? Usually, some combination of these characteristics:
Proximity – The focus of a newsworthy story idea will be local, either geographically local (of interest to a local or regional publication and audience, like The Denver Post) or “niche” local (of interest to those with shared legal issues, like a construction trade publication).
Prominence – A newsworthy story idea will feature someone or some event with “star power” – perhaps a well-known lawyer or client, or a connection with a front-page legal matter.
Timeliness – A newsworthy story idea will feature “breaking news” or a timely reaction to breaking news. The first one to pitch a timely idea is the most likely to get the media opportunity. By nature, lawyers like to study every aspect of an issue before making a statement. This is a common mistake. By the time the lawyer feels ready, a dozen more-nimble law firms have already pitched the idea.
Significant – A newsworthy story idea will directly concern a large number of people or, alternatively, a smaller number of very influential people (like lawmakers, a regulatory board or general counsel).
New or unusual – A newsworthy story idea will involve something new that has not been covered before. Also newsworthy is a fresh or local perspective on an existing national or regional news story.
Human Interest – A newsworthy story idea will have a personal face that sparks an emotional connection. Readers, viewers and listeners identify with other people and their problems. Abstract concepts, like an obscure change to a law, must be connected to the real-world problems of a person or number of persons who will be impacted by that change.
Conflict – A newsworthy story idea should involve conflict. A journalism maxim states: “If it bleeds, it leads.” This can be literal blood, like a crime story, or it can be figurative blood, like a disagreement over gun control, gay marriage or a court case (which by nature involves conflict).
Trends – A newsworthy story idea often involves a local “take” on a regional, national or international trend that has been in the news. How will the Affordable Care Act, passed in Washington, D.C., affect the ability of local employers to grow larger than 50 employees?
Visual aspect – Reporters are particularly attracted to stories with a visual component – a compelling still photo for print, for example, or video footage for television. Radio reporters like stories with sound.
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