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Hughes blog post: What is news? Part One

27 June 2011    

In the first of a two part blog Hayley tackles the age old question: "What is News?". This week it’s all about how to identify a story and the second week looks at how to make sure that story hits the headlines.

What is News? Noun [mass noun]: newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events.

But don’t just take the dictionary’s word for it....

“A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” Arthur Miller, American playwright, 1915-2005

The best news is the story that you can’t wait to tell other people about. The topic should start conversations, it should make people want to dig deeper, and it might even trigger a debate around the boardroom, the kitchen table, the coffee shop counter, the playground and everywhere else news is dissected and discussed.

“When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news.” Charles Anderson Dana, American journalist, 1819-1897

Even before the times of travelling freak shows we’ve all had a fascination for the unexpected. If a story alters someone’s long held preconception, illustrates a conflict of some kind, rips apart a stereotype or takes someone out of their comfort zone then you can safely call it news. Journalists are always looking for an ‘angle’. How can they make an otherwise run of the mill ‘boy meets girl’ story into one which hasn’t been told a hundred times already and resonates with even the most jaded of readers. Does your story have an angle or is it flat-lining?

“What you see is news, what you know is background, what you feel is opinion.” Lester Markel, American journalist, 1894-1977

Clients can be excited by their company’s happenings but before these count as news in the strictest sense of the word there should be a neutral analysis of whether the wider world is likely to join them in their excitement. Will people who have never heard of the company before respond with ‘So what?’ or ‘So tell me more?’ As a third party, PR consultants are ideally placed to provide such an acid test.

“It's amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day just exactly fits in the newspaper.” Jerry Seinfield, American comedian, 1954-present

Occasionally, a story will appear in the media that doesn’t seem to be ‘news’ and a client’s reaction will be ‘we should be getting coverage like this’. One weak story that makes it through to the presses on a slow news day but whose impact fades as quickly as the ink dries is not a sign that the competition is one step ahead. Good PR consultants will advise clients to promote stories with elements that consistently make the news and can stand up on their own merit even in the most hectic newsroom. For time poor journalists one fascinating and timely story is worth much more than a flood they have to wade through in hope.

“All men by nature desire knowledge.” Aristotle, Greek philosopher, 384BC-322BC

Ultimately, the fundamentals of news will never change. People will always want to know why, where, when, who, how and what has happened in the world around them, and if your story helps them in this quest then it’s news.

- Hayley Burwell

Read part two here.