Long before I came over to the PR side, I was a young reporter working under some really smart editors who taught me everything I needed to know about the media business. The most fundamental lessons were about what makes something news. After all, “Is it news?” is the driving question for every good journalist — and it ought to be for the savvy PR professional as well.
My years in the newsroom showed me that, while story possibilities are endless, there are a few main types of stories that repeat themselves over and over again. Far from an exhaustive list, here are four.
Danger, Will Robinson! These are stories that get you close to the front lines of battle — or health threats, as the recent Ebola story demonstrates. Whether they are tapping into human fears or fueling hopes to rise above, stories involving people facing the threat of danger — or beating that threat against incredible odds — tend to dominate the news.
The trend story. When you notice something happening frequently enough, it starts to feel like a trend. “Two’s company, three’s a trend,” a fellow reporter used to say. Covering a beat day in and day out, you learn to watch for three similar things to happen. While “three” is a somewhat arbitrary choice, there is strength in numbers. Three schools introducing stricter dress codes? Ten advocacy groups calling for a new law? Must be a trend.
Vote for me! I once had an editor compare every political contest – right up to the US Presidency – to a high school popularity contest. Cynical, perhaps, but the popularity contest is one kind of tale with many permutations, and many stories find their roots in someone trying to win over someone else. From stories about regulatory controls, to marketing wars and development battles, to pure election politics, the vote-for-me category stretches wide.
The feel-good, pull-at-your-heart-strings. Try as I might to keep a stiff upper lip, I’m a sucker for a good tear-jerker, and media outlets know most humans are too. This story type pulls at heart strings and reminds us that there is good in the world. It often involves children, people down on their luck, or someone going to great lengths to show extraordinary human kindness. These are stories we all need to hear from time to time. There’s a reason why Brian Williams ends every broadcast with one of them. Just try not to get teary-eyed.