Good writers never stop learning and evolving. You read, listen, borrow and blend to develop a voice that is comfortable and informative. News writers have evolved from writers of hard news stories – give me the facts fast and straight – to using techniques that are more creative. In fact, news reporters would often “phone in” their stories remotely, so they got to the point immediately in case the connection was broken.
They also focused on the most essential first, using the inverted pyramid method of containing the who, what, why, when, where and how at the top of a story to avoid having a typesetter trim important details at the end of an article. In recent years, news writers can be less concerned about having their stories trimmed, especially in the era of online journalism, where stories can be as long as necessary.
Regardless of story structure or length, PR professionals who want a reporter to be interested in their client’s story need to consider and offer journalists ideas that will resonate. Donald Murray, former writer and writing coach at the Boston Globe, says there are seven elements to a good news story. PR professionals should understand them before pitching stories.
- Information: You need to have concrete details. When reporters ignore your pitches, it is often because they lack substance. Think about the facts and details before you pitch a story.
- Significance: Your story pitch may be of utmost important to your client, but what about media outlet’s readers, listeners or viewers. If you are not thinking of the audience, it is likely you will strike out.
- Focus: A good story is limited and focused. In PR, we often want a reporter to get all the details. If you give them too much, you will be disappointed. Remember what your core story idea is and stay focused in your pitch.
- Context: Good news stories offer readers perspective. Again, your story idea might be of great interest to a company or organization, but you must help the reader understand the story idea in relation to a larger trend or issue.
- Faces: Good stories include characters. Think about who will be the face of the story you pitch. Often, PR folks defer to the top brass; this is not always a great idea. Whomever you put forward – and you should offer up different sources to enhance your success – should understand and be passionate about the story.
- Form: Good news stories take shape and give the reader a sense of completion. Again, PR pros can help reporters to generate form by offering a well-rounded set of facts and sources for a story.
- Voice: Good stories also include good conversations. The newsperson has a job to provide a narrative of facts and details; good, concise quotes will add color and accentuate points in the story.
Mr. Murray was one of the best, and his “Writing for Readers” is a classic. PR professionals who want to better understand what reporters want should pick up a used copy.