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How to Build an Interesting News Story for Journalists and Their Readers

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How to Build an Interesting News Story for Journalists and Their Readers

Written by: Gigi Shaw

In Part I, we discussed the realities of journalists’ jobs today – scarcer resources, bigger demands on time and outputs – and how these should inform what you choose to offer them in terms of stories and news. Contrary to what many seem to believe, the media doesn’t have to cover you or your organisation – but if you are offering something newsworthy and timely in a helpful way, it usually will. Here we will look in greater depth at best practice guidelines of offering a news story – how you can be an interesting headline, a quotable source, and a repeat commentator.

So what are the primary principles of offering tasty treats to the financial services media?

1. Be Newsworthy

  • Newsworthy, unsurprisingly, means ‘new’. This doesn’t always have to be breaking news, but it does mean having something unique and original to offer, whether that is a fresh angle, an inside scoop, or new data or information. Ask yourself: What hasn’t been said yet – and why are you equipped to say it? What do people need to know that hasn’t yet been covered?
  • Newsworthy means relevant: make certain that what you are offering is a good fit for a journalist’s role/focus, their outlet, and their readership. What significance does your story have for the age, location, interests or concerns of this demographic?
  • Newsworthy means bringing an audience’s eyes to the page – sometimes literally. In Muck Rack – Zeno’s latest survey on the state of journalism, 44% of journalists admitted to taking the “shareability” of a story into account. But they may also consider your ready-made audience or followers and how you can bring these potential readers to the story (for example by sharing it with them).

In Muck Rack’s 2019 Financial Services Journalist Survey, nearly three quarters of journalists said they tracked how many times their stories were shared on social media

2. Be Timely

  • This means offering a story if and when it is relevant. Some stories have a fixed window in which they are of interest: if a story is dated in any aspect it’s a waste of both your time. Other stories are evergreen – but you should still consider “why now?”: is there an angle or event that you can line the story up with to make it relevant?
  • Timely also means being responsive and available once a journalist has replied – and certain that you are able to be so before you reach out in the first place. It will damage relationships quickly if you offer a story and then disappear or can’t meet for weeks.
  • It means giving a journalist as much lead time as possible. And this might mean knowing their publication cycles and adapting to them where possible. Is your story more suitable for the weekend papers? Or if the publication is printed monthly, will it meet the print deadline?

“I ask for the ‘news peg’ and they say, ‘well our product has been around for 40 years’. That is not a news peg. Is there new packaging, new uses, new formulation? Something new?” 

3. Be Easy to Use

  • Be flexible: the story the journalist wants to cover may not always be perfectly congruent with the story you envisioned – be prepared to go down a different tangent. Consider where you can partner with others to pre-build a stronger story, internally or externally, including business partners, industry peers, client case studies, analysts or complementary experts.
  • Be clear: initial background information such as media releases or reports must be easily readable, understandable, and accessible – even if the journalist is an expert in the area, they will have to do this for their audience, and they are probably in a rush. For dense, technical, or specialist information, what are the top takeaways and why should they care?
  • Be prepared: provide everything necessary – a journalist will want to research and verify a story, but you can help by providing the relevant context and information upfront. This means having relevant graphics, high-resolution photos, or graphs and diagrams available. It means having any internal compliance processes completed or on standby. It means having any third parties primed and accessible – for example, a case study that’s already agreed to be featured.
  • It’s also crucial to be a reliable source – for this time, and especially with the next time in mind. Don’t be flaky, don’t overpromise, don’t misrepresent your expertise. Think about where you can be a repeat source that can be called on for recurring stories, such as the release of figures or annual events.

Related: Why Your “News” Isn’t Interesting and What to Do About It

Straight from the horse’s mouth

We asked journalists to give it to us straight, and this is what they had to say:

On what turns them off:

“The biggest pet peeve is a product pitch. I know that fund managers have to sell, but I have to educate.”

“Articles which are more self-promotional than educational.”

“When a company doesn’t have spokespeople available for follow ups on pressers – this is especially true for international companies (as they are in different time zones), it would be great if they can have someone on standby to answer follow ups when their presser is scheduled to go out in Australia. 15 minutes of their time usually serves our daily news purposes.”

“Spokespeople should be in a decision making role for what they are put up to comment on. For example, many fund managers put up investment specialists for interviews when the investing decisions would be made by the fund managers.” 

“People should know my audience when they contact me, and they should read what I write. It always surprises me that people haven’t. Finally, know my competitors: if any of my competitors have already published the story then there is no use contacting me.”

“I can’t write about product, so don’t bother showing me your performance figures, back tests or ratings. I won’t use it. Leave your pitch book at home; I don’t care how many offices you have.”

“Please know what we cover – and what we don’t.”

 On what helps:

“Deadlines for daily news are pretty tight, for example we start writing at 10am and only have until 12pm to file stories. So speedy responses in this time are great.”

“Deliver on timing promises, or advise early if need extension – if we request a change or clarification, come back quickly.”

“Writers should have some qualification or expertise to write on the subject.”

“Photos! Can’t tell you how many thumbnail-sized photos we get. It’s always good to put a face to the name for the reader but we can only use photos if they are high-res. Most newspaper images need at least 760 x 456 pixels – we can crop a high-res photo to make it that size but unfortunately, we can’t blow up tiny photos to fit. Bonus points if the headshot includes their shoulders.”

“Individual interviews are great, they are always the best! So let us know if your contact has 15 minutes to chat over the phone.”

It’s important to note that none of this means doing journalists’ jobs for them – they will almost always want to collaborate rather than receive a finished piece – but if you want them to spend limited resources on you, including time, copy space, and share of voice, you will have a better chance if you consider their point of view. If you follow the golden rules, at worst you will make yourself a valuable and trusted source of information, and at best you will get all the headlines you deserve.

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