5 factors that determine whether a journalist will cover your story

Reporters are inundated with pitches and story ideas. If you understand their motivation (and their editor’s), your story stands a better chance of getting picked up.


This story first ran on PR Daily in January.

Journalists receive dozens of unsolicited phone calls and hundreds of unwanted emails each day.

Their Twitter networks churn out an endless stream of updates, links, and photos.

Their RSS (really simple syndication) feeds offer innumerable stories from their favorite blogs and websites.

With all of that information constantly coming in, it’s not hard for reporters to find potential news stories. But finding news stories they can actually report on? Now that’s the hard part. That’s because every news organization has constraints on which stories their reporters can cover and how they can cover them.

In virtually every newsroom around the world, here are the five factors that drive news decisions: time, speed, space, profit, and bias.

Time

Journalists have never before faced such bruising deadlines. Newspaper reporters who once had to write a story a day now have to continually update that story for their paper’s website.

Their broadcast counterparts now have to produce separate Web-only versions of their radio and television segments throughout the day and promote them via social media.

Plus, many reporters are doing the jobs of two or three people, because it’s likely that their news organizations have laid off several—if not dozens—of their colleagues. If your story requires reporters to do extensive research, they probably won’t cover it at all.

Speed

Competition from faster-moving new media has largely forced traditional media outlets to abandon rigorous fact checking. To keep up, they now rush deadlines and release stories sooner than they’d like, especially when covering breaking news events.

If you can’t explain your story quickly (and easily), it’s more likely that reporters will get at least some aspect of it wrong.

Space

Journalists regularly have to edit complicated stories down to 500 words or to two minutes of air time. It’s not that they’re superficial; it’s that their print publication has only so many pages or their newscast just so many minutes. That means your story will be incomplete, lacking in nuance or detail.

Profit

Most news outlets are designed as profit-making entities. As a result, they have to tell stories that attract the widest-possible audience, enabling them to raise advertising rates and increase revenue.

That helps explain why so many news organizations cover the most sensationalistic stories; as much as the public claims to hate them, people also tend to flock to them. Because conflict sells, reporters may tell your story by pitting two sides against each other.

Bias

Some media outlets have a clear ideological bias. A conservative outlet is unlikely to run a glowing piece about a Democratic candidate, and vice versa.

But the predominant bias in media today is the bias toward cheap, easy, and visually intriguing. The less expensive a news story, the closer the story is to the news outlet’s headquarters, and the more compelling the visuals, the more likely it is to receive coverage.

As one client told me, his local television stations opted against covering a fire at his plant because cameras couldn’t spot flames shooting up through the roof. Without the compelling visuals, it just wasn’t interesting to them.

Brad Phillips is the author of the book The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He tweets @MrMediaTraining.

COMMENT

PR Daily News Feed

Sign up to receive the latest articles from PR Daily directly in your inbox.