By Gerard Braud
As a reporter, I generally hated going to a news conference or a media event that was about good news. It’s not that I’m opposed to covering good news, it’s just that generally the spokespeople were poorly prepared and the organizers were completely oblivious of the wants, needs and desires of the media.
If you call a news conference or organize a media event, you’d better be prepared to commit news. When someone commits murder, it is usually a pre-meditated act. Well, good news needs to be pre-meditated as well. You need to commit news.
The litmus test we use in the newsroom is to first ask, “Who cares?” Actually, in most newsrooms everyone curses like sailors, so how we actually phrase the “who cares?” statement is a lot harsher. To pass the litmus test, the answer needs to be that a large portion of our viewing, reading or listening audience care. That’s how news is determined.
Too many good news events fail to meet that basic test of affecting or bettering the lives of a vast number of people in your community. A ribbon cutting is not news. Expanding your facility is not news. The anniversary of when your organization was founded is generally not news. Yet every day, the newsroom is filled with news releases asking the media to cover such events.
It is not news if the event is self-centered and all about how good your organization is. To be news, you must explain how it is good for that broad audience. To quote my wife – it’s not about you. It needs to be about the audience at home watching TV, reading the newspaper or listening to the radio.
For something to be news, you also have to make the media say Wow! That means you need to knock their socks off with a catchy hook, have good quotes and good visuals. Often adding wow means you have good timing and you are able to link your issue or event to something else important in the news. For example, holding a blood drive on a clear sunny day is likely not news, but holding a blood drive to help the victims of a crisis is news. Holding a food drive on a clear, sunny day is likely not news, but holding a food drive to help victims of a major natural disaster is.
I teach a workshop called, “What Makes the Media Say Wow!” My favorite case study in that program is one for a litter clean-up event that I was asked to handle PR for. The event is called Beach Sweep. It is an annual event that organizes thousands of volunteers to fan out along the Louisiana coast to pick up trash that has washed up on the beaches. While the event initially got lots of media attention, after covering the story for several years, media attention had died off.
To add wow I added controversy. In our state legislature there was a huge battle between a group of recreational fishermen and members of the commercial fishing industry. Fishing in Louisiana has a huge economic impact because more seafood is caught in our coastal waters than in any of the lower 48 states. With that said, I called the leaders of the 2 feuding groups and asked if they would both lay their differences aside for one day. I further asked them to call on all of their members to help pick up trash in the coastal waters as they went fishing on Beach Sweep Saturday. They both agreed. I then asked both leaders to act as spokespeople at a media event. These feuding parties standing side by side helped to create the wow I needed.
Next, I needed the event to be visual, so I held it at a boat launch where the fishermen could take reporters out by boat to see the trash problem first hand.
Finally, I provided just enough media training for both spokespeople to teach each a handful of good quotes and how to deflect any probing questions about their ongoing battle in the state legislature. The best quote was crafted by simply asking the fishermen to hold a landing net and to demonstrate how it could be used to pick up trash, while saying, “This landing net is the best tool a fisherman can have this Saturday because you can land a trophy fish and you can use it to pick up trash.” It was what I call a show-and-tell quote. Four TV stations used the same quote, as did one radio station and every newspaper.
I knew going into the event that every reporter was really covering the story hoping to get greater insight on the legislative fight. When asked about the fight, the spokespeople were taught to say, “We’ll talk about that another day. Today we’re here to talk about something that is important to every fisherman, which is to clean up the environment.”
Hence, we committed news, told a story that impacted the economy, every fisherman and everyone who uses the waterways and beaches. That means we had all the pieces of a perfect story. And, to add icing to the cake, every reporter thanked us for making the story so easy to cover because we met their wants, needs and desires by giving them a story with a great hook, great quotes and great visuals.
In summary – be ready to commit news and don’t try to make the news about you, make it about your audience.
In our next lesson, we’ll talk more about how to prepare, media train and practice for an interview being conducted by an investigative reporter.