Turning issues into news
If you’re working to see change in the world or passionate about important social issues, knowing how media works is essential. Whether it’s health promotion, speaking up for human rights, challenging inequalities, or calling for accountability, media is critical. Media coverage can call attention to overlooked issues, provide information, influence opinions, expose violations, and celebrate responses.
So, what does media consider “newsworthy” stories? Here’s some tips for turning issues into news. Of course stories don’t have to tick every box. Be patient, see what works and what doesn’t. Remember, don’t only feature problems, showcase positive stories too!
1. Be timely
The term “news” says it, what’s happening today is a big newsworthiness factor – last week already lost news value. But, you can also plan ahead to be topical by linking stories to International Days or important national or global happenings. Keep up on current news and be prepared to quickly react for ongoing opportunities.
2. Highlight the significance
Numbers of people affected and level of impact is part of newsworthiness. Bigger is better. This doesn’t mean you can’t tell compelling personal stories – persecution of a human rights defender can exemplify wider concerns about freedoms; the story of one family’s struggle with rising food prices likely echoes many people’s worries about food security.
3. Consider proximity
Stories happening nearby are often more interesting for media – people want to know what is happening around them and how it affects them. This also guides what media you pitch to and angling the story – your local radio station, national newspaper, or regional news platform all have different audiences. Ask yourself – who is the audience, and why should they care about this, now?
4. Include prominent people
Stories involving well known people (especially celebrities), groups, or places, generally get more coverage. If you’re luck enough to have celebrity involvement in your work, make the most if it! But even if you’re not, work on positioning your organisation or yourself as a thought leader. Tap into emerging stories – if a celebrity is charged with domestic violence, it’s an opportunity to talk about the problem in wider society.
5. Tap into controversy & conflict
Disagreements and controversial opinions make good media. These can be used positively for social justice. For example, have government and leaders fulfilled promises made on climate justice, women’s rights, essential services, youth employment, or any issue you work on? Is the public or group of people angered about a particular issue? Calling attention and holding leaders accountable is a solutions-focused form of conflict.
6. Find the unusual
The extraordinary, unique, rare, and odd are newsworthy. Media audiences like to be surprised, to find out about something unusual. In your line of work, what are some of the most unique stories to tell – new use of technology, facts people are unlikely to know, an out-of-the ordinary approach, a quirky personality acting for change. For example, a story about how climate change is impacting animal life could include weird and wild facts about some of the animals under threat.
7. Tell great human interest stories
Human interest stories are a bit of a special case. They often don’t follow usual rules of newsworthiness – they may not feature recent happenings or affect large numbers of people. Human interest stories appeal to emotion – they inspire, make us laugh, enrage us. This is where organisations and activists can really shine – what are the really fascinating human stories you have to tell?