By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
It is a daily challenge for most hospitals, medical practices and healthcare public relations professionals to get to and through the “gatekeepers” in the media in order to tell their story to the public.
The problem is that prospective topics or story ideas that are important to PR professionals (and their employers) must also be appealing to the reporter, the editor and ultimately, to the audience. And what sounds like a good idea for a news release in the staff meeting (or in the mind of the boss), doesn’t easily make it into print. (Or on the air for broadcast media.)
Success is all a matter of knowing—and presenting—what’s newsworthy. By training, experience or instinct, journalists welcome ideas and news releases that are newsworthy and warrant coverage. The good news is that “newsworthy” has only seven essential characteristics…but you need at least one to go from idea to ink.
Media observers and journalism textbooks all have a definition of “news,” “news value,” “newsworthy” and similar terms. We begin with the assumption that all legitimate story ideas and news release material is honest and accurate. And while some situations may bring to mind other criteria, here’s how most media outlets will identify a newsworthy story:
TIMELY/NEW: The essential definition of “news.” In broadcast media, immediacy is quantified in seconds or minutes, but for print publications, timeliness can be defined in weeks. Healthcare information suitable for a News Release material is more likely to be “new” by distinction or uniqueness rather than by a measure of the urgency of breaking news. Is your subject happening right now (time) or is it a “first,” one of a kind, exclusive or rare?
SIGNIFICANT/RELEVANT: The “so-what-and-who-cares” test. Generally, information that has meaning to a large audience or has strong appeal or importance among the publication’s audience will capture a reporter’s attention. How will your information have real significance or consequences to the reader?
PROXIMITY/CLOSENESS: Exactly how big is “your own backyard.” Being “local” is relative to the reader and is most commonly judged by geographical distance. The information that is close to home has greater news value either because it happened here, or because something distant has a strong connection to the immediate area, society or people. What is the most meaningful connection to the immediate area or the lives of the people nearby? >
PROMINENCE: Either you’ve got fame or you don’t. A celebrity, even a local celebrity, can be newsworthy, but don’t kid yourself. Being “famous” is a value judgment of the reader, not the writer or the reporter. Therefore the distinguished professional reputation of a physician or surgeon, for example, may be meaningful if the readers are peers and colleagues, but meaningless to the general public. Does your news release have a genuine fame factor, or is it just a head-scratcher for the reader?
CONFLICT/FRICTION: The essence of human drama is conflict. Perhaps the most common element in anything newsworthy is when two or more ideas are at odds. This can range from all-out war between nations to minor differences of opinion or perspective between individuals. Reporters, editors and readers are drawn to information that harbors some degree of disagreement, and, in their eyes, the greater the discord the greater the newsworthiness. Is there an appropriate degree of drama, tension or difference of opinion in your news release information?
SURPRISE/NOVELTY: The “man-bites-dog” newsworthy test. Common, routine, mundane events are seldom newsworthy, but surprise your audience with something that differs sharply from what’s expected, and you have their attention. The ordinary is largely unnoticed, but the extraordinary is often newsworthy. How can you communicate what you have to say in a manner that is remarkably different or distinct from everyday events?
HUMAN INTEREST: The sometimes-exception-to-the-other-rules test. Human-interest stories-with abundantly raw material in healthcare and hospitals-can ignore all other tests and be highly newsworthy because of their emotional appeal. Human beings are interested in what happens to (or because of) other human beings. And thus the story can be less immediate or nearby. What approach would personalize your story idea or information with the greatest emotional appeal?
Chances are that your story idea will not contain all of these, but if you don’t pass at least one of these tests, there’s no need to pitch a reporter or editor. (Hint: You don’t have a story of interest.)
You’ll find more about the essential key to creating a successful healthcare PR news release in this related article on our blog.