There’s an important debate unfolding around the privacy case involving famed wrestler Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media. Following the ruling in favor of Hogan, legal analysts and academics weighed in on issues ranging from editorial independence to First Amendment protections to decency.
Regardless of the sensational nature of the case and concerns of the merit of Gawker’s original reports, the New York Times’ opinion page headline – “Should the Gawker-Hulk Hogan Jurors Decide What’s Newsworthy?” – poses an interesting question that underscores the importance of our role as communicators.
Here at Greentarget, we dig into “newsworthiness” each and every day – looking and listening for that unique take on an industry trend, or a quick sound bite that relates to an emerging news story. And we must do so skillfully in order to align client positions and interests, the perspectives of subject matter experts, and what actually resonates with the media and its audiences.
Furthermore, we each define “newsworthy” in different ways depending on our individual roles and experiences, not to mention what strategies we employ to ensure great ideas are heard and smarter conversations are had. Some may say news should be conflicted, unusual and significant. Others may assert it should be grounded in research and data-centric knowledge. And our team members with editorial backgrounds may argue it’s whatever the reporter says it is.
All are perfectly valid points-of-view, and for that reason, we asked a few of our own to elaborate.
Driven by Data
From where I sit as Greentarget’s Director of Research, not surprisingly, I favor data-backed facts that are enlightening and provocative. Without being fact-checked or verified with data, it’s just a rumor or speculation.
I love the old adage I’d hear in the newsroom at The American Lawyer – “Dog bites man is NOT news, but man bites dog back IS!” Put another way, and with statistics in mind, a man bitten by a dog won’t catch anyone’s attention. But if it’s the 9,673rd Rottweiler attack this year, that will make headlines.
It’s very hard to separate true news from manufactured events or plain hoaxes that have gone viral. If I receive one million clicks on my story headline – “She Poured Coke on her Laptop and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!” – does it really matter that the actual story was about a product liability claim that was thrown out in the first motion to dismiss? Obviously, for what we do, it does matter.
Subjective yet Effective
Defining what’s newsworthy is like trying to nail yogurt to the wall. News should be new (it’s in the name) but beyond that, it gets subjective. Most of us could probably agree, for instance, that news should be relevant. Let’s say a publication learns that a CEO of a public company just bought a $2 million yacht. He paid with his own money and there’s nothing nefarious about it. You might argue that’s not news: it has no effect on his work or the company and we already know he’s rich because his pay is disclosed, so the fact that he’s running around on a huge boat tells us nothing of value – it’s not relevant. Or you might argue it is news: CEO compensation is a topic people care about, there’s a good chance his employees’ pay hasn’t been going up lately, and while it may be his money, he got it from his investors – it is relevant, to plenty of people. The two of you could argue about this for hours.
And in fact, arguments like this happen every day in newsrooms. They can be tiresome and frustrating (especially when you lose) and they sometimes go on for hours. But then somebody, probably an editor, possibly the editor, makes a decision and everybody moves on.
That’s how it should work, but more importantly, that’s the only way it can work. Because there’s no precise, objective way to define news, somebody has to look at the information coming in and make a decision. Exercising news judgment is part of what journalists do. It’s their fundamental responsibility. And they know that if they get it wrong they could get sued or lose advertisers or, more likely, just look like shmucks. They take it seriously because they have to, and because it matters to them.
So when I say news is what the reporter says it is, it’s not because I believe they’re the only ones qualified to decide. It’s because somebody has to decide, and it’s their job. Like it or not, you have to let them do it.
Timing is Everything
“If it happened yesterday, I don’t want to hear about it.” We were told this recently by a reporter and it stuck with us.
Given the current media landscape and the fact that reporters nowadays just don’t have the bandwidth to cover anything that crosses their desk, we must be clear and concise and provide them with that timely hook. To that end, we ask ourselves two important questions before hitting send on any email:
- Am I offering reporters information they may not already have at their fingertips?
- What new perspective will my client offer that hasn’t already been covered?
When you have good answers to these, the more likely you are to catch their attention and subsequently their readers’ attention.
These questions also inform our conversations with clients as we attempt to get at the heart of why a reporter should be interested in speaking with them. There is certainly a tug-of-war between what is considered newsworthy and the stories our clients have to tell. As professional communicators, we must balance the overtly promotional with the legitimately fascinating, channel appropriate facts to the right audiences, and relay feedback accordingly.
Luckily, given the nature of our client base, we have an abundance of useful insight more often than not, which, in turn, helps make us great storytellers.
– Lisa Seidenberg & Agatha Howland
Greentarget is a strategic public relations firm focused exclusively on business-to-business organizations.
We direct conversations that drive business objectives, enhance reputations and build meaningful relationships with influencers. We are a destination for talented individuals whose intellectual curiosity and commitment to our proven process drive an unparalleled level of service, results and value for our clients.