This is the second of a 3-part blog series to help funders leverage relationships with traditional media. Our thanks to Patti Giglio of PSG Communications, LLC, for her contributions to our new media toolkit for Exponent Philanthropy members, the basis for this blog series.
Journalists of all stripes are always looking for stories. The stress of ever-shrinking newsrooms and the constant pressure to publish on social media create an insatiable demand for story ideas. Philanthropists who can provide reporters with editorially viable story ideas will quickly become trusted sources.
What makes something newsworthy—or editorially viable—follows a time-tested formula
Six simple elements create the framework for how journalists gauge the merit of a news story. Understanding these elements can help you identify when you have a good story or how to create one.
Statistics are the single most important thing reporters need. When you are considering statistics, look for the “-EST” factor: biggest, fastest growing, or even lowest or smallest, which can represent a challenge you face.
Consider doing an original survey, or partnering with others to commission a study. Identify academic researchers studying the issues you care about and perhaps fund new research, or a survey or analysis of existing data. Also consider your own organizational data or that of your grantees. Look for data that is counterintuitive and illustrates something particularly relevant to the work you are doing.
You will quickly see that news stories on a variety of topics begin with a vignette about a person. These human interest stories are among the hardest elements for reporters to find, and they create an important entry point for philanthropists. Identify people who are willing to tell their stories, or communities, organizations, or businesses that are impacted. This takes time and effort on your part, but is well worth it.
News stories have an inherent life cycle. If you actively think about the question, “Why today?” and incorporate an element of timeliness into your pitch, you are more likely to be successful.
Sometimes the element of timeliness is organic; sometimes it is contrived. A story that focuses on rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster is an example of organic timeliness. On the other hand, a story about breast cancer research or survivors is often best told in October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month).
Often, you—and often your grantees—have the credible expertise to provide perspective on the story you are hoping to tell. Sometimes, though, it is strategic to offer outside experts who can provide third-party validation and analysis. Helping to identify an appropriate expert will strengthen your pitch.
Sometimes all you need is a little star power to make news. Professional athletes, movie stars, and other celebrities are often looking for ways to contribute to the issues they care about. Why not yours? Also consider local personalities, television anchors or reporters, local politicians, or even a high school principal, any of whom could provide the star power necessary to make your story editorially viable.
This element of editorial viability can often stand on its own as newsworthy, simply because it needs to be told. Did you want to text someone the news as soon as you heard it? Did you impulsively feel you had to share it with others? Are other people talking about it? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you probably have a compelling story.
Of the six elements above, statistics, profiles, and timeliness are the three most important. The degree to which you are able to combine as many of the six elements as possible, however, will improve the viability of your story and the success of your pitch. And sometimes, a story is simply so compelling it stands on its own.