Just what does make for a good story?
That was the topic of discussion last month at one of the small-group sessions at Nebraska Community Foundation’s annual celebration and training in Norfolk. I participated in a session that was designed to share ideas on how community volunteers could secure media coverage of events they were planning.
Here’s some of the information I shared in that session in hopes that it proves useful:
A good story is about something interesting or important. A great story uses storytelling to make important news all the more interesting.
Anything can be news. But not everything is newsworthy. Journalism is a process in which a reporter uses verification and storytelling to make a subject newsworthy. A good story, however, does more than inform or amplify. It adds value to the topic.
Creating a good story means finding and verifying important or interesting information and then presenting it in a way that engages the audience. Good stories are part of what make journalism different, and more valuable, than other content in the media universe.
There are six elements to a good story. Here they are:
1. Information: You need to have concrete details about the who, what, when, where and why. When media outlets don’t publish something or don’t cover it, it’s often because details are lacking.
2. Significance: Your story idea may be of utmost importance to you, but what about the media outlet’s readers, listeners or viewers? Think about the new organization’s audience and how your story idea could be of interest to them.
3. Focus: A good story is limited and focused. Don’t overwhelm readers or viewers with too many details. Remember what your core story idea is and stay focused in your pitch.
4. Faces: Good stories include characters. Think about who will be the face of your story. Whomever you put forward, they should also be responsive and willing to get back to a reporter in a timely manner.
5. Form: Good news stories take shape and give the reader a sense of completion. Help reporters generate form by offering a well-rounded set of facts and sources for a story.
6. Voice: Good stories also include good conversations. The reporter has a job to provide a narrative of facts and details; good, concise quotes will add color and accentuate points in the story.
I finished up by posing these rhetorical questions as a way to help teach individuals what not to do when seeking media coverage:
Is it a good idea to meet with a reporter or newspaper publisher and:
— Wait until the day before an event to ask for coverage? No.
— Ask for coverage of an annual event without providing a new element? No.
— Not have all the pertinent details of an upcoming event? No.
— Be unwilling to be quoted in the story? No.
— Submit a photo without providing the identification of what or who is in the photo? No.
— Overwhelm with minutia? No.
Avoid those kinds of pitfalls and you might just have success in pitching a story idea.