Understanding the news agenda – Content, Context, Commentary and Conclusions.

We’re halfway through March and what a news month it’s been! Let’s review the good, the bad and the very ugly.

THE NEWS CLIMATE

Since the start of the month, it’s been challenging to keep on top of the massive stories rolling through the press.

We had back to school, the lockdown ‘exit’ plan briefing and the Sussexes ‘Oprah’ interview. 

Who were the winners in the battle for coverage and consumer interest?  The ones that stood out were the ones that offered the opportunity for the most commentary or interpretation and largest audiences.

Let’s look at the Sussexes revelations, which rocked the country, leaving us all holding our breath for the response from The Palace.

As predicted, it was short and sweet. We are “taking it very seriously”, certain prominent “News ‘figures”, loved or loathed, left the building, and everyone waited for the fall out.


In any other news cycle this would have been a monumental event which dominated the press for weeks, but this is 2021 and what actually happened was the news agenda moved on to a bigger story and the Sussexes story slipped down the importance poll. Not the outcome they were hoping for I’m sure.

It doesn’t matter how famous you are, it’s worth remembering that the biggest story ALWAYS takes the top spot.   Tragically, for the last week, that’s been the loss of Sarah Everard. The 33-year-old marketing executive disappeared on 3rd March after leaving a friend’s house near Clapham Common.

On 9th March Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police office was arrested in Kent and on 10th March her “remains” were discovered in woodland near Ashford in Kent.  This has triggered a wave of protests and conversation about women’s safety across the country, eclipsing anything the Sussexes could hope to achieve. 

We might love a good family drama, but when the pain resonates with our emotions and own experiences, we’ll drop it quickly.

While no-one wants to read a story like this, what we can take from it is it doesn’t matter how well timed your PR exclusive or explosive news story is, if a more prominent, shocking event happens then the news agenda quickly moves on.

In basic terms the job or role of the media is to provide information, a summary of the news; offering the most important stories of the day for their audience.

HOW NEWS STORIES WORK

The headlines are there to entice the reader into the story. Depending on the media outlet, the more ‘show stopping’ the headline the more opportunity to hook the audience and get them to read on. Headlines, of course, can also be misleading.

The media’s role is to ‘highlight’ the key points of the story (or event i.e., Oprah’s show) and then ask, and use, further commentary from the parties involved (i.e., The Royal Family press office).

Further statements, clarity or even proof points will help the audience draw their own conclusion from the news article. Whilst live broadcasts give the viewers the opportunity to watch the complete interview, the media outlet can still influence the conclusion by pushing, cutting, and focusing on certain key points.

Think previews and trailers. Provoking further discussion means that readers come back for more. Click further for background, browsing time on websites go up or buy the paper or magazines promising more details.  We call this the content, context, commentary, and conclusion, or the 4 C’s for short.

WHAT MAKES A STORY

In crisis, it’s vital to understand what a journalist wants from a story.  The closer you can match it, the less likely they’ll rewrite it to a different narrative.

A story is defined by a number of elements:

Light and shade:  we love a good side and a dark one –the media will often assign goodies and baddies. Make sure you know which you want to be.

Killer quotes: don’t send over a load of waffle from an egomaniac CEO, no matter how much they ask.  Keep your quotes tight and to the point and you’ll avoid unfortunate cuts.

Genuine newsworthiness:  don’t bore the press, or the public with old, or repetitive stories.  

The human element:  Even B2B communications needs a human element to engage the hearts and minds of the press and public. No human? No buy in and buy in is what press officers need the most.

Shareability:  Modern media lives and dies on clicks.  If no one has any reason to share your story, journalists won’t touch it.

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

I’m explaining this to provide an insight into why you need to be prepared for tricky interviews and media attention.  If you want to get a different outcome you need to be prepared.

If you’re keen to improve your crisis communications skills, you can practise by applying the 4c’s to any story in the press.

Remember to think about what happened and what is the focus or discussion point?

Where did it happen and why, who was involved and who is quoting?

Finally, a killer ending, how are you concluding your story to leave the audience wanting more, but satisfied they have gotten the story you wanted to tell?

Need to learn more?  Get in touch with heather@crisis-pr-training.com to learn more about managing your crisis pr strategy.

Own the story, don’t be the story!

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