What Makes News

  • Conflict is news
    • News in an adversarial system. Two sides equal a story. It is not a reporter's duty to evaluate the validity of either side.
    • Corollary: Consensus is not news.
  • Novelty is news
    • It's called "news" for a reason. Media chase the newest things.
  • Extremes are news
    • The biggest, the fastest, the most expensive, the oldest, the youngest - These are words to warm a reporter's heart. Second-best, one of 20, top-third - These phrases won't have the same effect.
  • Lists are news
    • Thank David Letterman. Anything that can be squeezed into a top-ten list is newsworthy. It has the appearance of precision and can be digested quickly.
  • Television moves
    • Print media can accommodate a wide array of stories. To be effective on television, things have to move, change color, transform. TV people hate "talking heads."
  • One third-party endorsement beats a dozen first-party endorsements
    • College-guide ratings, national rankings, recognition from outside are good fuel for the media fire.
  • Trends are news
    • Frame the issue. Is it part of or on the leading edge of a significant development having a wider effect?
  • Timeliness makes news
    • Did something happen recently that your institution can add perspective on?
  • Wide impact
    •  How many people are affected? More people = news.
  • Proximity
    • Close to “home” = news. If something happened locally, or if local people are involved, it’s likely news. If there is an earthquake in China, it’s new in Maine if people from Maine are in China. 
  • Highlight the human element
    • WHO will your research/project help? Show me their faces. Let me hear their voices.
  • Think like "Joe Average"
    • Would your work, your message compel the average person who has no background in your area of expertise, may have only a passing interest in your field of endeavor…and who is NOT your mother? If it would, then it's probably news.

Dead on Arrival: Recognizing a Non-Story

"What a great teaching job we do!" This story suggestion is a common one. One jaded reporter said in response, "At $20,000 a year tuition, you'd better be damn good at teaching."

Variations include: "What a wonderful faculty we have." Or, "our graduates are very successful." It rarely works because everyone who's successful graduated from somewhere.