What's News and What Ain't


The wonderful or the shameful. That sums up the content of almost all news stories. Most fall into the shameful category, unfortunately. The wonderful articles tend to end up on the sports or feature screens.

What then is news? I define it as information of the greatest interest to the largest number of people in a particular place at a particular time -- in other words, stories the public either needs or wants to know. Examples: we probably need to know about the state of the economy; and many want to know about silly celebrity gossip.

Cynical reporters say news is simply what their editor says it is, on any given day.

Let's examine what motivates readers in the first place. Famed thinker Arthur Asa Berger tells us that "the media enable us to have powerful experiences without paying for them, so to speak, and to take risks without having to worry about being devastated." Here are some of the benefits he lists:

• seeing authority figures exalted or deflated
• satisfying curiosity
• being informed
• finding models to imitate
• seeing others make mistakes
• participating in history (vicariously)
• exploring taboo subjects with impunity
• seeing villains in action

French writer Guy de Maupassant understood this quite well. No wonder: he worked as a journalist for many leading newspapers during a hectic life that lasted just 42 years. As prolific as they come, with some 300 short stories to his credit, he brought his characters to life in a naturalistic manner, without embellishment. At the same time he understood that readers were seeking emotional stimulation. He believed they weren't merely requesting, but crying out:

• Console me
• Amuse me
• Sadden me
• Move me
• Make me dream
• Make me laugh
• Make me tremble
• Make me cry
• Make me think

Too often, corporate executives move in the opposite direction. They favor dry, vague adjectives like unique, revolutionary, innovative, useful and the like. Instead, tell us what customers feel when they interact with the product. Or, for that matter, how you as the creator respond.

If possible, connect your story with larger social or economic issues. Will your product or service help conserve energy, raise better children or improve health care? Or are you merely seeking publicity for its own sake? Going back to the two categories of "wonderful" and "shameful," are you doing something that is utterly delightful, on the one hand, or solving an appalling problem on the other? Either way, you're more likely to get coverage.

In any case, focus on the audience's needs and desires, not yours. Pleasing yourself merely makes you vain, not newsworthy.


Media Analysis Techniques (Sage, London, 1991), by Arthur Asa Berger, pp. 88 and 91.
Pierre et Jean (Pocket, Paris, 2006), by Guy de Maupassant, preface, p. 16.