Media - Making Contact - What the Media is Looking For


Sometimes it can seem there is some sort of magic formula that dictates who the media pay attention to, and what stories they cover.

Your community group or organisation may have a great story, exciting announcement, important research or interesting activity it wants to shout from the rooftops.

But when you contact the media you find no-one interested – and your group's story ends up ignored in favour of a "soft story" like the kitten being rescued from a wall cavity or about the bit of Nutri-Grain that looks like E.T. being sold on E-bay.

Or there is a major political upheaval or natural disaster that appears out of nowhere and suddenly changes the news priorities of the day. All the stories that were going to be covered are abandoned to throw resources and space to covering the major event.

One senior Australian media executive once described putting out a newspaper as preparing a smorgasbord where people could come and pick and choose the types of stories that were of interest to them.

Some people preferred hard news, others cared little for crime, politics or economic news and focussed instead on the feature pages or food and wine sections; others looked first at sport and some bought the paper for the business news.

The delicate balancing act for the newspaper was somehow recording what happened in the state the previous day while still providing the best possible "smorgasbord" that appealed to the greatest number of readers.

You can find some days where your story is exactly what everyone is looking for that day and gets a great run. A story with exactly the same qualities a day later could be completely overlooked because a major story has broken or there is a better story elsewhere.

Sometimes the timing is simply against you. But to ensure your best chances you need to know what the media might be looking for.

What is the Media Looking For?

The answer to this question can vary depending on the type of media – TV, radio, printed or other – in question.

Each has its own set of requirements when it comes to what they will or will not run.

Some of them – for example, the straight newsworthiness or relevance of your story – are common across all media news outlets, while others can have different levels of importance depending on the type of media.

Ideally, your group's story would want to cover as many of these requirements as possible – that way it has a bigger chance of running across a number of different media outlets.

Elements of what the media is looking for  

Importance/Relevance/Newsworthiness

The first and most critical element of what the media are looking for is whether a story is actually important, relevant or "newsy" enough to warrant their attention.

The definition of what exactly is relevant, important or newsworthy can alter depending on the focus of the media outlet in question. For example:
  • A story about a big local event or issue might be able to rate a decent mention in the metropolitan media, but it would almost certainly be the top news story in the local paper or on local or regional radio and television.
  • Similarly, a specialist media outlet or publication will have a different focus, or different ideas about what is news and what isn't. A story about a social or health issue involving your group may not make a splash in the major media outlets, but could well be a top story in publications dealing specifically in those issues.
That is why it is important that your group or organisation knows the story it is telling, and to which media organisations it will be most relevant or newsworthy.

There are many factors that make a story newsworthy – and can increase the chances of its coverage. Some of them include:
  • An issue which affects a lot of people, or is relevant to a large sector of the population.
  • A development or update on a current issue, or a resolution to that issue.
  • A good debate, argument or conflict.
  • Compelling or informative research (for example, "a medical breakthrough!").
  • A good "people" story – a triumph against the odds, a battler making good or "taking on the banks, government, multinationals, etc."
  • A localised version of a wider story (quite common in suburban newspapers or media).
Good Sound Bites or Quotes

All media outlets are on the look-out for that one snappy quote or compelling sound bite that will stick in the minds of their viewers, listeners or readers.

A great quote or sound bite on top of an already newsworthy story can see it move close to the front of the newspaper or the top of the news bulletin.

The good news for your group is that these types of sound bites and snappy quotes can be practiced so they are ready for use. This of course involves a bit of work and some preparation – but the rewards for doing so are worth it.

For more information, refer to the help sheets Preparing for an Interview, Why Sound Bites are Important and Creating a Tasty Sound Bite, all of which are available at the Marketing, Media and Post Centre.


Visual Interest - interesting/compelling photo or visual opportunities

The ability to offer or organise a great picture or visual opportunity is another element newspaper and television media look for when covering a story.

Newspapers or magazines will almost always find space for a strong or relevant news story – be it with or without pictures – on merit alone. But the printed media is always on the lookout for picture-driven stories to balance or complement that news coverage.

An exciting compelling, colourful or attractive picture can see the story it accompanies move from the middle of the paper or magazine to a page much closer to the front.

When it comes to television, pictures are the driving force. If a story on the cusp of being covered in the nightly TV news bulletin has some great footage accompanying it (either colour and movement, action, excitement, emotion) it will more than likely be aired.

Not only that, but if the vision sticks in viewers' minds, it will also help your story attract more attention and be remembered.

Being able to organise photographic or visual opportunities means that your group has to think in terms of pictures as well as words and quotes. This can take a little time and practice, but is a skill well worth honing.

For more information on how to develop and make the most of visual opportunities for publications or television, refer to the help sheet The Importance of Pictures at the Marketing, Media and Post Centre.

Also start to study the media. Look at the pictures that get run of community group activities and ask what made the picture stand out? What did they do to make it appealing and to make the pictures tell the story?

Combining the Elements

Given that the media are looking for a variety of elements in a news story, the best thing your community group or organisation can do is provide a combination of these elements to them.

When your group has a story it wants to get into the media, think about all the elements:
  • While doing this emphasise the importance or relevance of the story to the media you are approaching – "sell" them your story.
  • Once your group has attracted the media and has got them interested in covering your story, what are you going to say to them?
    • That means you need to think about having your sound bites, and "quotable quotes" ready for use when required.
    • Make sure they communicate the message you want them to and are relevant to the media outlet's viewers/readers/listeners.

The information contained on this site is subject to change. Australia Post or Our Community will not be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever coming from reliance placed on all or part of its contents.