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Turn Mundane Things Into News

By Jerry Brown, APR

Ask 10 journalists what news is and you’ll get at least a dozen answers. At least one probably will quote the famous line: “When a dog bites a man, that’s not news ... but if a man bites a dog, that is news.” That’s a good traditional definition equating news with things out of the ordinary. The retailer Hammacher Schlemmer says it sells “the best, the only and the unexpected” – another good traditional definition of news. If you have a story that fits this traditional definition – the first, best, biggest or unusual – it’s probably news as long as there’s a reason for the rest of us to care. But many of us want to make news out of things that aren’t the first, best, biggest or unusual. Then what? Let me offer two more definitions of news:

1. News is anything at least one reporter and one editor believe is news. If you can convince one reporter your story’s news and that reporter can convince his or her editor, then your story is news because it’ll get used. So, media relations is about selling your story to the media.

2. News is about people and things that affect people. The more people affected, the bigger the story. And the biggest story of all, no matter how mundane, is a story about me. If your story’s about me, I’ll pay attention even if it’s about something mundane.

That’s a different playing field than having to be first, best, biggest or out of the ordinary.

People often kill media interest in their story by portraying themselves as the best or the biggest in ways so self-serving no reporter will touch it. And stories about mundane things often get great play because they’re about things that have broad interest or impact.

Make your story only about you and you’ll kill media interest. Make it about your audience and you often can turn even mundane things into news. And the more people who will be interested, the easier it’ll be to turn it into news.

During 20 years as a journalist, Jerry Brown worked for The Associated Press (he was assignment editor for AP’s Washington bureau during Watergate); daily newspapers in Little Rock, Fort Worth and Denver; the U.S. Information Agency; and two trade publications. Jerry’s been practicing public relations for the past two decades and is an accredited member (APR) of the Public Relations Society of America and a former board member of PRSA’s Colorado chapter. You can contact Jerry at jerry@pr-impact.com or visit his Web site at pr-impact.com.

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