Who knows what is news?

Andrew Arnold has picked up at on Peter Brill’s post at that reflects on Toni Falconi’s blog at on objectivity in PR and journalism.  I highlight this trail, not as link bait, but to illustrate the delightful connectability of blogging.

What each of these posts does is to present a personal perspective on a topic, and also develop it in a new direction.  In addition, posts themselves attract comments (12 so far on the original PR Conversations post) to develop the initial idea with thoughts of support or differences of opinion.  Bloggers can also send trackbacks (as I have done between this post and Peter’s – having left comments on the other two) to help visitors to one site pick up on discussion elsewhere.

The subject of the various posts has related to whether journalists expect PR practitioners to be objective (and whether they are objective themselves) and the blurring of the roles of both.  Although this topic is clearly of interest, it is not news.  Nothing newsworthy has happened.

So what is news?  This is a question that I ask at the start of the press release writing workshop that I run.  In particular, I mean hard news that captures the media attention, not the fluffy kind of celebrity-nonsense or other “creative” ways to generate coverage.

‘s return to manage Newcastle FC is clearly news.  The “new manager” story involved speculation initially over whether either Harry Rednap or Alan Shearer would be persuaded by the millions on offer.  Then the surprise reappearance of King Kev provided just the kind of news that is loved by the tabloids – and is talked about in bars, offices and online. For PR practitioners, speculation, suspense and a surprise aide news generation.

The crash landing of the BA flight yesterday is news – although for the print media, it is already old as the story unfolded live on 24-hour television news.  Today the “news” involves a variety of talking heads giving their views on what went wrong.  It is interesting to see the Seattle Post Intelligencer take on the issue – which is all about the safety record of the Boeing 777.  Even more local is the take of the Worcester News focusing on the fact the pilot lives in the city.  Here we can see the value of good crisis management on part of BA but we should also remember that media like to add their own twist making the news relevant to the audience, whether it is a local or trade angle.

Having said this, I fail to see any news value in the “and finally” piece at the end of yesterday’s ITV News at Ten (in its much hyped return week).  It featured a journalist riding in a taxi whose driver had been on road alongside Heathrow when the plane landed.  He wasn’t presented as an eye witness but as someone affected by the incident.  But he had no real story to tell. 

What about the Golden Globe awards?  Whilst accepting the awards are a creative technique to generate coverage and sell cinema tickets, the “hook” ought to be who has won what.  This year, the news was the non-event as a consequence of the writers’ strike.  The winners were still announced – so why weren’t these viewed as news?  Without the images of actors and actresses on the red carpet or collecting their trophies in person, the sparkle was lost.  The “news” was still the same, but without the glossy packaging, the media interest dissipated.

pr But the oddest “news” of the past week for me relates to the badge for PR offered by the Scout Association.  This was a major story and has been picked up everywhere – even USA Today – but this is an 11 year old story.

Despite what the media and the PR scouting team said, this is that this is not a new badge.  The Scout website and PR Week note it was first introduced in 1997 – sponsored by nuclear power company British Energy. 

Why did Andrew Thorp, media officer for the Scout Association present the PR badge as “new” – and why didn’t national newspaper journalists bother to check this fact.  Should they have relied on the PR person’s word on this matter?  Wrongly, they merrily reported the “news” of the PR badge direct from the press release or PA Wire report. 

Do they care?  Well the Scout Association generated a lot of attention and the media also got a story.  Although here the news wasn’t really news.

Mind you, Mr Thorp admits he has not achieved the PR badge himself and is not listed on the CIPR website as a member either.  So he is clearly living up to the media stereotype in reporting the badge as one for spin-doctors.

Unlike , and , I’m not convinced that the badge will encourage Scouts to pursue a career in PR.  However, I will suggest to the Wessex CIPR committee at our next meeting, that we could consider getting in touch with our local Scout Troops and offering to talk with them about what PR really involves and help the guys demonstrate better practice in their own media relations activities. 

Although, I don’t think the Association really sees this badge as improving skills or capturing the interest of Scouts.  Nor is the real value of this badge in its ability to attract headlines for its existence. 

Looking at what is involved the purpose of the badge is to use the Scouts to act as PR practitioners for the organisation itself.  Scouts are required to use the organisation’s own materials or the activities of their local troop to increase the profile and understanding of what is involved in Scouting. 

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

2 thoughts on “Who knows what is news?”

  1. Heather, you ask “So what is news?” at the start of your press release writing workshop. You “mean hard news that captures the media attention, not the fluffy kind of celebrity-nonsense or other “creative” ways to generate coverage….”

    I, too, ask this question across a range of journalism and PR modules – but for a different reason. My intention is invariably to get students to think outside the framings that boil down to “news is what news editors tell us is news”.

    News is (and always has been, in my view), something you didn’t know before and which interests you…. Yes, topicality is an important factor, but it is worth reflecting that we have probably all said, “That’s news to me…”

    Clearly, PR practitioners need to understand news values, and need to understand what a particular publication regards as ‘news’, but anyone concerned with spreading messages for organisational advantage needs to think carefully about more inclusive, more relevant interpretations. I was hardly unique as a newspaper executive in using the “Oh gosh, Doris – have you seen this!” test to select a good story, but it works well – news is something that suprises and interests us. (The Heathrow incident is news because most of us fly and are very glad we weren’t in that plane; it is new and relevant to our lives).

    Social media gives PR pactitioners – and journalists – a valuable opportunity to escape the sort of news values that are more driven by newsroom culture (this is a story because it has always been a story) – and engage with themes that matter to people.

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