What do journalists want?

Posted by Martin Stott

Journalists want great stories, they want clear and reliable information and they want to hit their deadlines. Simple.

Anyone who can help journalists achieve these goals is likely to generate a mutually beneficial relationship with the news media.

Like so many things in life, of course, it is often easier said than done, but here are a few tips that should help:


Put the new into news

Journalists are looking for fresh information and, ideally, journalism being a competitive environment, they want it to themselves. This is the essence of news.

If a story has been covered before (there are many hardy news perennials), they will want an original angle they can use to sell it to their editor.

Journalists are faced with an inbox groaning with e-mails, they will get hundreds each day. They have to pan through this electronic flow of information to find news gold, so any correspondence has to sparkle to get noticed. Ensure you make your point clearly, succinctly and in accessible language. Don’t bury the most interesting point four paragraphs down, a busy journalist may never read that far. Remember too that many journalists will filter their emails by the subject line – so make sure yours will catch their interest.


Horses for courses

If you have a decent story or feature idea, you have to know which journalists might be interested.

‘75-year-old man rides a bathtub through a tornado’ is a brilliant tale but it is not one for anyone working on the Sunday Times Money pages.

Think about who you’re pitching to and why. Understand a journalist’s professional interests, their output and their readership. Without this knowledge, you risk wasting everyone’s time.


Time is of the essence

Timing is important.

Understanding the editorial decision-making process means knowing when journalists are likely to be on the lookout for material.

For specialist journalists writing for magazines, weekend supplements or regular features in national titles, this can be relatively predictable.

They want ideas in time to take into an editorial conferences where decisions are made as to which stories get published. If you know when a conference takes place, you can work out when is the best time to get in touch.

It’s worth pointing out that a good journalist will welcome a genuinely cracking story at any time – but for most of us these stories will be few and far between.


Quality over quantity

Lastly, think quality, not quantity. Sifting through emails, journalists want to see the names of senders who can be relied upon to provide them with quality newsworthy content. Be one of those people. A press release is the raw material for a story, not free advertising. When considering a press release, think about whether this will make a story for your target publication. Have a look at their website or a recent issue. Have they run similar pieces? Try and take an impartial view, is this something you would expect to read on the news pages? Is there solid, new information that will interest their readership? Sending out a lot of pointless press releases won’t achieve anything – and may work against you when you really do have something interesting to say.

For further tips on working successfully with the press read our ten rules for winning consistent media coverage.

At Bulletin our core team are all experienced former journalists, if you’d like to discuss how we can help you work more effectively with the media ring Malcolm Jones on 0115 907 8412 or email malcolm.jones@bulletin.co.uk

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