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The 'ST' Factor, with a dash of 'ONLY'

Amy Lawson - Thursday, May 12, 2011
'What the...?', I hear you ask. 
In a way, that's my case in point. Journalists are very busy people and the average news room gets 1200 media releases a day. So, if you're going to use the media release as a tool in public relations, then you had better make your point early, succinctly, and with a few key elements to grab the attention of your target media.

When journalists look for news, they are always thinking, 'why would my audience care about this?' News values are the key ingredients that make up a good news story, and I recently took a trip down memory lane to my days of studying journalism at university to recollect the eight key news values:
1) Impact - how big a deal is your topic?
2) Timeliness - if it's not new, it's not news - unless there are new developments to an old story
3) Currency - is it relevant to current issues and trends?
4) Proximity - people generally are interested in what affects them in their local environment. Look for the local angle
5) Novelty - the unusual or unexpected. Remember 'Dog bites man' versus 'Man bites dog'
6) Prominence - names make news, ie: extraordinary people doing ordinary things
7) Human Interest - The story of one person can be the hook for a larger issue, ie: ordinary people doing extraordinary things
8) Conflict - "Conflict, antagonism and tension are the stuff of human drama" - Sally White (1999), Reporting in Australia

It is important to work out what the news values of your story are before you try to "sell" it to a journalist. Consider the context in which you are releasing your story. No news happens in isolation. Journalists will put your event in the context of the last big thing and the next big thing.

Enter the 'ST' Factor. It is important to identify the "angle" of the story - the context the journalist uses to present the story. The "hook" is the point of entry to the story - often the impact or currency - and a good way of finding an angle is to look for the 'ST' Factor.

Is it the biggest, the fastest, the worst, the first, the last, the longest, the smallest, the most? Although it doesn't end in 'st', the word 'only' also fits here. One in two stories in the Australian Financial Review have the 'ST' Factor, and that ratio is 1:3 in other papers. Seriously, grab a newspaper and see for yourself. You'll be amazed!

The 'ST' Factor can relate to a number of news values, including novelty (eg: first), and here's an example:
"Less than a week to go before the Atlanta Olympics begin, just as our largest ever team is due to start its campaign for Australia's biggest medal tally, one of the athletics squad's best known names is claimed to have used drugs."
The Australian, July, 1996.

When pitching to our time-poor journalists, it is critical to be memorable and quotable, and keep your language brief and specific so your efforts aren't wasted as being just another of the 1200 media releases that came in today.

Happy pitching!

I would like to thank Amber Daines (@Ambieu777) for her input into this blog.


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