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Watching The News

By Al Rothstein

Want to get to know how a reporter thinks? Try analyzing your friendly local newscast.

On a recent trip to Los Angeles to conduct media training for a client, I scrutinized the local news. With all the bells and whistles used and the content of the stories, the newscasts could have passed for a local version of "Entertainment Tonight". The first three stories were about celebrities and their personal lives, not offering much valuable information to the viewer.

The producer of the newscast would argue that these are the types of stories "people are talking about" in LA. Whether you agree with that philosophy or not, news stories are based on what a news organization believes reflects the public's interest.

How does that affect you when you work with the media? Whether you are pitching a story or being interviewed, you must convince the reporter that the public is interested in what you have to offer.

Personalizing the Story
Observing how stories are written by news anchors and reporters will help you determine how to deliver your message when you are being interviewed. Notice how stories are "personalized". Words like "you" and "your money" are staples of the nightly news. These are words we should all use during interviews. It helps bring the message home to viewers.

Take a look at how reporter "packages" are edited. If a story is well-done, you should be able to understand it by turning down the volume and just watching the video. This means that if you can offer reporters good video to go along with your story idea, you will be creating a win-win situation.

20-20 Rule
Many reporters have what is known as the 20-20 Rule, meaning that there will be no more than 20 seconds of narration alternating with no more than 20 seconds of a sound bite. This keeps the story well-paced. In my reporter days, I used a 15-15 rule. This means that you should keep your interview responses to no more than 15 seconds. This way you are increasing the chances that your message will not be edited.

Count the number of times you have heard a newscaster, "As we told you exclusively at six..." Reporters like to be the first. This means that if a reporter has worked hard to develop his/her own story, we should honor that. Of course, the exception is when the "enterprise" story is a negative one. In that case, a strategic media campaign may be necessary.

When you become familiar with how a newscast is developed, you will get a better feel for how to become successful when working with reporters. It is an important first step in getting consistently good media coverage.

Remember, whether you are pitching a story or being interviewed:
1 Watch the local news to learn the types of stories that are covered.
2 Personalize your story
3 Offer good video opportunities.
4 Keep your responses brief.
5 Honor a reporter who has "enterprised" his/her own story.

Courtesy of Al Rothstein Media Services, Inc., specialists in spokesperson training and media relations seminars.
Phone: 1-800-453-6352