Every day, news outlets in every medium are full of hundreds, if not thousands, of stories. Tens of thousands are left on the cutting room floor, so to speak, doomed to never see the light of day because they were pushed out of the way by more important news, or because they were never considered news to begin with. Which begs the question: What makes a news story news in the first place? The answer is a somewhat nebulous quality called “news value” or “newsworthiness.”
A sense of news value is one of those things that everyone in journalism claims to have but nearly everyone will disagree about. It’s gained through experience and intuition. It’s what makes a good reporter interested in a story (even when there might not seem to be a story to anyone else) and dictates what information goes where in a newspaper, magazine or website. And, while the news value of individual stories can be argued and debated (and, in fact, are in what are called budget meetings), it boils down to these seven things:
Timeliness: This is probably the one most familiar to people outside the news business. The fresher the information, the more valuable it is. It’s the reason we’ve seen a rush to be first in the modern 24-hour news cycle over the rush to be right.
For your startup: Are you about to launch, or did you launch months ago and no one noticed?
Impact: Why does the information matter to the reader? Why should the audience care? If you can’t answer this in a meaningful way, your story may not be as important as you think it is.
For your startup: In simple terms, what does your company do? How is it going to change people’s lives?
Proximity: This is often tied to Impact. The more consequential stories are often the ones that literally hit close to home. A crime wave in Paris might be interesting, but a crime wave in your neighborhood gets your attention much more readily.
For your startup: If you’re pitching local media, make it clear you’re a local company. If not, can you localize the story? If your company is more national or international in scope, think metaphorically in terms of niche outlets.
Conflict: In the barest terms, it’s the old journalism adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” News stories are stories, and stories are about conflict.
For your startup: Generally, this is an area of news value you want to avoid, but be on the lookout for some possible ways to frame your startup that involve good conflict. Is your company a David hoping to disrupt Goliath? Are you helping forge a new sector or industry?
Novelty: Another journalism expression is calling something a “dog bites man” story. In other words, while something might be timely, local and involve a conflict, if it’s nothing out of the norm, it’s not news. Now, if a man bites a dog, that’s a whole other story.
For your startup: If you’re entering an already crowded market, you’ll want to work overtime on emphasizing your company’s key differentiator or unique value. In fact, this holds true if you have just one or two competitors.
Fame: If someone famous is involved in something, it will always attract more attention than if a regular person is doing it. Just look at how many stories are run every year about the president buying ice cream at some small store.
For your startup: Is your CEO famous? Does your co-founder have a well-known track record? Do you have notable investors willing to go public?
Human interest: This can sometimes refer to its own category of news, but it generally means a story that touches on various aspects of being human (good and bad). Examples could be an article about a homeless man trying to get off the street, neighbors helping each other after a disaster or a protest over just about anything.
For your startup: At the end of the day, what does your company do to help people? Does it facilitate international shipping, meaning a working mom can pay less to get her child shoes? Does it give people in isolated areas a means to travel? Is it a new way for people to get more minerals in their diet?
This may seem like a lot of categories to keep in your head while you review your own startup for stories, but with a short amount of practice, you’ll find it becomes second-nature.