MFAQ: What makes news?

NewsAfter 25 years in public communications work, it’s pretty safe to say the most frequently asked question I get is “What makes news, anyway?”

It’s usually posed by organizations puzzled by their low public profile and frustrating irrelevance to local newsrooms.

Sometimes, it’s a client with too much attention from reporters: “Why the *!$ is this news, anyway?”

None of my interrogators want a long discussion of the political economies of newsrooms, so I’ve developed a short reply to these two MFAQs. It goes like this:

The ST Test — Anything accurately described with adjectives ending in “st” is news:

first | oldest | newest | biggest | smallest | fastest | most | worst | best | last

The 3 Cons Test —  If any of these three elements are part of the story, it’s news:

Controversy:       Is it a matter of active and salient public debate?

Conflict:               Are there clear sides with clashing agendas?

Contradiction:   Is there evidence of mixed messages, hypocrisy, deceit, manipulation?

Oversimplified, for sure, but surprisingly comprehensive when you check it against today’s news coverage.

These are the questions editors and reporters ask when they’re deciding what’s news; these are the tests every public-facing organization needs to pass if they want to be in — or out — of the public sphere.

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