The New Rules of News and Content Values

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Thinkstock
Thinkstock

The line between news and content is rapidly blurring. As many BuzzFeed readers will attest, it’s no longer strange to see an article on Hillary Clinton’s approach to campaigning beside a list of 22 (very important) questions Muggles have for wizards.

An increasingly social and searchable web mixed with commercial pressures has seen online news publications with softer, more positive and humorous voices emerge. At the same time, brands now have the ability to complement media relations programs with content published on owned channels, making brand stories and content more discoverable and shareable that ever before.

As media look beyond traditional news values the amount of news articles featuring cat exploits and brands celebrating 4/20 will only increase. However, the craft of storytelling, journalistic inquiry and understanding of traditional news values remains an important core competency for the modern PR practitioner.

News values, as articulated by Galtung and Ruge (G&R), continue to form the backbone by which media judge the newsworthiness of a story, and should continue to be factored in when developing angles, pitches and media materials. This criteria is also great for keeping corporate blogs grounded, engaging and relevant – lest they become the home of shallow self-promotional waffle and puff pieces.

So if you’re producing content for a brand’s blog or developing a pitch for media, here are some of the modern news/content values you might what to consider:

  • Frequency: An event that occurs suddenly and fits neatly within the content schedule (think Haley’s comet) is more likely to be selected than a one that takes place over a long period of time – sorry, evolution. When it comes to your content calendar, don’t linger too long on a topic.
  • Threshold: According to G&R, events have to pass a threshold before they are news/content worthy – the greater the intensity (the bigger the acquisition or the greater Grumpy Cat’s book deal), the greater the impact.
  • Proximity: How close events are to an audience will have an impact. The smaller the intensity of the story, the closer the news has to be to the audience. From a content perspective, remember where your primary audience is located.
  • Unambiguity/Simplicity: The more clearly a story can be understood and interpreted without multiple meanings, the better. When it comes to content, you are always going to be able to say more, but is it really necessary?
  • Meaningfulness/Familiarity: News/content should be culturally familiar – be kind and keep your audience in mind.
  • Consonance/Predictability: Does the story align with media’s experience? If there are predictable elements they’ll be more prepared to cover the story. Similarly, what stories/content is your team in a good position to tell?
  • Unexpectedness/Unusualness: Unexpected, rare or unusual events/stories are more likely to pique media interest. At the same time, these stories make great blog click bait. Just kidding, but seriously.
  • Continuity: A story already in the news has a good chance of remaining in the news (even if its impact has been reduced) because it has become familiar and easier to interpret. A blog post on a hot topic is a great way to get a brand involved in a conversation where they may have expertise.
  • Composition: Editors often look to find balance – they don’t want too many Apple Watch follow-up stories. In the same vein, your brand’s blog should be mixing it up and adding some content diversity. Variety is the spice of life.
  • Reference to elite nations/people/companies: G&R are talking hard news so references to global superpowers will increase the newsworthiness of the story. From a PR perspective, the same could be said in terms of referencing elite companies. Is there a partnership with a large company you can mention to make your brand more interesting? How many blog posts can you name-drop Apple in?
  • Reference to persons: According to G&R, the best stories are presented in terms of individual people rather than abstractions. Bill Rundle agrees with this statement. Quote and profile customers and partners on your blog, and attribute posts to actual people.
  • Conflict/Negativity: Bad events are generally unambiguous and newsworthy, and opposition or viewpoints that conflict are more likely to hold the media’s ear. Similarly, a blog post with a contrarian perspective will often find favor with like-minded people.
  • Exclusivity/Niche-knowledge: Content that helps solve specific problems in an area that doesn’t receive much media coverage can quickly find an audience and drive search traffic to your blog/website. These posts can also build credibility and position a subject matter expert as an essential source of commentary.
  • Humor/Quirkiness: Newer digital publications are increasingly including funny and quirky stories, which often get widely shared on social channels. When it comes to owned channels, even corporations are allowed a sense of humor.
  • Kids/Animals: ‘Never work with kids and animals’ has become ‘Always work with kids and animals.’ The Internet loves this stuff; give it what it wants. What’s your misbehaving Llama strategy?

This list is by no means exhaustive, and every news publication and blog will give each of these a different weighting depending on the audience. We’re curious to hear from other PR pros and journalists – what are some other modern news / content values? Tweet us @BlancandOtus.