What I DON'T Mean If I Say Your Story Isn't Worthy of National Media Attention

One of the hardest parts of working with our clients is having to tell them that the story they want to share is not worthy of national media attention. Sometimes they get upset. “Why wouldn’t they want to cover this? It’s a great story!”

But after more than five years working in national media relations, I’m confident in my news judgment, and I owe it to my clients to provide them with an honest and open assessment of where the story could go, if anywhere. I try to put myself in the mind of a national media gatekeeper and ask, “Would I cover this?” If the answer is no, perhaps its better to focus our efforts on a project with more likelihood of attention.

Nonetheless, clients can be disheartened because they interpret my assessment as a reflection of value, when really I’m simply trying to understand the impact it could have to someone with no affiliation with the organization. Here are three things that I don’t mean if I tell you the story is unlikely to get national media attention.

I don’t mean it’s not important

If a new piece of research is published, the first place I go to review the newsworthy value of it is the conclusion. What is the “so what?” of the research? What do we know that we didn’t before? How will this impact people?

In a world where sound bytes get attention, if this can’t be boiled down into a succinct and tangible takeaway, it may be hard to get the media to pay attention. Oftentimes, the research we review is a stepping-stone to future possibilities. And while the potential is there, it may not provide the full-circle narrative that reporters and editors seek in their coverage. This in no-way diminishes the importance of the findings, it simply makes it hard to share it with others in a discernible manner.

I don’t mean it’s not worth sharing

Awards, scholarships and grants are tremendous recognition of the work being done by students and faculty members at an institution. They illustrate that people are taking notice and the work they’re doing matters. But thousands of these programs are distributed every year and reporters certainly aren’t going to write profiles on every project that is in the works.

But a Fulbright scholarship is still a tremendous honor and although the national media see it as simply one of 1,600, your prospective students, alumni, faculty and staff see it as confirmation of the possibilities your institution offers. These stories certainly should be shared through the institutions own channels such as alumni magazines, social media posts and newsletters. The barrier to entry for national media recognition is the highest bar there is, and while most stories fall short, it doesn’t mean they’re not worth telling at all.

I don’t mean it can’t become a national story

Since we develop such close relationships with our clients, we frequently hear about potential stories in the very early stages. Perhaps there’s a new program that is about to be launched designed to address a unique problem facing the institution. This is a tremendous start, but the conclusion to the story hasn’t come full circle yet.

While it’s great to hear about a new program designed to fix a problem, the story is much stronger if the data suggests the program actually worked. Perhaps the impact won’t be seen for a year or two down the road, when progression can be illustrated through the numbers. If I say, “keep me posted,” I generally want to hear more as we move forward, because I don’t think the story is complete yet. Once it is, we can reevaluate with the new evidence, and try to find a worthy home for it.