What differentiates the simple news from a good story? What amplifies the impact of a story on the audience and give it a viral potential? These rules are not always obvious as they don’t call upon logics or rationality, quite the contrary! The stories that we like the most are the stories that trigger our emotions. You only have to compare how much coverage was given to the death of a single man, Terry Wogan, who died at a mature age from a quite common cause (cancer) to the coverage that was given for instance to the brutal massacres of Nigerian villages by Boko Haram, killing an estimated 2,500 people.
Too remote from our everyday lives? Are people accustomed to barbarism in these regions of the world? In any case, they are not interesting or important enough to catch the attention of a western audience. That doesn’t automatically mean that facts should come second, but rather that you will need to find a way to convey them by engaging your audience. Tell your story from an angle that will more likely interest them.
To help you do so, we have detailed bellow some of the criteria that will make your content newsworthy.
1. How new and exciting is your story?
Are you talking about something rare or unusual? If you want to attract someone’s attention, you don’t need to write or tell something better but “simply” different. Our mind is flooded everyday with thousands of media messages such as news, stories or adverts that follow us everywhere: in the shops, on TV, in the newspapers, on the Internet, on buses, … and we have progressively become desensitized to them. We don’t see or remember the big majority of them anymore because there are too many and because we can’t differentiate them. To the point that our minds saturate and end up ignoring most.
Our brain could be compared to a “pattern-making machine”. It puts all the similar things in the same group and separates what isn’t (binary thinking). You don’t even need to be liked; being different is enough to be remembered. Stand out of the pattern and your story will make an impact.
If you have the same message as everybody else (on the left) you only have 1/8 share of voice. Be different and gain 50% of that share, or mental space in the viewer’s mind.
The same applies for controversy. It basically is nothing more than a differing point of view. There is nothing better than controversy to get people talking.
2. Is your story relevant now?
Well, that’s what the world News is supposed to mean. “Newer is better” could be the number one rule in the media business. This is especially true in our consumer society. People crave for and are used to getting the newest, the latest, the freshest. Novelty is stimulating, exciting and can even be addictive. Simply take a look at how far some people are ready to go to get the latest iPhone; camping several days in front of the store, braving the elements.
This is actually scientifically explainable. We are all hardwired to be attracted to shiny new things. Novelty activates the dopamine (reward chemical) pathways in the brain and is even closely related to learning and motivation.
3. Does your story directly affect your audience?
How close does your audience feel to a certain topic? We care more about the things that happen near us. This proximity can be geographical but also emotional, generational, cultural or anything else that makes you feel close to someone or something.
People have a natural inclination not to care about things that don’t affect them. This is closely linked to our self-preservation instinct. Our attachment works by concentric circles: yourself then your close family and friends followed by your acquaintances and finally people sharing any kind of similarity with you (beliefs, background, culture…). The closer from them, the easier it will be to empathize. Find anything to make your audience feel close to your story if you want to strike a chord. The best stories are therefore those that are able to make as many people as possible feel included.
4. Does your content inspire strong feelings?
As said in the introduction, appeal to emotions as much as you can. Emotions are decisive if you want to get a reaction from your audience. Happiness makes us want to share. Anger makes us want to seek justice and voice our opinion. Fear is another powerful emotion, especially the fear of loss. “…people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.” Show your audience you can avoid them losing something and you’ll certainly have their attention. The same works for surprise, sadness, lust…
If this works well with any kind of emotions, it certainly proves better with dramatic stories. Stories that include mystery, suspense, heightened emotions… give us a thrill. People, and not only the bored housewives but anybody regardless of their age or gender, like drama. They like the adrenaline rush they get from it as well as the fact that it drives their attention away from what they should actually focus on. It is the perfect distraction from our own flaws and struggles.
5. Does your story talk about “prominent” people?
Does your story include celebrities or “important” people? The more famous the person, the more coverage you will get.
That’s nothing new, we are all fascinated or at least attracted in one way or another by famous people. Not only important people with a public function but also z-list celebrities or people being famous for nothing more than being on TV. Just remember how a single picture of Kim Kardashian’s assets supposedly “broke the Internet”. We find the life of those nobodies mesmerizing; we can’t look away.
But why are we so obsessed? The explosion of this celebrity cult is actually the result of our Stone Age minds’ gossip curiosity perfectly fuelled by nowadays’ media culture. Social media allows us to follow the every move of our favourite celebrities and facilitates all the more the work of the tabloids. And you’ll find out that people always want more.
Here again, as humans, we are physiologically programmed to do so. Indeed, in earlier ages, observing people and being able to discern the trustworthy and reliable ones from the cheaters was vital for our ancestors who used to live in small tribes. In other words, an essential need to predict people’s behaviour would inevitably lead to an interest in other people’s private matter.
Besides, gossip also plays a social role nowadays. Talking about the Celebrity Big Brother’s latest developments during lunch break with your colleagues provides you with a common interest and facilitates interactions making you someone socially adept.
In anyway, what’s important to remember is that if you want to receive more coverage, try including “prominent” people in your story.