Journalists are looking for stories that are interesting and consequential for their audiences. In general, a newsworthy story is a story that meets certain criteria or values, often termed ‘news values’. News values typically include:
- Unexpectedness: being unusual, strange, rare, unexpected, surprising
- Impact: being important to many people; having (the potential for) significant effects, consequences, implications
- Superlativeness: being of high intensity, large scale or scope (the biggest, fastest, etc)
- Eliteness: being of high status, fame, celebrity – for example, people, countries, institutions
- Proximity: being geographically or culturally near the news organisation’s target audience
- Timeliness: being timely in some way (in relation to the publication date) – for example, current right now, recent, seasonal, ongoing, about to happen, new or ‘a first’
- Positivity: positive news (feel-good stories, scientific breakthroughs, benefits)
- Negativity: bad news (controversial, conflict-laden, risks, set-backs, etc)
- Personalisation: having a personal or ‘human’ face, involving ‘ordinary’ people rather than elites
In general, walkability stories have a lot going for them in terms of news values. They tend to have important social, health and environmental impacts, they happen in proximity to the target audiences of news organisations, and they tend to offer positive solutions for health, community and environment.
For more information about news values, watch this video from The Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The more values your story touches on, the more likely it will be reported on, so it is important to think about what other news values your story has from the list above.
Pitching a Story to a Journalist
If you read the news, you may recognise the names of local journalists that regularly report on local government news. These journalists can be a great first contact for getting your story reported.
News organisations sometimes list the contact details of local reporters and editors (for example: The Mercury) otherwise, you can call the news desk and request the email of their local news reporter.
Once you have a journalist’s contact, you can pitch the story to them. Journalists receive hundreds of emails a day, so yours needs to be short, to the point, and highlight the most newsworthy aspects of the story.
The very first paragraph of your email, known as ‘the lead’, is where your story will stand or fall. It needs to reference the most newsworthy aspect of the story (its news values) and answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when and why.
You then need to provide the journalist with quotes that they can use in the story. Journalists like quotes that are authentic and have a bit of colour, so you don’t need to be too formal.
If you want to send a generic pitch to several news organisations this is known as a ‘media release’.
Writing an Opinion Piece
Newspapers usually have a section for opinion articles and letters to the editor.
Having your opinion piece placed in the newspaper is a great way to make an argument in long form rather than in quotations.
Like a media release, your opinion piece needs to immediately capture the interest of the editor, beginning with the first paragraph. However, unlike a normal news story, the first paragraph of an opinion piece (often called ‘the hook’) does not need to explain the who, what, where, why and when. Instead, you need to show that your topic is interesting and that you have something novel to say about it. As Andrew Leigh says in this very useful guide, your opening paragraph should be like the start for a great short story, not the beginning of an academic essay.
Your article should conclude with a one-sentence description of who you are and the organisation you represent; for example: ‘[NAME] is the co-convenor of Cygnet Residents for Walkability and a retired transport economist with the Tasmanian Government’.