How to Tell a Positive Story to a Journalist?

26/01/2011
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I am often asked by media experts and non-specialists alike why it’s so difficult to “sell” a positive story to a journalist. So, I ask them: what’s the story? Then, when I listen, the issue becomes obvious. There is no story.

At least, there is no story from a reporter’s perspective. What people often have are pieces of information spread all over the place like a ravaged puzzle that show importance and meaning only to their source. The information may be relevant, timely and even newsworthy. Yet, is that information worth the time of a reporter if the source didn’t even bother to put the pieces of the puzzle together and create an audience-relevant story prior to talking to the media?

Journalists write articles to tell stories to their audience.They want to grab people’s attention and retain it till the end. The goal is to connect the characters of the story with the audience. This is how the media is retaining its ancestral role of storyteller - a role that is now reshaped by new technologies, yet nevertheless still an essential role in our society. So, what tools are reporters using to connect with their audience?
One tool is, of course, the information itself. However, there is another tool that acts like glue in bringing things together. This is emotion. Sadly enough, it’s much easier to connect through negative emotions like fear, anger, hostility, hatred or frustration. This is why extra-effort needs to be put into creating the positive glue: enthusiasm, laughter, empathy, action, curiosity and so on.

We all felt hunger, thirst, love or loss at a certain point in our lives. When we fall over someone feeling the same way, we tend to connect easier with that person. So, we listen to or read that person’s story just because we know how he or she feels. In order to sell a positive story to a reporter, you need to make his audience feel something. You need to give the reporter information plus emotion. Basically, you need to undertake an essential shift in your perspective on your story. That’s something you can do by answering these few questions:

  • What is my story? Do I have anything else but a few pieces of raw information that I think is relevant just because it’s relevant for me?
  • What am I trying to say? What’s my message? Is my message clear enough and relevant for the audience of the medium I’m trying to persuade to run my story?
  • What’s my glue? What emotion is my story sending? Is this emotion powerful enough to catch the attention of a potential reader and retain it to the end?
  • If not, what’s missing? What ingredients do I need to make things better?

The most important thing when you try to pitch a positive story to a reporter is to make sure you have a real story, and that your story is relevant to anyone else but yourself. Go for the human elements that unite us all – those little waves of energy that make our stomachs churn called emotions – and you’ll get your story out there. For non-governmental organizations (NGOs), for whom we prepare a special course this May, this issue is most probably even more actual than for anybody else. So, what’s your story and how does your story make your audience feel?

I focus on strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence and personal and organization leadership. I help leaders and future leaders to develop their strategic communication skills, to build reputable personal brands and to boost their team and organizational leadership. I support individuals, teams and organizations through advisory, training, coaching and mentoring services.

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