Many questioned why the horrific aftermath of the Boko Haram massacre on Nigerian villages, which killed an estimated 2,500 people, received such a low level of coverage, yet the 17 appalling deaths as a result of the recent Paris shootings achieved blanket coverage on a global scale.
As a past editor of Britain’s biggest selling newspaper for five years, I had plenty of interesting and valuable stories pitched to me, yet they often didn’t make the pages because they didn’t possess the key components needed to be deemed ‘newsworthy’ (also there is only so much space in a newspaper).
What are these components?
There is a ‘mental checklist’ that editors go through when considering what stories make the paper, of which PR and comms specialists need to be aware, but it is a near-certainty that the more people the story impacts, the greater the show in the paper.
The sad and untimely death of much-loved Coronation Street actress Anne Kirkbride, and the widespread coverage that this story rightly received, is an example of how stories that affect a large proportion of people achieve a greater showing in the paper.
Millions grew up with Coronation Street and the character ‘Deirdre’ and therefore feel touched by her sad passing. It is only right that newspapers share in the nation’s mood and cover the story accordingly.
Additionally, it is people and their stories and not things that generate headlines, so it is important to bear this in mind and try to humanise stories where possible.
With the example of Charlie Hebdo / Boko Haram, it is without question that both atrocities deserve to be covered extensively. However there are some stories that geographically seem ‘closer to home’, and therefore strike more of a chord with both editors and the public, which leads to greater coverage.
It is unfortunate but true that violence in Africa is generally accepted by the public as a sad day-to-day occurrence, while a shooting as people were going about their daily business, in a Western country similar to the UK, rightly warrants front page coverage and lengthy discussion as it is a very rare incident.
Whether the column inches disparity is right is a question that invites further debate.
Stories that follow or respond to the Government's agenda are always going to be of interest to editors, particularly during the run-up to the general election in May.
Everything it does is newsworthy, so if a story can piggyback on this and if it covers an interesting topic, then it has a high chance of being granted column inches.
A strong headline is key.
Journalists talk in headlines around the office, so an interesting story with a solid headline is likely to capture interest from the outset.
To add to this, editors look for statistical or expert backing and news stories that possess this are likely to be fast-tracked up the list.
Although not a blueprint for securing a front-page story, understanding the above editorial decisions will help PR and comms specialists to maximise exposure for their clients.
Phil Hall is the founder and chairman of PHA Media