How to get a serious story out there

Dwindling national newspaper sales, news websites, the arrival of the blog and 24-hour television news have all led to a serious fragmentation of the media – making it ever harder to reach audiences with serious stories.

A decade ago the broadsheets, now mostly gone either tabloid or Berliner, would have carried public sector stories big and bold. It still happens, but often at a price.

If you want to hit the front pages, even in the self-styled quality press, it's often necessary to accept a reporter will hype up a story to a point where you scarcely recognise it yourself. Any semblance of balance goes as one after another caveats are stripped out, bits of quotes are unceremoniously deleted to be replaced by a series of dots, and a headline is added which wildly overstates what is in the story itself.

Privately, some journalists admit that it's become ever more difficult to get a front page splash out of straight reporting. They face a stark choice: flam up the story or see it buried as a news in brief on an inside page.

As serious news becomes more marginalised – migrating off the main pages and into the specialist sections – so targeting becomes all the more important.  For a really major story there may still be the chance of a splash in a national or a lead item on Radio 4's The Today programme.

But by and large it pays to count on a more and more highly tailored approach. Thankfully the nationals now bristle with specialist supplements, like Guardian Society and The Times' Public Agenda. These carry thoughtful and well-written pieces covering their specific fields and are well-read by their target audiences.

And what were once disparagingly dubbed the "trade" magazines have grown in number and in stature. Admittedly some titles cry out for a drubbing on Have I Got News For You. But others are becoming the home for accessible in-depth coverage of serious issues. Take Health Service Journal, for example, which is prepared to take a full and informed look at the issues in the national health service. LGC, MJ and Public Finance do the same in their fields.

Another positive is that increasingly journals end articles with cross-references to websites carrying further background on stories. They will cross refer to a full report on a website. That way at least readers can check out what the facts are behind a story, and make up their own minds about just how much top-spin has been applied.

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