April 30, 2012 4 Comments
Last week I begin a series of posts called “Confessions of a Journalist.” Every week, I reveal some of my so-called deep, dark journalist secrets from my last few years of experience as a tech/startup blogger in France and Europe.
Last week, I confessed why I may not read a press release. This week I’ll go one step further and tell you what actually makes something compelling enough for me to write about it.
From here, you all look the same.
If you’ve ever gone to more than a couple of networking events in your life, you’ll definitely know what I’m talking about. You meet tons of incredibly talented people, who all work with amazing companies – from influential investment funds to life-changing startups. But over time, they all begin to blur together. Put a bunch of revolutionary people and ideas in the same room and you may eventually see no more than a crowd. Well, that’s more or less what happens once you’re being pitched “amazing” startup ideas 24-7. And that’s what happens in any industry; for the most part, everything starts to sound more or less the same.
“Once upon a time…”
I quickly discovered that entrepreneurs may actually be sitting on a fabulous story but not even know it. One example that comes to mind is from French startup MadMagz. Simply talking about a platform where people can make magazines didn’t really make me jump for joy. But then I found out one of the first users of the product was a 9 year old boy who had used the platform to print these adorable magazines. I was sold.
After I published the story, it was picked up by other publications throughout France as well – and it naturally highlighted how great the product was if a 9 year old boy could use it so easily. (Then again, this story seems less impressive now that toddlers are happily flipping through iPad applications.)
One great way to know what makes a story is to talk to people OUTSIDE of your industry. See what they react to and what they find interesting. Also, look at what else people are talking about and see if you can make your topic relevant.
“A dog made a website with our product.”
After the MadMagz story was published, some entrepreneurs thought that this type of story was a definite win with me – and they went on to pitch me all kinds of nonsense. At some point, I was even pitched a story about a dog that made websites. Puhlease. Make sure that if you’re going to craft a story, it’s based on (some form of) the truth. That said, if you actually do have a product that allows pets to make websites – please contact me…
In addition, it may seem like there are some pieces of information that always make the news no matter what; companies raising funding, the launch of a new product, etc. However, this definitely isn’t the case.
The truth about “non stories.”
It’s true – there may be times when you pitch a journalist a story and they come back and tell you “it’s not a story.” Actually, what they could also mean is “it’s not their story.”
I was actually reminded of this recently when talking with former Mashable Editor, Ben Parr. I mentioned a story to him that was easily picked up by French publications – but he insisted very strongly that it wasn’t a story. Turns out it just wasn’t a Mashable story. There are tons of different publications out there – a lot of the time, it’s just about making sure you’re pitching to the right people.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been contacted to write about the launch of a non-innovative iPhone app for a truck company, a mattress company, a coffee company and more, simply because the PR team figured an iPhone app meant I of course had to be interested. For me, it was definitely not a story. Then again, for an app review site or a site about trucks, mattresses or coffee, maybe it was a story.
Not sure what journalists at a particular publication actually want to write about? Just ask them – via email, Twitter, Linkedin, Quora, etc. For example, here are some TechCrunch writers revealing what startups need to do to get covered.
What about the end?
The one thing that every single journalist – no matter what industry – will be looking for, is the “so what” at the end of the story. It’s the moral of the story, the reason why people should care, the lesson to be learned. You need to make it very clear why the topic matters to them and their audience. For example, a startup building the most ridiculously hi-tech product may never get coverage if they can’t demonstrate to a journalist how their product is going to impact the lives of many people.
Here is a conclusion I found in an article in Fast Company about the data that proves that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Why should people care? Because eating breakfast can make them healthy and thinner – and here are the stats to prove it.
In many cases, this “so what” part of a story should actually come in your introduction when you are pitching a story. If I can’t immediately understand why something is important, I’m never going to write about it…
If you have additional thoughts or questions on what makes a good story, feel free to comment below.