News, you might imagine, is something that is new. The word itself – although actually derived from the initials of the four compass points – has a clue in the name, a patronising creep of a news editor once told me. (I’m not bitter).
Except when your audience isn’t ready for it. A couple of decades ago, the Internet and email were brand new, or at least just coming into popular public use. I’d been freelance for a few years and was pitching to the Independent.
A story came in from the US, about how the .co.uk and .com addresses were going to run out by about 2001 (we now know this was not right, but we didn’t at the time). I pitched it and then editor of the technology section thought it might be interesting.
I wrote the story and was surprised when something else appeared instead. The editor had spiked my story and put in something about how to set up your email address for the first time, something I’d assumed was already pretty elderly for the national papers.
If it’s news to your audience it’s news
The editor may have been right of course. In 1997 or whenever it was, home computing was just starting. The fact that web addresses may or may not have been in danger of running out may have been a refinement too far for the readership at the time. Many would be buying their first computer, wondering what an ISP was and connecting to the rest of the world for the first time.
If you’re in PR or are pitching stories to the press yourself, it’s worth asking not just whether something is new but whether it’s newsworthy. This means it’s relevant to the readers and not something that may be relevant in a few years. Certainly it shouldn’t be something that they just won’t understand yet.
It’s possible to risk patronising the readers as a result. In 1997 I just don’t know whether that editor was talking down to his readers or whether the story I’d pitched would have been way over their heads (why he commissioned it in the first place is a question I still can’t answer). But always, always try to understand your target outlet and address it rather than address the things that might seem important to you or your client.
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