What Makes News

Michael Grimaldi

Michael Grimaldi

A big part of media relations is helping clients break through a heavy news agenda to reach reporters and editors who get dozens of story suggestions every day.

A good example occurred not long ago when our client, the University of Kansas Edwards Campus in Overland Park, Kan., asked us to promote a three-hour continuing education class called “The Birdhouse Project.”

It’s about building birdhouses, but much more. Educator Kris Munsch teaches how building a birdhouse can help conquer the grief of personal trauma.

It’s a good story. Munsch created this coping process after his teenage son died in a car crash, followed shortly by a divorce. He has written a book about the process, taught it in several states and built and hung birdhouses nationwide, including near the White House in Washington, D.C.

That seems like a story any journalist would covet, but we got a couple of rejections right off the bat. Reporters are fewer in number, they are busier than they used to be and it takes something extra to attract attention. We needed to explain better why this half-day class at KU Edwards Campus was news.

So, what makes news? What does a story need to catch a reporter’s attention, get retweeted on Twitter or capture hundreds of Facebook likes? There are many answers, but here is a list we use when evaluating how to make a story compelling:

  • Conflict
  • Betrayal
  • Power
  • Heroics
  • Big money
  • Calamity
  • Cultural icons
  • Major change
  • Insights
  • Significant “beginnings” and “endings”
  • Trends and fads

Several of these might apply to The Birdhouse Project story. We picked “heroics.” It would take a hero, we reasoned, to confront personal grief and turn tragedy into triumph, as The Birdhouse Project aims to do. We asked KU Edwards Campus if any previous students of this course would be willing to share that story.

Michele Shanahan DeMoss stepped up. Her tragedy occurred in 2011 when a bullet foolishly fired from afar during an Independence Day celebration claimed the life of her 11-year-old daughter.

DeMoss was devastated, as any mother would be, but she courageously stared down her grief and took The Birdhouse Project course at KU Edwards Campus. Subsequently, she has celebrated her daughter’s life by establishing a charitable foundation and promoting organ donation.

With the angle of heroics, both print and broadcast journalists covered the story.

At Trozzolo, we appreciate the challenge of making client stories compelling. When the story can touch lives as The Birdhouse Project has, the work is even more rewarding.

— Michael Grimaldi, senior communications consultant

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