Monday, February 16, 2009

A potentially life threatening lesson in news sense

My unique perspective as a poacher (journalist) turned gamekeeper (police press officer) turned highly sought after poaching consultant (Director of Morgan PR) does give me an interesting take on the news - and the newspaperman blood still courses through my veins, which is why we insist on any PR aimed at the media as being newsworthy.

"Is it a story?" is the question that I urge clients to ask themselves whenever they encounter a potential opportunity. An easy test is if you find yourself telling other people about it - that could well be a story!

The quest to determine if something is newsworthy should be completed before approaching the media; better you decide it isn't a story than a news editor who might just be proficient in junk mail rules on Outlook!

That said, the media sometimes get it wrong too - whether it is through the trickery of gimmick driven PR or through plain missing the strongest news angle in a story.

Take this story from the Newbury Today website - a man has had his rifle, which is fitted with a telescopic scope, stolen from his car and understandably wants it back. The police fear the rifle could be used in crime. Where is the story there? Anyone?

I will tell you what it isn't:

Some criminal, most likely to be feeding a drug habit so not renown for good decision making skills, now has a rifle, which by the owner's admission in the story 'could kill someone from half a mile away'. You bet he wants it back!

However, this is a gun - not a kitten! And surely the story is the police condemnation of the stupidity that sees such a weapon left insecure in a car.

Here's the police comment buried in paragraph nine of the story:

Romy Freiburghaus, Crime Reduction Advisor for West Berkshire said: “This careless behaviour does not only make you a victim of crime, but you also potentially endanger other people’s life through your negligence.

“Never leave anything on display in your car. Even an item covered up on the back seat is a temptation for someone to ‘smash and grab’, which this week’s incident proves.

“By following this simple rule you can minimise the risk of becoming a victim of car crime.”
Full marks for working some crime prevention advice in there, but she says the owner has potentially endangered lives through their negligence - there is the story. A headline that runs something like (with sensationalist slant!):

- police slam owner's negligence

You just hope the gun is safely recovered before anyone is hurt. And while the suggested headline is sensational, it would warn people about the missing gun.

Incidentally, the police press release can be found here - and that plays it straight, but the police press officer would have anticipated the story getting out there in a much more aggressive fashion. After all, the more people talk about the gun, the more likely it is the police will discover who has it and safely recover the firearm.

However, fear of gun crime aside, there is a point here. You need to know all the news angles of your story, and not just the most obvious one. Journalists can interpret stories in very different ways to that expected. Just think how the gun owner's quotes about the rifle killing would have played under the headline we suggest?

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