It may seem simple to go from finding the news to reporting it. However, a large majority of topics are flooded with news that may not be of interest to readers, especially when it comes to press releases. Determining what’s news then, for me, requires me to go through a simple process: read the news article/press release, evaluate its weight for my readers, and based on that evaluation, move on to writing a news piece or ignoring it.
To quote a fellow’s website in the industry I write in (video games):
Just because a screenshot, scrap of information, or press release graces our desk doesn’t mean it needs to be published. If gaming news isn’t compelling, we won’t waste your time with it.
The reveal of a game’s box art is not news.
Cosplay pictures are not news.
Peter Molyneux declaring that the next Fable will be “awesome” is not news.
The fact that Game X sold more copies on System X than System Y is not news.
A countdown timer to an announcement is not news.
These guidelines are a really good basis at evaluating news in a sector, but they don’t fit for each audience. While general gamers don’t care about which console sold a game better, business analysts do. Above all else, it’s important to consider one single question: Does this piece of news have something important to tell my readers?
Notice I’m looking not directly at the audience’s interest in reading the piece. Instead, I evaluate my audience’s needs over their desires. For my particular audience, this means that sometimes I slip in business related news that can have an impact on their entertainment – such as mergers, new company formations, new partnerships with payment option. I don’t report on every business development in my niche; I just report on the ones that are relevant to my readers.
So how do I decide what’s relevant to my readers? Two years ago, when I first started writing on Examiner, it was a guessing game. I varied article types and observed other Examiners until I caught on what I needed to write to build a readership. Once I started building a readership, I paid close attention to site metrics as well as what “sells” in the press (aka, what people will retweet, comment on, post on Facebook, and read on N4G, a gaming news submission site). Between figuring out what I needed to write to stay afloat and have a readership, I also had to determine my own voice, what I wanted my Examiner column to convey, and subsequently, attract. I opted for a neutral, no-blogging, intelligent discourse on online gaming. This has built me a core readership with genuine interest about the industry as a whole, not simply fans of single games.
Determining what’s news is not an exact science; it’s a bit of art. It’s easier to say what I don’t include, rather than what I do. I reject news bits that are small pieces of commentary, quick patches to games (hotfixes) with no substantial changes or new content, press releases that simply boast milestones (except player base), promotional press releases that reveal no new content or information about the game, new company appointments, and most cultural/offbeat news relating to the industry. While I do occasionally pick up these kinds of news, it is usually to make additional commentary, such as questioning the new statistics from Champions Online, or to present an extremely off-color point to gamers.
It’s better to “waste time” on a news piece that doesn’t appeal to your readers, however, than miss something that does. Constant research and awareness of your topic, your views, your competition, and your audience will reward you in the end with a keen understanding of what you can pass up, and what you can’t.
Coming in part three: getting the perfect picture.