The first question every journalism student is asked, is 'what is news?'. The easy answer is it is something new. (See here for a more complex definition that I don't completely agree with.) But what makes a good news story 'fly' is a more tricky question.
This week my colleague Lorna Hirst issued a news story about housing and regeneration group LHA-ASRA working with Layton Burroughs Residents Association to tackle antisocial behaviour in Mansfield. There had been problems with people being intimidated by groups congregating in an underpass (presumably because it offered somewhere dry to hang out).
One of the tactics to tackle this has been installing pink lights in the underpass. The pink lighting creates an atmosphere that is uncomfortable to linger in, similar to toilets which use UV lighting to deter drug users. Oh, and it also happens to show up spots and blemishes. Guess which angle was picked up by the media?
James Hoy, reporter for the local newspaper, The Chad, was first to pick the story up, quickly followed by the Nottingham Evening Post. The Nottingham Evening Post also decided the story was worthy of a comment piece by Oonagh Robinson.
The same day (Wednesday 25 March, 2009) the BBC's East Midlands Today programme filmed the underpass and interviewed Tony Gelsthorpe, Chair of Layton Burroughs Residents Association. As well as broadcasting it in their news bulletins, the BBC uploaded the story to their website and it was included in the BBC's school report (where students research and write their own news stories).
The Sun managed to boil the story down to a 15-word NIB (or News In Brief) headline 'Spot of Bother'. (Hyperlink not available.)
By this point the story seemed to be everywhere. BBC Five Live picked it up and shared their interview with Radio 1, 2 and 1Extra, which all ran the story throughout their news bulletins on Thursday. Mansfield 103 broadcast it, we arranged interviews of our client with BBC Radio Northern Ireland.
The same day it was on the front page of The Telegraph. On Friday it appeared with a picture in the leading magazine for the social housing sector Inside Housing.
It has also appeared in:
- Sky News in Australia
- The Brisbane Times
- The Australian
- Breaking News in Ireland
- as well as numerous other media and blogs.
What was it about this story that made it so widely-covered?
- It sounds silly - before you know the science, pink lights to stop antisocial behaviour sounds daft
- It lends itself to a pun rather nicely
- It can be summed up in 15 words
- It makes a good picture
- Tackling antisocial behaviour is topical (and The Telegraph and The Sun are particularly keen to cover ASB stories)
- The media get the majority of their stories from other media, once one picks it up, the others soon follow