How do you say no? It’s a question we hear frequently from content managers and strategists who regularly publish material submitted by internal stakeholders.
How do you say no to the braggadocious post about a pet project that is being pawned off as a “think piece?”
How do you decline an overblown data visualization that is all looks and no substance?
How do you pass on a piece that just doesn’t fit with the overall strategy of the channel you are in charge of?
These are difficult questions for anyone who is concerned with maintaining consistency and quality within an organization’s publishing operation. And as platforms and channels continue to multiply and change the way that target audiences interact with your organization’s storytelling, maintaining that quality and consistently is increasingly important.
Our recommendation is to take a page from the journalism industry and assess the relative merit of a contributed piece according to a set of news values.
News values are the elements of story that journalists have used for decades to quickly assess and determine whether an idea or event is worth sharing — and if so, how prominently.
There are seven news values that journalists typically consider in order to make coverage choices, and any organization that produces content can apply them as a starting point and rule of thumb when assessing contributed content.
In no particular order, here are the seven news values:
An event is more newsworthy the sooner it is reported.
Events are more newsworthy the closer they are to the community reading about them.
Events are more newsworthy when they affect a greater number of people.
Events are more newsworthy when they involve public figures.
Events are more newsworthy the more out of the ordinary they are.
Events are more newsworthy when they involve an issue that is top of mind in the public.
Events are more newsworthy when they involve disagreement.
A story that hits on all seven of these news values would be incredibly compelling. But it is not necessary for a piece to check every box in order to be considered generally relevant. In fact, different organizations might place deep importance on certain values while considering others less important.
For example, a nonprofit that is focused on community issues might value stories about impact much more than it would stories about conflict. The important thing is that the organization has a shared understanding of the values that matter to its audiences.
By documenting these values and codifying them as part of a content strategy, publishers who rely on contributed content have a tool for helping internal stakeholders understand what the necessary elements are for a great piece of content.
These news values are a great tool for anyone who not only needs to decide what and when to publish but who also must explain to contributors why and how it must be done.
Jim Walsh is director, editorial, at Atlantic Media Strategies, the digital consultancy of The Atlantic magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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