You are welcome to copy, adapt, translate and publish any of the material on Media Helping Media under the terms of Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0

What influences your news decisions?

Journalism students in Sri Lanka learning about forward planning for news coverage - image by Media Helping MediaAre you in control of your news organisation’s editorial agenda? 

You may think you are, but an examination of what prompts or stimulates you to cover news may reveal flaws in your news strategy. 

It could be that the majority of the news you cover on any given day is directly or indirectly controlled by others. 

A simple forward planning strategy, based on original, issue-led journalism, can reverse this. 

Sources of news:

  1. The news wires.
  2. Diary events.
  3. News conferences.
  4. News releases.
  5. Following the competition.
  6. Unexpected events.
  7. Monitoring social media.
  8. Exploring unique angles to ongoing stories.
  9. Data journalism.
  10. Keeping in touch with contacts.
  11. Investigative journalism.
  12. Planned thematic (transport, environment, crime etc)news coverage

Too many media organisations depend on the first five sources. The sixth is common to all. However, a responsible media organisation that exists to inform the public debate with thorough, objective, fair and accurate journalism, will spend time investing in the last six sources of news.  

Check your own news sources

It's worth carrying analysing what prompts or stimulates your news decisions. The results might make uncomfortable reading. I have done this with several news organisations in recent years and the results are sobering. It could be that the majority of the news you cover is stimulated by others.  

Taking control of your news agenda

I asked colleagues who have worked at three global news organisations about the percentage breakdown for the news sources listed above. Averaged out between the three, the data returned revealed the following news source dependencies:

  • Wires 37%
  • General diary events 10%
  • News conferences 6.5%
  • News releases 6.5%
  • Following the competition 20%
  • Unexpected events (breaking news) 9%
  • Original journalism 11% 

An externally stimulated news agenda

As the chart below shows, this means that 89% of the news agendas are stimulated, prompted or inspired by others and only 11% of the news is original (the part marked in dark green).

An externally stimulated news agenda - source Media Helping Media

An externally stimulated news agenda - source Media Helping Media

A news agenda producing original journalism

The challenge for all news organisations, whether they are global broadcasters or local newspapers, is to reverse this and take control of the news agenda by increasing the amount of original journalism. 

Allocating resources for planning

The first step is to set aside resources for planning. This doesn't mean hiring new staff. It will mean reassigning some staff by taking them away from following the leads of others and, instead, encouraging them to invest their time in producing original, investigative journalism that focuses on the needs of the target audience.

The first position you need to fill is that of the planning editor. This person can do other tasks in the newsroom and need not be dedicated solely to the task of planning. Their job is to set out what will be covered tomorrow, next week, next month and three months ahead. They attend all news meetings and must have a say in what is covered.

The person in charge of the day’s output needs to be able to rely on the planning editor to supply a large part of the day’s news coverage. You will then need to allocate resources to this planning effort.

Planning resources

In the case of a TV station, the planning editor will need at least one reporter, a camera crew and the use of an editing suite. This is the hard bit, because prior to the setting up of the planning role these resources would be dedicated to news on the day and responding to the news agenda set by others (as set out above).

Warning: It will take about three weeks before the efforts of the planning team start to filter through; only then will the benefit of shifting news resources, usually used for covering the same news agenda as the competition, become evident.

David BrewerThe author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who set up and runs Media Helping Media. He delivers journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide via Media Ideas. He also runs a media mentoring service.

We have more than 100 free training modules in our journalism training section.