Getting national coverage for your local story…

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One of the hardest parts of my job as a media agent is telling people they don’t have a story I can sell. And some people find it hard to understand how a local issue can make the front page of their local paper and not be of national interest at all. The Sentinel newspaper

Following the news about the HS2 high speed rail link that is set to be built, a number of people have contacted me to sell a story that is ‘big’ in their area. And now, although that particular story has gained publicity in their local newspaper and on their local TV and radio stations, they are seeking national coverage.

What is a national story?

The problem is that what is a big local issue in your area is not necessarily of interest to a national newspaper. The HS2 high speed rail link is a good example of a classic ‘national’ story – Ie a story that affects millions of people nationally and not just a few thousand people in your local area.

The HS2 high speed rail link doesn’t just affect one village or town – it affects many places up and down the country. It is going to be paid for out of public money, so there is a cost implication for everyone. It is going to be built near to many different areas. There are other issues as well – while it could be bad for some areas cutting through swathes of beautiful countryside and leading to homes being devalued or demolished – on the other hand it will make commuting from North to South and vice versa much easier. So potentially it affects everyone of us.

Unfortunately, however, many developments – even if they affect thousands of people in your town and you are passionately against it – do not affect millions of people up and down the country. They are therefore often not going to gain national coverage. For example, a big housing development that is due to be built on land near your village, might be something you and others protest about. But it only affects your village, not anyone else in the country.

Most areas are protesting about some sort of development they don’t want. It might be a new road, factory, recycling facility, shops or supermarket or houses. It could be widening of a motorway, railway, an extra airport runway.

But unless you can find a national angle – it will rarely be a story suitable for national coverage.

Making a local story into a national one.

There are ways of making what is at first glance a local issue into a national one. These are:

* If what is happening in your village is happening up and down the country. For example if your local post office or hospital is closing, it might make a feature for a national newspaper which can use your situation to illustrate what is happening up and down the country (therefore make it more appealing to readers nationally.)

* Focusing on a personal story. For example, if the new road being built means demolishing the home where someone has lived their whole life, their personal anguish can be a story in itself. If the bypass will be built over the tops of houses but because of some quirk, they will not be eligible for compensation, that is another example of a story suitable for a national paper. Even with coverage of the HS2 high speed rail link, these sort of stories have been written about in newspapers. For example, someone whose £1.5million mansion has now been made worthless because of the new plans, was used as an example of how the high speed rail link is affecting people.

* A celebrity angle. If someone in your protest group is a celebrity, who is also affected and complaining about the development, then their personal story can also help gain national publicity.

* There is a wacky angle. For example, you are protesting against the development because you claim it will ruin the homes of the great crested newts there. Or when the development is built you will have to drive an extra five miles to get to your front door.

* There is an unusual historical interest or human interest element. For example, an old monument, site or building of historical interest, or amazingly old tree will have to go to make way for the development. If the development will cause fumes that have been proved to cause cancer – for example, even seemingly innocuous windmills have been linked with health issues.

NOTE: Stories where people generally complain about ‘more noise’ ‘more pollution,’ ‘more traffic’ are not wacky or interesting enough to warrant a piece in the national press unless they are as above (ie: the new road will literally run through your back garden.)

Allegations of ‘corruption’ within your local council are unlikely to make it a saleable story either. In fact such implications might be simply libellous and unless the story is in the national public interest or there is proof of the corruption (a court case conviction) these sort of things rarely get printed.

Getting publicity

* Identify any potential national angles as above.

* Check with a media agent such as Featureworld, which supplies stories to all the national newspapers, to see if your story has any national coverage potential.

* Continue to plug away with local papers, radio and TV. Many stories are picked up this way by the national press.

* Be aware things can change. Something might happen that makes your story a national one. For example, those protected newts might be found on the land after all, making it a super story for a paper!

* Try a couple of agents or national newspapers with your story. However, if it’s already been widely publicised locally, then national press will usually be aware of it (and would contact your protest group if they wanted it…)

Do not:

* Become pushy and argue with a journalist when they tell you your story isn’t something they can sell (or place for free.) It isn’t a personal thing – when we tell you we can’t place a story, we are simply giving you a professional opinion.

* Expect an individual journalist to be able to ‘pull strings’ to get a story in. This isn’t the way the media works – national newspapers write about stories they feel will interest as many of their readers as possible – and individual writers rarely have this sort of clout to get a story into a paper (unless they are the editor or are going to write a particularly revealing personal piece – see above, they are a celebrity…)

* Expect a national paper to ‘side’ with you or start any sort of campaign. National newspapers rarely do ‘campaigning’ and when they do, they tend to be more general – think Help for Heroes for soldiers and Help for the Elderly – ie: they are campaigns that tend to relate to millions of people. A national newspaper might use a story to hammer home its own point of view – but it might not share your view.

* Keep tweeting journalists, writing on Facebook pages or trying to ‘prove’ to a journalist who has already said no that they are wrong by sending them printed stories you believe are like yours (which they aren’t!) Be professional and make an approach the proper way – via an email is best. We would never advise ringing a journalist as you could hit a busy time and it puts that person on the spot. It is always better to send a polite email.

If you would like a professional opinion on a story then contact us here: sell your story uk.

About Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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