Schools can be a wonderful source of news but not all stories are newsworthy. Too often, schools rush to send out a story without seeming to think about the audience. Attain's Editor, Matthew Smith, looks at the distinction between 'story-telling' and news and why their objectives rarely align.
I can't think of a better source of positive news stories than schools. In a diverse community of children, with so many creative, sporting and academic opportunities, there is always something happening of interest. Achievements are at the local, regional and sometimes national level. They should be celebrated and given an audience. But who is that audience? And what sort of stories do they want to hear? Too often, schools rush to send out a news story without seeming to think about who will be reading it.
News should always be fresh. By definition, the word 'news' comes from the Latin ‘nova’ or ‘new things’. My dictionary helpfully defines news as being ‘noteworthy’ and ‘information not previously known to someone’ and finally a ‘person or thing considered interesting enough to be reported’. There is, of course, a subtle point here that news does have a very subjective element – is it interesting? And to whom? Or in other words: is it newsworthy?
School staff do need to step back and think very carefully before sending out a press release. Current parents will have a pretty strong appetite for all things happening at their child's school – but beyond the school gate is very different. And, of course, you must always think of the negatives. Before sending a press release, a school must always reflect on how a story will be perceived externally – will it enhance a school's reputation or run the risk of being seen in a less flattering light?
I have seen far too many spurious stories about topics such as scholarship success, league tables or Open Days. Or worse, the story which purports to be about something newsworthy but is actually just an over-enthusiastic account of a school trip or enrichment lesson. There seems to be a growing tendency to try too hard: to find a story which fulfils a promotional brief whilst overlooking whether it is actually news. The recent trend of 'story-telling' should not be confused with news. The style of writing is totally different (news calls for reporting and subjectivity) and the objectives therefore rarely align.
When you watch the evening news, which stories do you remember? After the main headlines, it is usually the 'and finally' package at the end. These tend to be heartwarming stories which shine a light on something overlooked; they provide inspiration and are uplifting. In trying too hard, the best stories can end-up being missed. What better source of inspirational stories is there than a school community, full of children striving to achieve their best? This is where to find the news.