Breaking News Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

maximizing coverage Apr 20, 2020

The novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has caused stunning and unexpected changes for small businesses and creatives. For those of you who had planned media outreach, now may or may not be a fitting time to approach the press. (I outline the types of stories media outlets are looking for in my guide to outreach during the coronavirus.) Watching the global pandemic unfold in the media offers important lessons about media coverage during breaking news.

First, as we’ve seen in spades, breaking news will always take precedence. Media is in the business of news, and that means the press will always prioritize what’s timely. In mainstream media outlets, such as The Today Show or The New York Times, we see this on a massive scale. News involving global health, security, and politics outweighs a previously planned segment on Easter weekend recipes or a feature on a found-object artist. Even within smaller publications or niche outlets, news will eclipse other stories. For example, in a music magazine or entertainment website, an article on the death of a folk legend will take precedence over a story without a news element. In a city magazine, the election of a new mayor or news of a celebrity moving into town will always earn coverage before stories without recency. Media outlets are obligated to provide the latest information, especially in the digital age when news works on a 24-hour cycle and social media spreads news instantaneously. So, what’s the take-away here for creatives and small business owners?

First, it’s important to understand the role of breaking news in the media. If your planned story is the one of those set aside in the name of other coverage, there’s no use in being upset or frustrated. This is simply how media works. The outlet will likely still provide you coverage. It may just delay or recast the coverage in light of new developments. I advise remaining flexible and helpful to the journalists throughout this process to ensure your story still receives coverage.

Second, breaking news provides small business and creatives a way to tap into media coverage. Media outlets are not just interested in covering the breaking news; they’re also interested in covering the impacts and human-interest angles relating to that news. So, if you if your small business has a connection to the recent developments, this is a prime time to approach the media.

 Expanding upon the previously provided examples, here are a few ways small business owners could turn breaking news into opportunities to be in the media spotlight: Did your guitar shop outfit that folk legend who is in the headlines? Pitch that story. Did the folk legend vacation in your hotel for song-writing retreats? Pitch that story. Will the new mayor’s initiatives impact your business? Pitch that story. Did new celebrity resident in your hometown use an interior design style for their home that you feature at your home décor store? Pitch that story. Finding a point of connection provides the press an angle—in other words, a reason to cover your business that’s both timely and pertinent to their audience’s interests.

Do you have questions about how to use breaking news to pitch the press about your business? Send them to hello [at] howtopitchmedia [dot] com.

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