Everything they taught you in school is wrong – well, at least when it comes to telling a story for the news. News stories follow a fairly standard format that deviates from conventional storytelling. Understanding the difference in structure between conventional storytelling and news stories can be an important tool in successfully telling your story to a journalist.
From an early age, we are taught a formulaic approach to communicating. Information should be presented sequentially: first, we provide background information, and eventually we get to the conclusion. This is how academics and subject matter experts tell stories: they detail the process through which they came to their conclusion, before actually communicating the conclusion or key findings themselves.
This approach doesn’t work for the media. Journalists must capture a reader or viewer’s attention in the first few seconds: for this reason, they apply a reverse-model to storytelling, presenting the conclusion first, expanding on the details and then, if there is room, providing the background details.
This method prioritizes information – the most important stuff goes first. In any news story, the first few seconds, or first two paragraphs provide the important information. After that come the details and any background information.
Spokespeople can use this knowledge to their advantage. To do so means unlearning some of what we’ve been taught and getting comfortable relaying information just as news stories are constructed. The first message you have in an interview should be the most important. Once you’ve got that point across, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to talk about the details.