The success of your public relations campaign depends on knowing what the news editor is looking for in a news story or feature.
You can’t blag or spam a news editor with advertorial content – they want stories.
This guide to the news editor will give you the inside track on how they tick, and how to work with them successfully so you get what you want – positive PR exposure for your business.
What is a News Editor?
The news editor is the heart of the newsroom.
They are the go-to person for the editor, the reporters, the sub-editors and photographers.
Also, for the social media team – and importantly the readers/customers.
Whilst the overall editor will often be dealing with the wider business picture, the news editor targets one thing: content.
A good news editor will know what is going on in every corner of the newsroom.
They assign the reporters stories and monitor progress.
They are aware of the day’s big issues; tackling breaking news, sourcing pictures, dealing with a multitude of calls and complaints too.
The news editor can ditch a story at any time – so don’t take it personally!
Today a news editor will also be working alongside the social media team, directing the messaging.
The news editor needs to think on their feet.
They will be quick to respond, know their patch demographics and geography, be able to write a story themselves. Their contacts book will be second to none.
What Does a News Editor Do?
It is the news editor’s job to know their patch, or their subject (if trade media) like the back of their hand.
They will know the strengths and weaknesses of their team. They will liaise with the editor.
Essentially it is the news editor making the decisions on the ground and at speed. They drive the deadlines ensuring that every milestone is met.
A good news editor will be constantly monitoring the news, looking for local, new and different angles to everyone else to set their publications ahead of the competition. They will have the competition monitored.
They will be reacting to the news and ensuring their team has the issues covered. It may mean placing the right people in the right places to cover a story.
They will also be pro-active, developing campaigns on the back of a good issue/story. They must know how best to ‘sell’ these to readers.
Regarding campaigns, they will know which businesses/organisations/politicians/community groups to contact in support of these campaigns.
Directing The News Reporters
The news editor reads all content, they are the first filter for the reporter.
They will give the reporter strong direction on a story and provide feedback to that reporter once the story is filed (this means ready for publication).
It is the news editor’s job to pick holes in the story. They will ask LOTS of questions:
Is all the information included and legally sound? Is the tone right for the publication and are the basics like names, locations, dates, facts, correct?
The news editor will question sources and take a cynical attitude to copy.
But their job is to drive a story for publication.
The news editor must be prepared to bin a story for a better one. Of course, they must ensure that any legal issues are passed to the lawyers as well as the editor.
How Do You Become A News Editor?
Many news editors find themselves in the role because they have loved the role of a reporter and have sought promotion.
They may want to climb the newsroom ladder and eventually see themselves as editor – becoming news editor is a positive step towards this goal.
News editors will have usually been strong writers and may even have been a chief reporter. They will know how to sniff out the angle of a story.
They will ask all the right questions, be able to rewrite an intro in seconds and when necessary, write an accurate, balanced, informative and entertaining story of their own.
News editors have usually built a comprehensive portfolio. They have proven themselves to be organised, have competent people skills, able to work well under pressure, and to turn around copy fast.
In the UK they are likely to have their NCTJ training qualifications as a reporter. They will have all-round experience handling everything from court copy, human interest and local and national government stories.
They may have sought promotion internally when the opportunity arises within their organisation.
As a senior reporter they may apply externally for that first deputy or assistant news editor challenge.
What Type of Skills, Responsibilities Does a News Editor Have?
A news editor will be able to write succinctly and accurately.
They will have a natural nose for news and understand balance and fairness. They come with a solid knowledge of the law and public affairs.
It’s the news editor who will ditch a story fast if they don’t think it’s been thoroughly checked out and researched. They are thorough and will quiz a reporter about every aspect of a story.
The news editor must be able to instruct and inform a reporter with clarity and patience.
As the job of a news editor is to filter out the news, deciding what is important and categorising stories, they must know their title well.
They must ensure every story meets the content guidelines.
They will have a good knowledge of the in-house style guide and be up to date with all local and national government changes.
Their best skill is being able to balance several jobs at one time. This includes answering calls, filtering stories, rewriting copy and keeping their reporters busy.
What’s The Difference Between a News Editor and a Reporter?
The news editor oversees all content whilst the reporter must be focused on researching and writing their own stories.
The news editor must ensure the publication they are working for has a good balance and variety of stories. They will know how developed a story is, and when they can expect it filed.
The news editor sets the reporter deadlines and keeps track of story development.
The news editor will bin or put a story on hold, if they don’t think the reporter has been accurate or fair. Without a picture the story is likely to be axed.
A reporter is constantly gathering news, it is their job to find the stories. They will pitch their story ideas to the news editor. These stories may be off diary or diary stories.
An off-diary story
An off-diary story is their own, it may even be exclusive. It is the reporter’s hard work and direction from the news editor that leads to the story.
Their stories may derive from a phone call, an email, social media, council agenda, a contact, a notice in a shop. The reporter will use every opportunity on patch to seek news. Their eyes always open for something new or unusual.
A diary story
A diary story is a scheduled event happening that needs coverage. The reporter must ensure their story is legally sound, accurate, balanced, informative.
The tone must be right for their publication. A PR stunt may provide a great picture if it is well carried out and timely.
Reporters check and double-check every fact in their story. Just because it’s in a press release doesn’t make it accurate.
However, today, reporters are often flooded with press releases – an inaccuracy in a press release may make it through to publication.
Any organisation issuing a press release must double-check their facts too.
Forgive a reporter’s cynicism. It is a valued asset in a busy newsroom when vetting stories. The reporter’s contacts must be genuine.
Would a News Editor Answer The Phone On a News Desk?
It’s no doubt the busiest desk in any newsroom.
Like an airport control tower, it sees everything.
The news editor will direct calls to the appropriate reporter.
The news editor knows their team well. They will funnel a call through to the reporter they think will do the best job. They’re taking into consideration specialisms, ability, talent and deadline.
The news editor will also take calls from people complaining about a story, trying to prevent a story being printed or from someone pushing a story for publication.
They often take huge volumes of calls from PR agencies. However, even the news editor cannot guarantee publication.
News happens fast and, in a moment, the best story of the day can be superseded by another.
Should I Email My Press Release To a News Editor?
When a news editor is busy, it’s often better to email your media pitch across.
Unless it’s breaking news or a cracking human interest story, a public relations officer can get short shrift from a busy news editor juggling multiple tasks at once.
When emailing a story, it is key to get the subject line right. You must know how to write a media pitch.
Say what the story is in the subject line, and add, area, name. Treat it like an attention grabbing headline.
You must sell your story in a few words in the subject line. Avoid a pushy sales pitch – it’ll head to the bin or what the newsroom terms, the ‘spike’.
Never assume your story will be published.
It’s usually always best to take a nice informal tone with the news desk, thanking them for their time. You may want a long-term relationship and you’ll need their goodwill.
If the news editor associates you or your organisation with poor or inappropriate media releases, they will bin your emails, before even reading them.
Would a News Editor Ever Work With a PR Agency?
Yes, of course.
Building a good relationship with a news desk is key. But it must be built on trust.
Avoid sending through poorly written and researched press releases for publication. And make sure you correctly target your publications.
Sending a story about a new housing development will be binned by a journal specialising in international politics!
It’s not just subject matter that’s important either.
If you’ve got a story about a new brewery opening in Peckham, don’t pitch to regional media in East London. Check relevant patches.
Think about this with national publications and broadcast operations.
Who is likely to handle your copy well, with a sympathetic ear and genuine interest in the content?
Should I Meet With The News Editor?
It’s always worth trying to arrange a quick coffee with the news ed to discuss what they are looking for.
Is the publication covering a vast number of stories around homelessness, might they consider joining forces on a campaign involving new shelters/homes?
Ask them about their interests and between you, you can discuss where the areas meet.
Perhaps the news editor wants to launch a story writing competition for schools. Could one of your clients get involved as a sponsor, a judge, offer a venue, hospitality or transport?
These are good PR opportunities. There are many ways of working together, particularly with campaigns.
Relationships are key.
As a PR company, you want to be in a position where the news editor will always take your call.
If they genuinely don’t have time, they will pass it to one of their leading reporters.
This can be achieved with time and patience. Cultivating a strong, transparent relationship with a news desk is invaluable.
And if you’re ready to take your PR work to the next level grab our PR Starter Kit.
Our must-have kit has every template, script, strategy and guide you’ll ever need to do PR – all in one place.