Posted by David Oates 4 years, 7 months ago


I’ve always been a big fan of nonprofit investigative news site Voice of San Diego and its journalists. I recently read VOSD's revised reporter guidelines and mission “to turn the chaos of news into a story people can access and understand” and fell even deeper in love.

VOSD's call rings true for what public relations professionals typically try to do with clients whether it’s crafting a pitch, drafting website copy or writing a proposal. A latent cheerleader inside my mind was responding “yes!” after every guideline for VOSD reporters. It’s good perspective for us pr pros when coaching a client for an expert source offering or vetting news value. I often turn to journalists I respect for tips and the principles upheld by VOSD certainly inspire me.

Here are the points I feel are particularly applicable to public relations professionals no matter what the deliverable:

  • We only do something if we can do it better than anyone or if no one else is doing it. We must add value. We must be unique.
  • Three things to remember for each story: context. authority. not just what is happening, but what it means.
    Avoid churnalism. It’s not your job to have everything on your beat. It’s your job to have the best things. Don’t worry about getting scooped. Worry about not consistently making an impact.
    I love this quote VOSD references from “Nobody cares who’s first with the commodity news, but being first with what the news means still has value – in fact, it has more value than it ever has, given today’s torrent of information. Readers will gravitate to such stories, share them and remember them.”
  • Be the expert. No he said she said. The day we write a headline that says “Proposal has pros, cons” is the day we start dying. We don’t ask questions with our stories, we answer them. 
  • If you can’t find a good answer to any of these three questions, drop the story:
    • Why did I choose this story?
    • Why will people care? (Not why should they care, but why will they care)
    • Why will people remember this story?
  • Tell the truth. Don’t go quote-hunting for something you know to be true and can say yourself. Don’t hide your opinion in the last quote of a story. Take a stand when you know something to be true or wrong.
  • Avoid the news voice whenever possible. Sometimes it’s necessary. But you should never write a story [the way] you think journalists are supposed to write it. Write like you would if you were trying to get your friends interested in an email. Lighten up. Be creative. Have fun. Be conversational.
  • Bring us in the implications, not the event. So it’s not “Booze Ban Voted Through Council Committee.” It’s “Booze Ban Has One Final Hurdle Left.”
  • Don’t be boring. People don’t spend their free time on boring things. That’s it.

To read the rest of the guidelines and Voice of San Diego in general visit:


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