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Add Context to Your News Releases

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November 23,2010

By Jerry Brown, APR

When I was a reporter, journalists focused on five questions: who, what, where, when and why. We often skipped why.

Reporters still ask those questions. But today they’re more likely to go a step further and focus on questions that add context and explore how their stories affect the lives of the audiences they write for.

Here’s how the late Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Molly Ivins put it:

“It has almost become a truism of our trade that the net effect of new technologies of communication is not that a new one replaces an old one (TV, for example, didn’t cause radio to vanish), but that we all take one step back along the food chain, as it were. For instance, newspapers rarely break news any more. We now fill the role (more successfully in some cases than in others) that used to be played by the newsmagazines, which is to put the news in context – to give you some idea what it means in your life.”

That opens the door to stories that didn’t exist before, stories you can pitch successfully to reporters if you help them answer a new set of questions:

  • Why. Stories about context often begin with the question reporters used to skip much of the time. Why did the plane crash? Why is the stock market going up or down? Why is the ice in Antarctica breaking apart?
  • How. How did it happen? Often helps answer the question of why.
  • What about here? Journalists have always localized stories. But local sidebars to national or global stories are more common because newspapers often need a “second day” angle for stories they’re running for the first time because the story’s already been on TV or the Internet. Have a local angle for a national story? Turn it into news.
  • So what? What’s the significance of the story? Why does it matter?
  • What about me? Everybody’s favorite subject is me. The more people who identify with a story, the bigger the story. That’s why things like changes in the weather and telephone area codes generate so much news coverage. They affect everyone. Ditto for stories about health issues. Expand the me of your story to include as many people as possible and your coverage will go up.


During 20 years as a journalist, Jerry Brown worked for The Associated Press (he was assignment editor for AP’s Washington bureau during Watergate); daily newspapers in Little Rock, Fort Worth and Denver; the U.S. Information Agency; and two trade publications. Jerry’s been practicing public relations for the past two decades and is an accredited member (APR) of the Public Relations Society of America and a former board member of PRSA’s Colorado chapter. You can contact Jerry at or visit his Web site at

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