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By Brian Johnson

How do you develop the weird voodoo called news sense? The thing that will have you on the same wavelength as many of the media people you want to deal with?

To think like a journalist you have to start behaving like one. And regardless of your level of PR experience, there are some very useful exercises that will shift your way of thinking in a relatively short time, with minimal expense.

To start with, buy a couple of newspapers on the same day, a tabloid and a more highbrow broadsheet. Now look at the treatments they have given to the same stories. What angle has each one gone with? How prominently does it appear in each paper? What images have they matched to the story?

You have started analysing not the story itself, but the way the media is treating it. This is something you should also apply to radio, television and news websites.

Apart from the different treatments, also start thinking about how certain stories – perhaps a political scandal – are played out across an extended period of time, sometimes fuelled by the media.

And to really improve your ability to understand the media, and write effective media releases (and tailored messages), make sure you complete the following exercise:

Pick out one of the main stories from the newspaper of the day. Then rewrite it from three different angles, using the key points in the story. In other words, create three new versions of the same story – starting each one from a different aspect and expanding it to include all the relevant information.

Also, give yourself a deadline to generate each version. It might be 5, 10, 15 minutes per story, depending on how much information is involved.

This is what journalists do, and this is how journalists think when they look at stories and the angles on offer.

Once you’ve had a few cracks at this rewriting caper, put a paragraph limit on each version. You’re now opening your mind to how your media contacts are thinking, and the things you might be able to offer them.

This advice is drawn from The Little Red Book of PR Wisdom by Brian Johnson, an award-winning journalist and leading PR practitioner.

  • Some call it public relations, some call it PR, some call it publicity. Others describe it as media relations, even marketing. It’s all about getting media coverage for the story you want to tell, and knowing how to go about it.
  • Whether you’re a PR professional, a manager, a lecturer, a student, an association, an NGO or a government agency, The Little Red Book of PR Wisdom  is your key to getting that coverage – with far more value, impact and profile than advertising alone can deliver, a fraction of the cost.