In search of the truth

Partner Matt Guarente, who heads up Bladonmore’s coaching business, responds to a new play about the media.

Ink is a new play about the history of The Sun newspaper. In its opening moments, editor Larry Lamb explains what makes a story to new proprietor Rupert Murdoch.

Big, illuminated ‘W’s light up as Lamb runs through the classic canon of the questions journalists are meant to consider: The What, Where, When, Who and Why. Lamb’s character uses the device effectively to explain to his future boss why their meeting could be a story.

As a former journalist and editor, I thoroughly enjoyed the production; but the five Ws don’t do much to explain a reporter’s intentions to people who really need to understand the news machine. In fact, through my time as a journalist no-one ever explained what are the essential elements of what a ‘good story’ contained. You got shouted at when you got it wrong. Or you simply didn’t get published. So you developed an understanding of what was successful, or you got fired: newsroom Darwinism.

Even when I spent a couple of years as a visiting lecturer at London’s City University School of Journalism (teaching postgraduate courses in business journalism) it was clear that no-one had actually told tomorrow’s foreign correspondents, business editors and news producers what a ‘good’ story contained. And no journalist I have ever met has a real process; it’s ‘gut feeling’. They might talk about the five Ws — or, including How, the ‘six honest serving men’ of Rudyard Kipling’s poem. But in reality, all these do is checklist the elements that have to be in a story for the narrative questions to be satisfied. It doesn’t include the dimension of prominence.

What journalists are actually looking for is the truth. As we remind the participants on our media influencing sessions, these are the elements that lift a story from easily-missed left hand pages deep in the newspaper to the front. Or from the ‘Siberia’ of the back end of a rolling radio news hour to the moments just after the top of the hour, when we know most people are listening.

More truth equals greater prominence.

If you’d like to find out more about our ‘truth’ concept, please get in touch.

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