Activity 3.3 - The ingredients of newsworthy stories

Course: 2018 Science Communication Skills for Water Cooperation and Diplomacy
Book: Activity 3.3 - The ingredients of newsworthy stories
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Date: Thursday, 2 December 2021, 11:08 AM

1. Introduction

Research shows that the most read stories often share certain features or ingredients. Incorporating these news values when communicating your research will help make it more engaging for your audience. You can also contextualise your research using these news values. Below is a list of some of the main news values.

  1. Binary opposition
  2. Tailored to the reader
  3. Bad news
  4. Timeliness
  5. Popular references
  6. Surprise
  7. Clarity

In the next pages, you can find more detailed information about these news values with potential examples.

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2. Binary opposition

Binary opposition

Oppositions such as man and machine; good and bad; competing theories (for example, quantum physics versus general relativity); the old and the new. 

Are there any debates in water science (or your research) that have binary oppositions like this? E.g. Economic development versus the serious environmental problems emerging in the River Nile Basin and its groundwater resources. If researchers have opposing views or approaches about an issue can you reflect these in a respectful way?

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3. Tailored to the reader

Tailored to the reader

Can you make your work relevant to the reader? How will it actually affect the world or their lives? 

If you are talking to an Egyptian journalist, but you are researching the water footprint of sugar cane cultivation somewhere else… can you explain how your findings could be applied to Egyptians specifically?

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4. Bad news

Bad news

What is the problem that your research is trying to resolve? Highlight the bad news that your research addresses and why it is justified to do the work you are doing.

Climate variability is a threat to the socio-economic development of Ethiopia, because of this, it is essential to develop better models that can predict these changes.

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5. Timeliness


Is there an upcoming event that you can link your research to? Or has something happened in the news that allows you to surface the work you do even if it’s slightly unrelated?

Cambodia’s biggest dam might ‘literally kill’ the Mekong river according to this recent news story. Could you comment or frame the work you do in relation to a story like that? Perhaps there are parallels, differences, or shared issues you can highlight.

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6. Popular references

Popular references

Famous people, events, or references are powerful links that will allow you to connect with much wider audiences. Finding any links could be quite powerful. 

Egypt’s famous singer Sherine has been sentenced to 6 months jail for making a joke about the cleanliness of the Nile. Perhaps you research waterborne diseases and can use this as a hook to highlight the importance of your work. Any loose link to an event like this can be used to surface your work.

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7. Surprise


Surprise your audience with something they genuinely weren’t expecting. 

Did you know that we can measure rainfall from outer space? Someone using satellite observations and processing algorithms to estimate rainfall might not find this that surprising, but a non-expert reader could. There are probably aspects of your research others might find surprising.

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8. Clarity


Keep it simple. Try to stick to a single, clear idea. Have two at the very most. People will switch off if you launch into the full complexity of your research.

This research paper explores a number of issues surrounding the role of climate change adaptation in the Nile Basin of Ethiopia. Too many for a single news story. Asking a single, simple question such as “Are farmers in the Nile Basin of Ethiopia at a higher risk than ever before from climate change?” will help your audience. 

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