Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Getting sport a run in your local paper

Regional dailies and other local newspapers are funny creatures in Australia. They have a written law that prohibits non-local news from occupying any of the first five pages of the paper.

It’s a great thing for the local readership. If we want to read about John Howard we’ll buy a national paper thanks. Or go on the internet and look it up (particularly if you live in Darwin where The Australian arrives at midday if you’re lucky and you can’t afford to buy it anyway by the time you pay for freight).

The downside to this obsession for local content is that your local newspaper can sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to find a local angle to a national or international story.

There’s always the Ballarat Lad Caught in Timor Terror, the Orange Aunty Narrowly Misses the Hurricane Horror and the Darwin Debutante Dances at Queen’s Ball (even if they left Darwin when they were three months old).

With all this commitment to local content, you’d think the rule would be applied evenly across the newspaper. But one section misses out – Sport.

Preparing for a media workshop, we looked at two months worth of our local newspaper the Northern Territory News to examine what makes news and what doesn’t. And the results were eye opening.

Of 1013 stories in the Sports section of the paper, 54 per cent were either national or international stories.

A further 18 per cent were stories about local sportspeople who had made good on the national or international stage (good on them!).

Only 28 per cent of all the sports stories in the sports section were genuinely local stories about local sports.

I’m not suggesting the News should change its focus (even if local sporting clubs would like it to). The paper is running a business and it no doubt knows what local people want to read in the sports section – otherwise they wouldn’t be buying the paper.

But it offers useful information for sporting clubs trying to break through the clutter and get their story heard in the media.

A further analysis of what did make the news showed that sporting clubs can get a good run in the local paper with the following:

Great photos: Even stories that aren’t stories can get a run if the photo is quirky, cute or visually appealing enough
Topical: Sporting personalities who talk about topical issues can get their story heard
Novelty: Do, say or try something different – the media will pick it up.

Some of the rules that work in the general news section don't necessarily work in sport. For example, people who are winners often make the general news but in sport, there are always winners and losers (it's probably a bigger story if no-one wins or loses).