You’re familiar with the expression “If it bleeds, it leads.”?
A reference to an unwritten rule in journalism, the suggestion was that the most sensational, graphic or tragic news would make it to the front of the paper, the top of the newscast, or the cover of the magazine.
Today, it’s not only “blood” that captures editors’ attentions, but a whole slew of new buzzwords and topics that seem to propel a story to the forefront. Words like “green,” “sex,” “cancer,” or “fat.”
The new expression might be, “If it’s Green, ’twill be seen.”
In response, PR folks have taken to the practice of “optimizing” press materials to get the attention of busy editors and gain favor in publication. This is not optimizing keywords for Internet search indexes, but optimizing for real-life eyeballs.
For example, check out this New York Times article about a story that appeared in several news outlets using the PR pitch headline: “Toxic Ties to ‘New Shower Curtain Smell’ Evident, According to Latest Laboratory Testing.” Those are some mighty compelling “keywords”: toxic, laboratory testing. And the story got considerable play, despite being much ado about nothing, including prominent placement on ABC News.
I prefer the tried and true method of press relations: “If it’s real, lose the shpiel.” There’s no substitute for a good story, and fancy keywords and topical hot buttons shouldn’t dress up a lame story (and, I suspect, don’t, for a vast majority of journalists).
Then again, look again at what I chose as the first word in the headline of this post.