Timing Is Everything in a News Cycle
What is a news cycle and when should I contact a journalist?
When it comes to promoting your event, whether it's a press conference to launch a new product or a benefit concert, timing is everything. Publicizing your important event or product at the wrong time is useless. On the other hand, publicizing a story at just the right time in the news cycle will most likely get picked up by the media—as long as the information is viewed by the media as being important to the public.
So exactly what is a news cycle, and how does a news cycle work across different news platforms?
Let's start by looking at the different kinds of media outlets because they all operate on completely different news cycles.
Newspapers, whether national or local in nature, are printed once a day, typically at night. Even though the majority of newspapers have digital versions, online coverage either applies to breaking news stories or stories that ran in the print edition and may be extended or shortened in length. Also, major publications like The New York Times will often include video. Traditionally, newspapers operate on a 24-hour news cycle—digital versions post more often.
Because there are so many blogs out there, even though they are updated more often than print media, it's hard to make blanket statements about them. A blog can offer recipes for Southwestern entrees or business leadership advice. Most blogs are written by one person with a keyboard. They might post three times a day or once every month. In general, blogs cover evergreen topics with tips, advice, and other useful information.
TV news operates day and night, and not just in regard to the national 24-hour cable networks like CNN and MSNBC. Local television stations always have a morning news show, a noon news show, a 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. show, and a 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. show. Local TV news has the most amount of airtime and therefore is the easiest venue to receive news coverage.
Radio was around before the advent of TV and is still going strong, in part because of "drive time," when commuters are stuck in their cars. Radio will break a story any time of the day because they have 24 hours of airtime to fill, each and every day. Whether a radio station plays classical music or only broadcasts local news they all subscribe to the Associated Press, which transmits stories 24/7. As a matter of fact, the events of 9/11 broke over a local New York City radio station that had a traffic helicopter in the air near what became Ground Zero.
How and When to Break Your Story
The more time-sensitive a story is, the more you need to think about the news cycle and whom to talk to first.
The oldest trick in the book is to release a bad story after 5:00 p.m. on a Friday, knowing that almost every reporter and editor has gone home. You may have noticed that the Federal government will always release a story about a potential government shutdown at exactly this time. While that's been taking place inside the beltway for years, the trick doesn't work as well today given the ability of news outlets posting breaking news digitally. Even the biggest newspapers only have a skeleton crew working nights and weekends.
The advantage of releasing a story on a weekend is that if you can get through to the journalist, they'll have more time to talk to you.
Reaching Journalists After 6:00 P.M.
If you have good news to report, it's never a good idea to announce news (or pitch your client or company to be a part of a news column) after business hours. Reporters are scrambling to make a deadline and your voicemail or email will be ignored, or worse—you'll reach them and they'll be annoyed. It's best to contact journalists mid-morning, once their regular staff meeting has ended and they're ready to start their workday.
The more time-sensitive a story is, the more you should lean toward radio, TV, and blogs, which are engineered to break news faster than newspapers.
On the other hand, the more complex and important a story is, the more you should lean toward newspapers because they specialize in the bigger, more comprehensive stories. Newspapers can pack a lot more information into the paper than the short sound bites of radio and TV, where a two-minute story is considered long. Of course, if you're pitching a guest expert for a feature segment to address a timely news topic, those segments can run as long as six minutes.