How to turn promotional content into journalistic news

How to turn promotional content into journalistic news

At Engage Web, we write a lot of news for our clients. Sometimes, that means taking something that’s being widely reported and writing our own article about it, but other times, it takes a bit more to root out a story.

Any upcoming event – be it a festival, play, concert or sporting event – can be a news story, but the challenge here is in how you use your sources. It’s important to remember that if you head to an event listing website like Eventbrite for news, the listing itself is unlikely to have been written journalistically. Instead, it’s probably going to have been written by a promoter, the venue, or the performer – in short, someone who wants you to read it and say “that sounds good, I’ll go to that.”

As a news reporter, your job is not the same. You’re reporting that the event is happening, not trying to sell it, so your angle needs to be a little different.

To illustrate this, let’s find an example of an event, such as this upcoming gig from the band METZ in Liverpool. I happen to be interested in this band, but if you’re not, there’s a bit of a blurb in there that might help to put some meat on the bone when writing it up. Note, however, that this is written in quite a promotional way. Adjectives like “widely-adored” and “delightfully noisy” are not in keeping with journalism unless we’re making it clear we’re quoting someone else, so we’re going to have to do a bit more than just rewrite this using our own words. The tone and angle will need to change too.

How not to write news about an upcoming event

Here’s an example of a bad way to convert this event listing into a news story:

METZ concert

On Saturday, November 30, the band METZ will be performing at Phase One in Liverpool. Doors open at 7:30pm and the performance is expected to end at 11:00pm. Tickets cost £14.85 and can be bought from Skiddle.com.

This delightfully noisy three-piece band from Ontario, Canada are creating an exhilarating sound that is revolutionising the punk genre, and should not be missed.

Formed in 2008, METZ consists of Alex Edkins on guitar and vocals, Hayden Menzies on drums and Chris Slorach on bass. To date, the band has released three studio albums – their self-titled debut in 2012, the follow-up ‘II’ in 2015, and the third album ‘Strange Peace’ in 2017. A compilation of their early and unreleased work called ‘Automat’ also followed this year. All of these were released on Sub Pop Records.

Phase One is a classy multifunctional venue located at 40 Seel Street in the heart of Liverpool. Part of the city’s burgeoning independent venue scene, it has already played host to fantastic acts like You Me At Six, Bill Ryder-Jones and Pulled Apart by Horses since its launch last year. It has a bar serving a breathtaking range of craft beers and cocktails, and when not hosting live music, the venue is home to a vast range of vinyl records.

So what’s wrong with this? It’s a write-up that might make a reader interested, but it’s not really a good news piece at all. Here are a few reasons why:

• Not a news title – the title should sum up the story, but still make the reader want to click the link to find out more. This one doesn’t do that and is just a dull description of what the event is.
• First paragraph gives too much away – by the time the reader has read the first paragraph, they know all the particulars of the event and may stop reading there and then. Remember that with news, we want a first paragraph that summarises the story, but encourages the reader to keep reading and learning more.
• Too much salesy and unquantifiable opinion – “exhilarating sound”, “fantastic acts” and “breathtaking range” are something that a promoter would write more than a journalist. I find Wikipedia’s guidance on ‘puffery’, ‘peacock terms’ and ‘weasel words’ useful in knowing what sort of tone to avoid.
• Thin on news – All the ‘news’ is in the first paragraph. Elsewhere, the piece gives rather too much background info on the band and the venue, when it should be about this particular event. Background info should be relevant and recent.

How can we make this a better news piece?

Remember that any news piece should answer the questions ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘where?’, ‘when?’ and ‘why?’. The poor example of a news piece above only really answered four of them, and all in the first paragraph.

Who? – The Canadian punk band METZ
What? – A concert/gig
Where? – Phase One on Seel Street, Liverpool
When? – 7:30pm on Saturday, November 30
Why? – This wasn’t really answered by the last piece, so let’s see if we can address it in a better, newsier article like the one below:

Canadian punk band to raise Liverpool noise levels

Liverpool rockers may want to set a date aside in their schedule next month, as the city plays host to a punk band with admirers as diverse as actor Keanu Reeves and Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher.

Canadian three-piece METZ will be appearing at Phase One in a couple of weeks. The show is the first of three UK headline appearances for the noisy punk band filling gaps between dates of their tour in support of Mercury Music Prize nominees IDLES during December.

With three albums and two nominations for the Canadian Polaris Music Prize under their belt, the last few months have seen METZ release ‘Automat’, a compilation of early unreleased and rare material. Immediately following this was the EP ‘M.E.’, featuring covers of tracks by Gary Numan and Sparklehorse, so it is likely fans will get to hear new material from the band.

The Liverpool gig is the curtain-raiser to a busy December for the band, who begin their tour with IDLES two days later. Also in December are another two headlining shows in London and Brighton.

METZ will be at Phase One on Seel Street on Saturday, November 30, with doors opening at 7:30pm. Tickets cost £14.50 and can be purchased from Skiddle.com.

This is better because:

• The title is relevant without giving everything away. Generally, news titles should always include a verb.
• The lede (first paragraph) summarises the story, but the reader needs to read on to find out who, where and when the event is taking place. Remember as well that the lede should not repeat the title, so phrases like “punk duo” should not appear there having already appeared in the title.
• The writer does not give any opinions on the band. All implications that the band is being talked about are factual rather than subjective, backed up by official awards and endorsements from celebrities.
• All news is recent. Rather than mentioning the band’s origins and members (which would be better suited to a biography), the piece concentrates on activity within the last few months.
• It goes some way to answering the ‘why?’ question. The band is in the UK anyway as they’re about to support a British band, and they have new material to showcase.

Overall, it’s just a case of coming up with something that answers the reader’s question in the same way as an event listing, but engages them with complete paragraphs and spares them the advertising.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray

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