Starting life in the PR industry means being on top of current affairs. But how do you keep on top of the news? Particularly when there is so much news. And what is the right kind of news? When you’re starting out in the industry and you’re asked to look out for a bit of news, how do you make sure you don’t miss it? Often, something that most certainly does not look like news is news, and other times something that is one hundred percent ‘send-it-round-the-office-this-is-huge-news’ turns out not to be.
So how do you keep on top of it all? One former colleague suggests Fantasy Football. I’d like to make another slightly oblique suggestion: buying the Daily Mail.
A bit of context here: as part of our constant monitoring of the news, our team holds Monday Download first thing at the start of every week to discuss the weekend’s events. For the past month and a bit, it has been my responsibility to bring Saturday’s Daily Mail to the meeting – it’s fair to say, not my go-to newspaper. Last weekend, whilst visiting some friends in Bristol, I popped out to the lovely corner shop down the road to pick up Saturday’s edition. Amongst the falafel and kale, I found a copy of the Mail and gave it to the man at the counter, who, in a thick Bristolian accent, proceeded to bellow across the rest of the shop ‘‘ere, this bloke’s buying the DAILY MAIL!’ My incongruous purchase generated a storm of responses and prompted a rapture of laughter. I promptly left the shop well and truly embarrassed.
There is, however, an interesting lesson for any would-be PR here. In essence, it is being prepared to feel a bit awkward when trying to understand all sides of the news. Particularly for those of us not long out of academic study, the notion of reading the newspapers of the ‘other side’ is still a fairly strange idea. To be sure, the foundations of academic study are based around equal-minded reasoning and a fair appraisal of both sides of the debate. However, university campuses have increasingly been accused of groupthink around certain issues. There are many reasons for this, and I do not wish to say opinions on these issues are necessarily right or wrong. However, certainly one contributing factor to this groupthink is the so-called ‘university bubble’. Practically speaking, in my experience this has boiled down to the majority of the people reading and sharing articles from a small pool of content. The absence of differing opinions can make it harder to access the complete spectrum of news.
This is problematic for a number of reasons, but chiefly it becomes an issue when trying to interpret the news and understand the salient issues within it more deeply. Simply, if you only read about things that affect you, you will find it harder to spot a news story that might be of relevance to someone else. Moreover, by reading a news source that you disagree with, we become better at honing out arguments about why we disagree with it.
This argument is often couched in terms of political opinion, but it can also be couched in terms of things that you might find uninteresting. If you do not read about, say, property issues, it becomes significantly harder to spot a salient news story when it comes along. Likewise, if you recognise the regular patterns in the news cycle, it becomes easier to sift out irrelevant stories.
Reading widely enables you to cover more ground and makes it harder for a story to slip through the net. However, (as we are banned from saying in the office) ‘we’re all busy’. It is hard to read through opposing sides all the time, particularly when stories develop quickly. Therefore, it is always a good idea to have some shortcuts in your back pocket. Twitter is a particularly valuable resource for absorbing news quickly. Following the right journalists gives you a shortcut to the news stories as they are developing. Likewise, Google Alerts can be a godsend, sending stories about your selected interests straight to your inbox. However, beware of setting too many – you’ll never get a good night’s sleep again!
And perhaps most importantly, use your colleagues as a resource and be a resource to them. If you spot a news story that might be of interest to someone else, send it over to them. Even if they’ve already spotted it, it is still an incredibly helpful thing to know that someone else has seen it and thinks it’s an important story.
Ultimately, however, the news is an evolving thing. Being prepared to trawl Twitter, to read widely and occasionally getting laughed at for buying the Daily Mail will all help you stay up-to-date with the news.
Luke Webb is an account executive at The PR Office