The cost of a journalism story

In an age of fake news and information overload, journalists need more time and tools. They need to do their research, check their facts and produce news worthy of making an impact. And newspapers and broadcasters will still need to pay staffers and freelancers for their work.

As newsrooms struggle, knowing the cost of a journalism story and how best to pitch to media is a must.

Behind-the-scenes in a newsroom

The cost of producing stories largely comes down to varying deadlines, budgets and the type of media. A local news website editor might be under pressure to write between five to ten short stories daily. A specialist correspondent for a major national broadcaster, however, could spend a week on a single news feature. Knowing a little about the editorial processes and budgeting within different media outlets can help you in knowing how best to pitch stories.

Most reporters lack the time

Speak to journalists about their daily routines and how they prefer to receive pitches.  A reporter working for a large monthly magazine is probably more likely to agree to meet up for a coffee.  A journalist stretched thin at a small radio station or writing for a niche website, however, might not be. The former prefers to work up a suggested idea by finding an original angle and interviewees. The latter would instead receive a press release to turn around quickly, without the need to find their additional quotes or information.

Be aware that most newsrooms — just like brands — produce different kinds of content. From front page headlines to shorter snippets of information and a whole plethora of possibilities in between is standard.

Three key kinds of story

Newsmaker stories

Newsmaker stories are detailed, sometimes investigative reports that often shed new light on a topic or debate. They are rich in facts and descriptions and usually contain quotes, video or sound clips collected by journalists who have carried out bespoke interviews. Quality broadsheets and public service media producing these kinds of stories will usually work hard to ensure they include a range of perspectives. Often the journalists behind these stories will hope to generate debates. For example, the news could be picked up by rival media or used for related editorial columns or discussion programmes.

These kind of stories are usually lengthy, by news standards. A text article might be 800 words or more. Video or radio versions could be three minutes or longer. Pre-planned social media content (e.g. photos with captions, infographics or illustrations and shareable videos with subtitles) is also becoming an increasingly important element.

The multiskilled journalist

Journalists need to be skilled researchers and interviewers. While multimedia reporting is becoming increasingly common (with individual journalists frequently producing text, video and audio content themselves), newsmaker stories need more internal resources. Video reporters could work with both a camera person and a producer, while photographers may be hired to accompany text journalists.

Fees vary hugely between different kinds of news media.  Costs depend on internal budgets and local tax rates as well as the precise nature of each story. However,  below is a rough estimate of potential costs, based on fee ranges commonly paid out to journalists in Europe and the US.

News stories

A classic news story is typically a solid round-up of an event or development. News in this category usually includes original interviews or video footage, and sometimes uses content provided by external sources.

A text article is likely to be between 500 and 800 words, usually with photos taken by the reporter, or otherwise sourced from a news agency or video bank. Audio and video reports are likely to be under three minutes long. Social media posts may include bespoke photos or shareable short videos with subtitles.

Journalists working on regular daily news stories are increasingly likely to be multi-skilled and need to be able to operate to tight deadlines. However, organizations with bigger budgets may still use small teams to work on these kinds of reports.

Filler stories

Not to be underestimated, many media need filler stories. These stories pad out newspapers, increase a website’s click-rate or achieve story diversity and ‘light and shade’ in a long radio show. Fillers may be quick fact-based reports (shorter versions of news stories)or other short forms of online content, such as lists, tips, and recipes.

Any interviews, photos or videos used to accompany these stories are likely to come from press releases or secondary sources.

Text pieces in this category are typically under 500 words (although they could be as little as 50). The radio and TV equivalent would be a 15-second mention in a news bulletin or a ‘shout-out’ by a presenter. Any accompanying social media material is likely to be basic – e.g., a simple share of an online link.

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