Creating News Clips Your Organization Wants

My director shared some good news with me this morning. She had been over at agency headquarters and a senior executive there had complimented my News Clips. He reads them daily and has recommended them to other senior executives there.

How do you create clips top management wants to read? Creating news that your agency can use can be a daunting task.  Here are a few tips that have helped me get the attention of our agency’s leadership.

If you are tasked with clipping daily news articles for your agency or bureau, you generally have few choices.

One commonly used approach is contracting one of the many available news search services. They build a search based on your keywords and report the results.  These searches often highlight hundreds, if not thousands of news stories, many – if not most – are of no interest to your readers. An upside of this approach is when someone wants to find a particular story, it’s likely included in the search. A downside is that the report becomes overwhelming and unusable. A long report eventually gets ignored because few have time to peruse it. There are also budget considerations.

The same news search services are happy to edit your search extensively and refine it to a more digestible report. Unfortunately, this is likely prohibitively expensive for all but the largest communications budgets. Another downside is relying on someone outside the organization to determine which stories are most relevant. Specific issues of interest to the media and our executives can change almost daily. While we have a good idea what’s “hot”, an outside editor is unlikely to keep up with those changes; their search may miss important news items.

Another approach is an in-house search by someone on the communications team. I’ve seen this done as a meta-search, a series of keywords and topics produces a number of stories which feed into an intranet report. This isn’t really any different from a large search conducted by an outside organization, except it’s easier on the budget and is more likely to be updated for current topics.

Search and editing can be conducted in-house, as I do. One of the key capabilities federal communicators offer is knowing which issues are most important both to our organization as well as media. We can anticipate what will make news and tailor our report to match our executives’ interests and stay up to date as issues change. The downside is it takes time. Some person, or persons, will have to dedicate a portion of their day to researching and reporting relevant news to key people in the organization. My dedicated time for clips begins at 6am, during my morning bus commute. It doesn’t end when I send clips at 8am. I’ll receive and review alerts throughout the day – for potential breaking news editions or stories to add the next morning – all while managing my other responsibilities.

When I came to my current position, news clips consisted of an occasional story, or two, sent via email to a few dozen people around the organization. They arrived at irregular intervals, sometimes a week or more between reports, in no particular format. When the person with that duty moved to another part of the organization, my boss turned to me (“additional duties as assigned”).

Given wide latitude to accomplish the task, I focused on creating a news search that would be useful to executives. A report is most useful if it gives your organization’s key players what they need when they need it. The report must be digestible to someone who doesn’t have a lot of time. Consistency comes into play, the clips are most likely to be followed if they deliver similar reports around the same time, each day, using the same format.

My original premise was the clips should take no longer than a few minutes to read (with an option to link to the full stories). The report should get an executive through their day without being “blindsided” by news stories they hadn’t seen or heard. I talked to communicators and executives and built an initial list of topics to follow, then created dozens of Google alerts using multiple keywords to narrow alerts to only the most pertinent (of which only a handful make the final cut). I also created alerts, on the same subjects, directly from major media outlets and smaller outlets that focus on government news.

From that original premise came guidelines:

  • The report goes out daily at 8:00 each morning.
  • Breaking news updates are sent when required.
  • The report is brief, only 4-10 stories.
  • The format is the same each day, both in terms of the general order of topics and font styles.
  • The format views well in both email and smartphone applications.
  • Each item includes a headline, source, one sentence that gives the gist of the article, and a link
  • The clips are sent to a select group each morning then posted to our intranet site (where they become a reference archive).
  • Avoid partisan opinions and stick to well-known news sources.
  • Pick one story that best represents broader coverage.
  • Back-ups are trained to publish clips when the primary person is out.

Feedback is important. Survey your readers to understand what is most useful to them.

You also may want to measure how many people are reading the news clips each day and how many times story links are used. It’s also good to measure broader awareness. Are most people aware and know how to subscribe to the news clips?  Although our daily clips are currently available to all employees on our intranet site, they aren’t widely publicized. Our growth to date has been word of mouth.

When done right, news clips can be a useful service that highlights your communications office in a positive way. The result can be worth the investment.

By Brad Benson, Bureau of the Fiscal Service