By Helen Mooney on 20 August 2019
In conversation with… Laura Donnelly, Health Editor, The Telegraph
In the first in our series of conversations with industry leaders, Laura Donnelly – The Telegraph’s Health Editor – reveals what makes the grade when it comes to getting a health story published in a national newspaper.
What do you look for in a potential health story?
In the main I look for controversies, firsts, stories with a strong “consumer” angle, so ‘news you can use’ to change your own life, counterintuitive discoveries and things you wouldn’t expect to boost health, leaked documents, rows, revelations, scandals, eye-catching new ideas and policies, or the wider roll-out of products.
What are you impressed by in a story?
Credibility – if research comes from somewhere like Cambridge or Harvard, it helps.
I want to see a clear message, strong quotes and lively language.
Quantification, context and an explanation of what will happen and where something could lead. I also appreciate advance notice.
What are you unimpressed by in a story?
Surveys – they are overused, and often based on poor questions. And there are too many surveys about ‘awareness’, which rarely work.
Corporate jargon and buzzwords, vague data – one year snapshots, or data that doesn’t show trends. Poor quotes and late reaction – especially when it welcomes whatever yesterday’s story was.
What sources do you mainly rely on to get your information and stories on health sector developments?
Exclusives tend to come from personal contacts, policy experts, academics, think tanks, charities, Government, NHS, public relations and people working in health and science.
There is a very busy daily diary in health – so I also scour hundreds of releases via email, along with medical journals, trade publications and social media, as well as getting information from conferences and briefings.
Emails are the best way to pitch daily news, with a clear subject line and embargo.
Exclusives are more likely to fare better in weekend papers rather than in the crush of daily stories. The Telegraph is a seven-day operation so I am always looking out for stories that could work on different days.
What trends are you following and taking seriously?
In policy terms, Government commitments tend to be biggest when promises are made – or broken. We won’t track every twist and turn, but pledges like “digital first” NHS or the roll-out of video consultations get a lot of attention at the time.
We tend to come back to them when there has been some kind of significant development, or controversy. Certain broad subjects have a lot of news potential. These include public health and obesity – especially in terms of debate about the role of the state and society. Also areas like dementia and social care, childhood in the digital age, and the impact of social media.
What makes a Telegraph front page story?
Newspapers need a mix of stories, and there has been a pretty solid diet of Brexit and Boris of late. Health is often the story that breaks through, and the best stories are those that spark a debate.
If in doubt about whether an exclusive is likely to work for your target audience, it can be worth pulling together a few basic bullet points and running it past a journalist.
What is your number one tip for anyone trying to pitch to the Telegraph?
Read the paper! Every day’s newspaper provides a clear exposition of exactly the kind of stories that are most likely to be published, and the details involved.
You can follow Laura Donnelly on Twitter @lauradonnlee