While planning an Easter excursion to the South West this weekend, I was reminded of my time as a national newspaper reporter – and the recurring pain the dreaded Bank Holiday Getaway Story.
Newspapers are funny organisations – their raison d’être is to report what’s new, but they can also have a peculiar obsession with telling readers what they already know.
One common example of this is the weekly Saturday Weather Story, whereby most national papers will insist upon carrying a news piece on the weekend weather – even if it’s expected to be entirely mundane.
Another is the Bank Holiday Getaway Story, which crops up without fail in the latter part of the week preceding a public holiday to inform readers that over the coming weekend, just like on every public holiday since they were invented, the roads might be busier than usual.
Sometimes there is genuine news to report. Perhaps roadworks are going to make certain motorways even busier than usual, or bad weather is threatening to bring trains to a standstill. But often it’s simply more of the same, and the reporter’s task is therefore to generate a compelling news angle from thin air.
Of course, matching stories to the topics readers discuss around the breakfast table – from Government policies to the latest BBC costume drama – is a key part of being a journalist. You can’t simply report the things that fall into your lap and you often need to go out and get a quote or a fact that provides a new angle.
But having to do so repeatedly with something so utterly humdrum as bank holiday traffic is a unique form of torture for the reporter involved. What you inevitably end up with is an overbaked safety warning or a back-of-the-fag-packet estimate of how many people are going to be on the roads, which provides questionable value to the reader.
The journalist’s pain presents a real opportunity for PR, however. In a total vacuum of genuine news, any new take on the story – from figures on the most popular destinations to an entertaining survey on driving habits – stands a chance of getting coverage.
So while preparing your media diaries for the summer, don’t just think of the obvious opportunities like Wimbledon and Glastonbury Festival. Those subjects are interesting enough on their own without engineered PR angles – but if you can find a way to make predictably-higher-than-average traffic interesting, you could be onto a real winner.