[CULTURE] When and why it’s important to stop “vetting” stories

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From time to time people ask me:

“Christoph, we are having trouble agreeing on what the right way is to “vet” stories.”
“What do you mean by ‘vet’?”
“Well, we meet to discuss stories for the blog, social media and e-newsletter every few weeks and look at all those story ideas people have submitted.”

And then the powers-that-be look at the stories and vet them. Vetting stories for publication often means:

  • Do we have something to say about this?
  • Does it have something to do with what we do?
  • Is it even interesting?
  • Are there any negative drawbacks if we share this?
    Will it offend somebody?

Good stories do usually don’t get agreement from everyone. If everyone agrees on everything it probably wasn’t that great of a story.

Recommended reading: 

The so-called organizational opinion

These are valid questions and they should be used in “vetting” stories, but vetting can also go too far and become an exercise in looking for excuses to not publish something. I’m all for editorial planning, by the way. 

[Tweet “”We can always find excuses to not share #authenticstories.” – @ctrappe”]

Recommended reading: 

I’m not a runner but I run! No excuses

Instead of thinking of vetting stories, I would change the process to instead use discussions to determine how to make a story interesting and relevant to the reader. Find a way to publish stories.

Two factors to consider:

  • The more unique to you or your organization the story is, the harder we should push to get it published.
  • The  more useful the story is to your readers, the harder we should push to get it published.

So what that means is that if the story answers questions that nobody else is currently answering in the way you are about to answer them, publish the story. Publish it now! Don’t wait.

[Tweet “”To be first, you have to go first.” – @ctrappe”]

The best content marketers and storytellers find a way to publish stories. That doesn’t mean they don’t kill stories. They do. I kill stories on here from time to time before publishing but after writing them. It can take the writing process to determine if the story can actually be shared in an interesting way.

When did I kill stories? It’s pretty much in line with the above:

  • When they weren’t educational
  • When my point of view was boring. I don’t mind having similar views as others, but blogging that I agree with everyone only, will likely be of little interest to anyone.
  • When they were rants. (OK, I got that out of the system. Now don’t accidentally publish it. Ha.)

That’s a case of where I’m the only one who approves my own content on the blog. Then there’s the case of organizational storytelling. Some organizations have several experts, front-line staff and others who share stories and expertise publicly and that’s great. Sometimes, marketing executives and others – like department heads – approve (aka vet) story ideas before stories have been even flushed out.

This can present a problem. The initial vetting is largely dependent on how good of a sales person the person presenting an idea is. If they aren’t or they summarize the wrong parts, a good story can be turned down in no time.

Once a journalist …

Newsrooms I’ve worked in used to vet stories before they were reported all the time. Some editor would get a wild idea on what the story could/would/should be and a reporter was then send out on the reporting trail to go get that story. And sometimes that worked. Other times, the reporter came back with another story. Sometimes a better story.  Depending on how in love the editor was with their initial story idea, though, that “new” story might easily get killed. “That’s not what we were planning for.”

Good stories happen all the time. Many are not shared widely because we miss them. But when people start noticing those stories that are worth sharing, make sure to find a way to share them. Tie them in with your overall mission, of course, but I’ve found this to be quite easy. If it happened to somebody involved with your organization, there’s already some connection.

Processes are fine and useful, but not when they kill stories that may potentially be worth sharing. How do we know what stories will resonate with our audiences? Only by sharing them first. Sometimes we can guess after we’ve done that a few times. 

Recommended reading:

Having a ghostwriter does not hurt authenticity

Interviewing techniques: Listening unveils stories

Go story shopping to not miss good stories

[Tweet “How do we know what stories will resonate with our audiences? Only by sharing them first.”]


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