Case study

Social Licence: Getting feel-good stories on the front page


Stories of international education in your organisation, school or region do not have to be serious or complicated. Often, the most intriguing news stories are of everyday people doing good in their communities.

We refer to these as “soft-news” stories, as they are underpinned by a human-interest angle. You can successfully land these stories if you ensure you tick all the right boxes that make up a news story.

We’ll show you how Learning Hawke’s Bay landed a positive story about international education in Hawke’s Bay Today which was syndicated in the New Zealand Herald – following an exclusive pitch offering the story solely to one target journalist, and asking them to confirm their interest by a specific date.

Lindisfarne College year 12 student Sean Lagikula has been volunteering his weekends at the Women’s Refuges in Hastings and Napier. Image credit: Warren Buckland

Crafting a story that New Zealanders care about

When a journalist is considering whether to report on a story, they will run it through what we like to call the “newsworthy litmus test.” This considers if the subject matter is timely, topical, a world or New Zealand-first event, has local or regional relevance, a new solution or breakthrough, or has a social impact that people care about.

Learning Hawke’s Bay discovered that international students at Lindisfarne College have been giving up their weekends to volunteer at the local Women’s Refuge. The students compile care packages and maintain its gardens as a way of giving back to the local community who have welcomed them with open arms.

At the time, the Hawke’s Bay community was facing a rise in the demand for Women’s Refuge services, with lockdowns proving to be a time of increased domestic violence. The student volunteers were an obvious heart-warming example of how people in the community are volunteering their free time to support women and families in need.

In our angle planning, we discovered this volunteer work had also been happening for roughly five-years, so we decided to cement the news hook in a 5-year-anniversary story to strengthen timeliness, combined with the human-interest angle.

Three international students from Lindisfarne College maintaining Women’s Refuge safe house gardens

Finding the right person for the job

Some of your local journalists will specialise in covering community news, while others will have a particular interest in education, volunteering, or issues around gender and ethnicity. The next step will be to find the journalists who you think care about the story you are trying to share.

You can do this by looking at the stories journalists have recently written, either on their publication’s website or through their Muckrack media profile. Twitter profiles can also give you a good perspective into the issues they care about.

Learning Hawke’s Bay decided to focus on one journalist at Hawke’s Bay Today, a local newspaper with a small, dedicated team reporting on community news. The story was pitched to the journalist using a media release with details of the five-year anniversary, photographs and quotes from teachers and students. After not hearing back from the journalist for a few days, we followed up by calling the news desk and talking through the story on the phone. As a result, the story was covered the following week.

Developing the perfect assets

One of the best ways to demonstrate newsworthiness and the social licence narrative is through your quotes. Quotes a crucial part of any story as they offer a first-hand perspective, enabling you to demonstrate why people should care.

Two international students who volunteered at the Women’s Refuge were quoted in the school’s media release. The quotes shared how the experience offered the chance to give back to the New Zealand community while learning important life values. For example, Year 12 student Sean Lagikula said:

“My family back in New Caledonia is happy that I am able to give something back to my New Zealand community. Helping others who are in need is a very important part of our culture.”

Media release quotes were also drafted for Lisa Miles, Lindisfarne College Director of International Students, to share how both the school and community benefit from the generosity of their international students.

“In doing our volunteering work year-in and year-out, generations of Lindisfarne students are not only getting the opportunity to give back, but also to learn valuable life skills along the way. We hope that we can continue this relationship for many years, and that we can help more boys grow up to be men, partners and fathers of good character.”

Ask a question, leave an answer or add a tip

You cannot post comments until you have logged in. Login Here.

No one has commented on this page yet.