How Magicians Can Make the News – A Journalist’s Perspective

As a working journalist with several year’s experience in national newspapers I thought I may be able to present some useful working knowledge for my fellow students.

A point of note – this piece is about at how to get news coverage. Areas such as attracting reviews are not delved into.

What is news?

There are several varieties of news stories, coming under a wide range of genres. These broadly come under two categories – hard and soft news.

Hard news stories include areas such as crime, court stories, finance and politics.

Soft news includes animal stories, entertainment, fashion and human interest.

Stories about magicians usually come under either celebrity or human interest, Of course there are exceptions, such as Roy Horn’s tiger accident, David Copperfield’s FBI investigation, or more historically the deaths of Houdini and The Great Lafayette, but these are exceptions.

At this stage it is probable that any story you will be involved in will be human interest, and it is important for your publicity seeking efforts if you know what makes a good story.

Local or national?

Before pitching your story however it is important to know whether it will attract local or national coverage.

With creativity it is possible for an unknown magician to get national coverage.

Something important to remember is it is extremely unlikely that winning a magic competition will make national headlines, with the possible exception of FISM, or other notable competitions.

However local newspapers need that sort of fodder all the time, and will be absolutely delighted to hear from you. As a benefit you will have a press clipping and perhaps get some free professional photos.

What is a story?

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, you will be appearing in the news for positive reasons. Of course it is very difficult to sell good news with the constant barrage of death and destruction in the world, so you need to be unique.

Winning a magic competition is a good way to get positive local press. It may also attract national attention if the magician is especially old or young*, or if there was some bizarre event on the way there.

For example you were arrested in a case of mistaken identity, were finally released and then made your way straight to the show to give a winning performance with no preparation. Another possibility would be cancelling your wedding as it clashes with the big contest.

I have a personal example, when I got some publicity for a fellow magician who won the Scottish national title. On the face of it it was a pretty boring story, but he told me he had broke his arm in a skateboarding accident, which meant he could not his move his hand and wrist properly. I hung the story on that and he got a full page story in one of the country’s biggest Sunday newspaper and a little bit in the country’s biggest daily. It was a good return for the rather mundane story of a magician winning the Scottish national close-up competition.

An interesting caveat is the fact this injury happened when he was a teenager years ago, but with clever writing it appeared to have happened much more recently – which was key to the story being printed! I write this because having a bit of licence with the truth can be beneficial. But do not make up wild lies, as they are sure to bite you in some way.

Other potential story ideas could include – if you have an animal act, your animals having offspring, Even if it is not the most amazing story, baby animal pictures play big. A magicians rabbit giving birth while loaded in a top hat would be a hilarious story. A superfat magician losing weight so he can do the metamorphosis effect, preferably winning a big event into the bargain. These two ideas are examples of stories that could attract local, national and perhaps radio and television coverage.

If you bump into a celebrity in a pub, wow them with an effect and then they buy you a drink it would be a great story. Just make sure to get pics if you want to be believed. And the status of the star is important too. If you wow the likes of Clint Eastwood or Brangelina you are more likely to get press than if you impress Deacon Blue’s Dougie Vipond. I heard Barack Obama is a good guy to get just now!

Stunts may also be effective ways of attracting publicity, but it has to be spectacular to get national attention if you are an unknown. For example, escaping from the jail of a famous castle, getting pushed off the edge of a famous landmark in a crate and making a miraculous escape, being set on fire in a city square. Stunts are not as easy to sell as a very good human interest story, partially because it is hard to replicate the feats of the famous magicians, but it can be done.

What media?

As a newspaper reporter I have to be be biased and suggest newspapers.

The reason for this is newspapers feed rest of the media. A good local story may be picked up by a national newspaper, and the broadcast media often look at newspapers to find good quirky stories for their news bulletins.

Press agencies are a good place to get national coverage. As a former agency reporter my job was to find stories that could be sent to every national newspaper. Agencies have their own photographers and reporters, and know how to sell a story.

National newspapers often rely on agencies to scout out good local stories and provide them with the words and pics, so working with an agency could give you a far better chance of getting coverage.

Of course if you are proactive you could approach your local radio station to do radio magic – you would likely not get paid, but get some very precious free exposure.

If you have a story look-up the local newspapers and news agencies in your area. The person to ask for is the news editor, and if your story is interesting enough they will be delighted to hear from you.

If Your Story is Picked Up…

Do not mess about reporters and photographers. They have busy schedules and expect you to be punctual and reliable. By contrast they also appreciate flexibility – if there is a murder you will drop down the priority list. Be easy to deal with and your chances of exposure will be far higher.

Wear the right gear. Cliches like top hats, playing cards and magic wands may not be your preferred image, but they make you look like a magician. A magician in jeans and a t-shirt will not look good in print. A flamboyant look is far better, as magicians are meant to be glamorous and, well, slightly weird.

Also have props ready for the pics and, very important, SMILE for the camera. People will be reading your story for entertainment and light relief among the heavier news items.

If you have any, have pictures from your younger days available. They make for a more attractive picture spread.

The same tips go for TV and radio, though obviously it is less important to look good for radio. But you also have to sound polished and confident, while this is not so vital when chatting to a press reporter.

A Final Thought

If one story idea does not work, try pushing it to more news editors and agency chiefs. If it still does not work, move on. There is no point wasting your energy on something that is clearly not worth the effort.

*enter a show Charles from Switzerland!

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