What Makes a Great Profile or Program Story?

A good way to think about a story is to start by saying what it is not: A profile story is not a biography. A program story should not read like a brochure. We strive to go beyond telling people what we want them to know and to feel about UNLV; we try to engage them through authentic, well-crafted journalistic stories. These stories tell us not only what happened, but also why and how. They focus on the experience, emotion, and impact in the story.

Our Approach: Audience First

UNLV’s primary communication tools reach broad audiences. We must speak to a “general audience,” not an academic one, not an industry-specific one.

What is appealing to a general audience is the same thing that is appealing to you: Stories with drama or humor. Stories that are relatable, that inspire, that make us cringe or react in some way.


“Newsworthiness” can be subjective, but there are some basic journalistic principles we use when evaluating an idea:

  • Timing
  • Significance
  • Famous people and places
  • Proximity
  • Human interest

The more of these factors that a story hits, the more likely it is a newsworthy story.

1. Timing

What makes this person noteworthy right now? Is something happening in the world/ Nevada that makes this person’s expertise that much more interesting?

  • An alum who heads the National Earthquake Information Center is more newsworthy after a major earthquake than she was the day before.
  • An event recap is often less interesting than a preview of an upcoming one. If I can’t attend, why would I read about it?

2. Significance

Significance has to do with how many people the story affects.

  • An alum who quietly won a landmark case on home foreclosures can speak to an important issue affecting any homeowner. A biographic profile of an attorney who runs a successful corporate law firm is likely less significant to readers.

Often, an alum who won an award from their respective professional association is suggested as a profile story. That always merits a Class Note (submitted at unlv.edu/classnotes). A feature profile must tell us why the honor significant to a lot of our readers

  • The Nevada CPA association might bestow an award on a member who’s done a lot of service to the group, but that only matters to those in the profession. That CPA might merit a profile in CPA Journal of America but not UNLV Magazine. However, if the alum won that award because he started a mentoring program with UNLV students might, the timing of the award adds another reason to do the story now.

3. Famous People/Places

This one’s easy. If they’re in national media, there’s a connection to readers’ lives.

  • Guy Fieri was profiled after he won the Food Network show, not when he was “merely” a successful restaurant owner.
  • Eric Whitacre was more interesting after his TED Talk and Grammy nomination than before. And making his story even better for us: he wrote UNLV’s alma mater, which makes him always notable.

4. Proximity

In the general media, this means that a story might be newsworthy simply because it happened in our city. For UNLV, this could mean someone is newsworthy because his/her actions relate to UNLV.

  • UNLV history/traditions rate extremely well with our audiences, so a doctor who also has been part of the UNLV pep band for 20 years would be profiled before another successful doctor-alum. The story would focus on the pep band angle though we’d cover his professional success by default. And we’d explain what both he and we get out of his continuing affiliation with UNLV.
  • An alumnus business owner involved in the revitalization of downtown Las Vegas would likely come before someone who’s revitalizing Peoria.
  • Caveat: We tend to focus TOO much on proximity in choosing subjects. While readers who don’t live here are still interested in the city, we could improve efforts to reach out beyond Southern Nevada.

5. Human Interest — “I-know-it-when-I-see-it”

So many profiles fall into this category and may have none of the other elements that help determine newsworthiness.

This often is about EMOTION. And telling a story through EXPERIENCE.

  • Any anecdotes you can tell about your subject help ferret this out. What personal experiences can they relay?
  • This is what separates “successful doctor/business owner/lawyer” from the thousands of others among our graduates. If you want to convince me someone is worthy of a story, start by finding these nuggets.

Some elements that play into the Human Interest:

  • Conflict – If a person or organization is battling something. Can be internal (her own emotions) or external (at odds with another person/entity).
  • Tragedy/underdog – Overcoming it, especially if that’s done in a novel way
  • Superlatives – Biggest, smallest, worst, best, only, longest, shortest
  • Transformation — This is especially important if the origin of that transformation can be linked to the UNLV experience
  • Relatable —Is this an everyday person facing everyday issues and overcoming them in an extraordinary way?
  • Quirky and bizarre — Odd jobs or hobbies. One of our grads drives the Spam-mobile … the thought kind of makes you smile, huh? Fortunately, he could also articulate how his degree helped him gain success while living a very cool and different lifestyle.