Credit: Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

Thousands of news stories are published online around the world and shared on social media every day. With so much content being produced globally, the crucial question for journalists is often how to make their work stand out amongst the noise.

Robert Cottrell, a former journalist for both the Financial Times and The Economist, has been sifting through hundreds of articles a day to hand-pick five stand-out articles for his newsletter The Browser.

On a podcast with Journalism.co.uk, Cottrell said there are two golden rules for getting readers hooked onto an article: a strong start to the piece and a credible writer.

"If a piece does not begin well, then there is very little chance that it’s going to get better later. If you’re writing a piece and you can’t say something compelling in the first paragraph, it’s a bit much to expect that somebody will read on in the hope of finding something compelling later on," he said.

"The best predictor of the quality of a piece is the writer. If I want to read a piece by Susan Orlean, I’ll read Susan Orlean whether she’s in the New Yorker or the Atlantic or the Financial Times.

"It really doesn’t matter - I would follow the writer far more than the publication, so if it’s by a writer whom I know to write well, then I’m always going to give it a bit more space."

Cottrell also said that a big factor in determining whether an article makes it to his daily digest is the headline. He stressed that a poor headline not only reflects badly on the article itself, but also for the publication it is produced for.

"If your purpose is to generate traffic, then the headline matters terribly. What you really want to do is to grab that strong idea, extract it and the rest is basically context," he explained.

But, when it comes to the actual content of the piece, what works well and what will keep a reader gripped through to the end?

From his ten years at The Browser, he said he finds stories written with an emotional connection to the topic of the piece are particularly appealing to audiences.

"I want to feel that the writer is telling me something that they personally fully understand and very possibly that they understand from experience.

"You can only get honesty and you can only get authenticity when to some degree you’re immersed in whatever you’re writing about."

However, he admitted that creating such content is not always possible with the deadlines always looming, but he said that when it does happen, it stands out even more as a result.

"What you want from a piece is a sense of having a conversation with the most interesting person you've ever met in your life. You can only do that if you feel the writer is speaking very intense and preferably first-hand knowledge.

"That, to me, is a very good argument for diversity in journalism of all kinds."

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