B Matter – A Proactive Approach to Delivering Deadline-Driven Pieces

By Eric Althoff and Bianca Vranceanu

The media is fast-moving and deadline-driven. Sometimes, key information is not available when a media opportunity or story idea arises. A key aspect to success in writing is to pre-write as much as possible, with the crucial “current” information filled in shortly before the deadline. This type of pre-writing is referred to as filling in the “B matter,” which is the journalistic term for drafting the story with as much relevant background information matter as possible so that, when the key information of the day (or “A-matter”) becomes available, you are able to seamlessly plug in the updated material and send the final copy to your editor.

To illustrate the importance of pre-writing the B matter, let’s take a hypothetical example:

You’re a beat reporter assigned to cover a city council meeting where the annual budget will be announced. This is an important story for the community, and the editor has given the reporter a hard deadline to email their draft from the meeting by 5 p.m. The issue is that the meeting isn’t supposed to take place until 4:30…and the council is notorious for showing up 15 or even 20 minutes late! No matter how experienced the writer is, this is a short time to turn around a major story. This is where pre-writing comes in. In preparation for the meeting, fill in the background information. This information can be gathered through research, such as looking at previous meeting minutes, talking to city council members, etc… Fill in the information that is at your disposal, this sets you up nicely when the detailed nuances are revealed.

By incorporating all of this into your draft before the meeting begins, you’re already 90 percent of the way there thanks to getting the B matter ready.

Another example is getting ready for an important decision from the Supreme Court. Written reports are conjured in much the same way: tons of B matter and background, waiting for the SCOTUS decision to reach their desks.

But what can we do if the court’s decision hasn’t yet been released? By prepping the B matter, legal precedents, and other news items leading up to the upcoming court decision, we can mold a draft on the matter at hand. Then, once the court decision is released, we fold in remarks from judges and attorneys that are specific to the ruling.

However, not every story hinges on the nation’s highest court. At Promova, we also draft press releases and blog posts for our clients – the same standard often applies in terms of pre-writing. Sometimes the precise information about the new title or the timing of the award is forthcoming, which makes it a perfect time to get rolling on that all-important B matter. Similarly to our earlier example about the city council meeting, there’s plenty of B matter to start with, such as:

  • What is the person’s name and how is it spelled properly? (Better to find out now than at the 11th hour)
  • What is their title? And, if they are being promoted, what are their former and new titles?
  • Who does this person report to? Should their supervisor be quoted?
  • What types of previous awards has this person received? What other accomplishments can you include in the B matter?
  • What community or volunteer efforts do they participate in?
  • Where was the person educated? What college or trade school? (Hello, LinkedIn!)
  • What trade or advocacy groups do they belong to?
  • If they’re receiving an award, what is the award called? When will it be awarded? Will there be an event?

Compiling this B matter material and working it into the press release or blog via pre-writing will save time later. Then, once the specifics from the source hit your inbox, it’s time to plug and play—and then ensure you get that all-important second pair of editing eyes on the case.

As writers, tight deadlines can be overwhelming, especially when you don’t yet have all of the information you need to get the job done. However, to parrot a phrase made famous in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t panic.” Pre-writing gets you ahead of the game—and will also make your product better since you’ve done your research and written background on the person or subject at hand. Working on the important B matter can quickly turn your work into A-plus material.