Spike

Why release news?

Neil Stamper

 

 

A news release lets you decide what to say – unlike an interview where the interviewer chooses the questions. It also provides a permanent record of statements made to the media. A release gives media people an easy-to-digest summary which may become the basis for an interview or feature. Once received, it is always available and may be kept for reference.

Reasons to be newsful

News releases may serve different purposes. They:

  • give advance notice of an event
  • report on a meeting or other occasion
  • convey decisions reached or reactions felt
  • announce campaigns or give progress reports
  • provide background information
  • give details of a report or other publication
  • describe speeches in advance.

Checklist

Does your news release contain the five Ws?

What, who, where, when and why must be in the first few sentences – not necessarily in that order.

Do the first two lines contain the most interesting fact?

A busy news editor may have a pile of press releases. If those lines don’t catch his or her attention, the release will be binned.

Are the essential facts there?

Give a percentage rather than “huge”, the actual number who attended a meeting, the full names of speakers. Put the most important facts first.

Is the main idea repeated several times in different words?

Desirable for radio, may be clumsy for press releases.

Has the release a simple but strong headline (with a verb)?

Let the newspaper sub-editors think up a fancy one – they’re paid to do it.

Is the release targeted properly?

Media staff tend to open their own mail. Find out names of relevant correspondents or reporters – by phoning if necessary. If you have no name, address it to the news editor.

Are all the sentences short?

Aim for a maximum of 25-30 words. Try to have only one idea per sentence.

Is it in the active voice?

“Sid announced . . .”, not “It was announced by Sid that . . .”

Have you avoided negatives?

“Workers rejected . . .”, not “Workers have decided not to accept . . .”

Is the release peppered with active verbs?

Try: accuse, blame, demand, fight, warn, etc.

Is the release about a planned event?

Send it well in advance and follow up with a phone call, if necessary.

Have you slipped into jargon?

Avoid acronyms (eg AA). If you must use them, spell out in full first (eg Automobile Association). Shun clichés. Use simple language.

Have you included quotes?

The media love them. Even if banal, they are thought to “personalise” a news story.

Is the release embargoed?

For example, “NOT FOR USE UNTIL 8 pm MONDAY 1 FEBRUARY”. This is particularly useful for pre-speech releases or for releases accompanying reports that may take journalists a day or two to digest.

Is your release typed or word-processed?

Handwriting is seldom adequate.

Is the paper headed?

It helps if it is.

Is your release dated?

Essential.

Do you have extra space between text lines, and wide (40 mm) margins?

The white space (with a little luck) will be used for marking up the copy (text) before it is used.

Is it on A4 paper?

Little bits get mislaid too easily.

Is it too long?

Try to keep it down to one A4 sheet, especially for radio use.

Does the first page end with the end of a sentence?

Different pages may go to different type-setters, causing problems if a sentence runs across two sheets.

Do all sheets have page numbers and an abbreviated headline?

Another paper-loss or mixing preventive measure. It’s also helpful to put “MORE” at the foot of every page but the last, which should end with “ENDS” – separate from the text and in capitals.

Have you given a contact name and phone numbers?

This is vital for further information. Journalists seldom abuse home numbers.

Have you used a pin or a paperclip?

Staple it instead – staples don’t fall out.

Have you underlined anything?

Don’t – when the copy goes to the setters, underlining means set in italics.

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Comment welcomed by neil at wordpower.org.uk.