Guest Post: If newspaper editors taught media relations

This guest post comes from Daryl James, former newspaper editor and reporter turned communications pro.  Daryl also taught news writing as an adjunct professor at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2007 and 2008.
 

I never studied PR, so I don’t know what they teach in school about the proper way to write a news release. But I do have some knowledge about the proper way to delete a news release. As a newspaper editor at the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., I did this hundreds of times each week. Here’s what ran through my mind as I made the decision:

I’m late for a meeting. I’ve got three stories to edit before I can go home — including one by the reporter who should have been fired three years ago because she can’t write. I’m on the phone with an angry reader who doesn’t pause between sentences, and my second line is flashing. That’s when your e-mail pops into my in box. I’ve already looked at 50 news releases today, and most have been irrelevant to anything my readers care about. If I don’t know who you are, you’ve got less than five seconds to sell me a story. If we have a friendly relationship, then you’ve got 15 seconds. So what do you put in the new release to save yourself from my trash bin?

1. Just the facts. PR professors must teach students to write news releases in story format (because most come this way). But all this does is waste my time. A better format would be bullet points. All I need to know is who, what, why, where when and how.

2. It’s not about you. I don’t care if your company did something wonderful. Go tell your mother. My job is to give readers stories they care about. It’s about them, not you. So tell me why my readers should care about your news release.

3. Don’t make me work. I won’t open an attachment. Paste your news release into the body of the e-mail, or it won’t get read (unless you use any combination of the following words in the subject line: sex, naked, helicopter crash, bridge collapse, Brittney Spears).

4. Don’t lie. If you oversell your story or leave out key facts, my reporter will find out. Then your future news releases will be treated like spam.

5. Know your audience. Show evidence that you understand the focus of my publication and who subscribes.

8 Responses to “Guest Post: If newspaper editors taught media relations”

  1. rachelesterline (Rachel M. Esterline ) - February 19th, 2009

    If newspaper editors taught PR – a guest post on @ArizonaBrian‘s blog: http://www.theprpractitioner.com/?p=313

    [Reply]

  2. Rachel M. Esterline .:. A Step Ahead - February 19th, 2009

    Thanks for the advice. I think since I am a journalism minor, writing a press release isn’t too difficult. I recently have been sent releases that have nothing to do with my blog, so I think that outlook will make me think twice before doing it to a journalist in the future!

    [Reply]

  3. jesslaw (Jessica Lawlor) - February 19th, 2009

    RT @rachelesterline f newspaper editors taught PR – a guest post on @ArizonaBrian‘s blog: http://www.theprpractitioner.com/?p=313

    [Reply]

  4. jesslaw (Jessica Lawlor) - February 19th, 2009

    RT @rachelesterline If newspaper editors taught PR – a guest post on @ArizonaBrian‘s blog: http://www.theprpractitioner.com/?p=313

    [Reply]

  5. Charlotte Risch - February 19th, 2009

    I am stealing this blog post and passing it out at a PR workshop I am teaching this weekend to non-profits. This is great “straight from the horse’s mouth” stuff!

    [Reply]

  6. Dawn - February 19th, 2009

    Additional advice from a television news journalist:
    1. Make sure everything is spelled correctly, including the name of the person you’re sending it to. (I have a folder of “bad” press releases to show classes when I go to speak to them.)
    2. Make sure you know the proper prefix for the person’s name. I’m Dawn, not Don, and that makes me a Ms., not a Mr.
    3. Once you send the press release, don’t call us, we’ll call you. We get 150-200 of these things every day, and I guarantee, when you call to “check on it”, you will call during the worst time – like we’re in the middle of breaking news. That just makes me delete the release, or throw it out.

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  7. Tips I Wish I’d Learned « PR Campaigns - The blog - February 21st, 2009

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