"Writing the News Release"
by Merry Bruns,
Anthropology departments and organizations can certainly put out
their own news releases, but following certain guidelines will ensure that they'll be read.
Above all else, make sure your news is "real news".
The major complaint of most editors is that they're swamped with "useless press releases"-the news may be important to the individual or the organization, but has little of real news value for the newspaper's general readers.
Remember that "news" is something that people want to read about. Ask yourself:
- How does your news affect most peoples' lives?
- Why should the public be interested in your topic?
- Can your news be presented with an angle that will catch people's curiosity and GET them interested?
Use standard 8 1/2 by 11-inch paper. Stick to plain white, with your department/organization's logo, including name and number of the person you want the media to contact.
If you choose to go with colored paper, use pastels - bright colors can sometimes be seen as gimmicky.
- typewritten, double-spaced
- one one side of the paper only
- try to keep the release to one page - leave lots of "white space"
- at the end of the page (bottom), type
# # #
to indicate the end of the release.
- If the release must run to more than one page, indicate this by typing
at the bottom of the page.
- Always STAPLE pages together.
- Don't send carbon copies-letter quality photocopies are best for multiples.
Date the release so that the editor will know it's current and so that the information can be properly identified at a later time.
When do you want the news to get out? You have several choices-put the release information at the top of the page:
- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(This means the medium can use it as soon as it is received.)
- FOR RELEASE: Friday June 16
(This means the material may NOT be used before that date).
- FOR RELEASE: Friday June 16 or thereafter
(This indicates that the material will be pertinent that date and after).
Put a brief headline that says what the release is about-this is all some editors have time to read, so be sure it reflects what your news is about as concisely and interestingly as possible.
WRITING THE RELEASE:
Use journalistic, "inverted pyramid" style:
The most important facts go in the first paragraph, with additional information in the following paragraphs, in descending order of importance.
(This style is used so that editors can "cut from the bottom"when working with space limitations on stories. )
- Keep the style simple, factual, and jargon-free. Avoid compound sentences; split one long sentence into two if necessary.
- Tell your news briefly, and put the most important information, as concisely as possible, into that first paragraph.
- Try to have your first paragraph answer the "most important basic element" of your story.
- Get as much information as possible into the first paragraph, but maintain a readable style.
- Break one overly-long paragraph into two, if necessary. (Two sentences per paragraph is a good rule of thumb.)
That first paragraph-the "lead"- is very often all the editor has time to read, (if he or she gets past the headline).
It's up to you to make the first paragraph as catchy and informative as possible.
A news release must contain the same key elements that journalists use,
the "5 W's and an H":
Make an outline of your news, and try and answer each of these questions as briefly as possible. Your answers will determine the format of your release.
- and how?
You can add additional information/paragraphs to the release in one of two ways:
When through writing: PROOFREAD, several times at least.
- chronologically, or
- in order of relative importance to the main point.
(Nothing looks worse, or less professional, than a news release with misspellings.)
Double-check facts, figures, punctuation, sentence, and paragraphs.
Quotes and spelling of names must be accurate.
Who will you send your release to?
Newspapers are still the backbone of publicity. Send your release to your local papers, television and radio stations.
Don't overlook magazines - popular science and trade.
If your department is Internet-savvy, consider putting up a Web site with press releases online, and let online journalists know about it.
If the news will interest, or have relevance to a larger area, check the Bacon's or Gedde's Publicity Guides from the library, and mail your release to the General News, Science, or City Editors-always by personal name, if possible.