Think Like a Journalist

In perusing various e-news sites, I’m often flabbergasted (and I don’t use that word often) by what I see being passed off as press releases or media advisories. They are poorly written and don’t reflect well on the submitting organizations.

Many of these e-news sites will publish just about anything you upload, but I wonder what, if any, coverage these organizations receive if they actually send out these press announcements to members of the media.

For instance, one press release contained the headline “Stone Soup.” What is the reader or journalist supposed to think that is? Apparently it was a fundraiser at a local church, but you wouldn’t know that from the headline.

Some releases read like gushing ad copy. If it reads like an ad, I’m sure the media outlet would be more than happy to sell you ad space.

I recognize many of these announcements are not being generated by public relations professionals, and my advice to anyone distributing press announcements is to think like a journalist.

  • Make sure your headline encapsulates what the news is. Include the organization’s name and a strong verb. Don’t try to be too cute or clever with your headlines.
  • In the “inverse pyramid” format of news, you include the most important information in the top paragraph. The next paragraph includes less important information, and so on, and so on. Don’t bury critical details way down in the release.
  • Keep your paragraphs short. You’re not writing a William Faulkner novel. If you read newspaper and news sites, you’ll see that most paragraphs are only a few sentences long.
  • Keep quotes brief, informative and relevant. Resist the urge to puff up the quote so much that it doesn’t sound like conversational English.
  • Take out the overexcited and self-referential ad copy. Make the release read like it was written by an objective third party. If you must gush, temper it and put it in a quote.
  • Include your contact information. Make sure the reporter can reach you by phone or email, and be responsive to their queries.

Above all, I would advise organizations to seriously consider if their announcement is truly newsworthy. As S&A Cherokee founder Ron Smith has been known to say, “If nobody but your mama cares about it, it’s not news.”

Author: Glenn Gillen, APR
Glenn Gillen is our Senior Account Manager.

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