When the supporters of a local women's shelter go to all the work of running a book sale, they want as many customers as they can draw. They'll post notices on bulletin boards; they’ll list the World Wide Web address of their home page. They may advertise in the local media. And, they will probably distribute a news release.
A news release, also known as a media advisory or a press release, is very similar to a news article. It is a brief document that tells the most important information about a current event, such as a public lecture at a community college, an annual general meeting of a local political association, or a fundraising barbecue by the Girl Guides. You send the news release—often directly from your word processor through your computer as a fax or e-mail—to local newspapers, radio and television stations. If news of your event appears in the local media, you'll see more customers at that book sale to raise funds for battered women and children.
The media assignment editors read news releases to decide whether to send a reporter to an event or to present a story before the event. Sometimes your news release may simply tell the media your organization is holding a press conference. Then, you would make your announcement at the place and time indicated.
Creating the Content of an Effective News Release
Make it easy for your reader to give you the press or electronic media attention you want. Write your news release as you want it to appear in the newspaper or be broadcast on radio or television. Here are some tips for writing effective news releases. Begin by looking at figure 1, the sample news release, one actually sent to the media to try to encourage a local city government to oppose a workfare experiment.
In your news release, feature—prominently—the name of the organization calling the press conference or planning the event. If your group has a logo recognized in the community, include it in the release.
Most of the time, you will include a line that indicates the current date and says "For Immediate Release." If you have sensitive information—such as an announcement of a contest winner where the winner has to be notified first—you may write "For Release September 23."
Just as for a news article, be sure you tell what the event is, who is involved, where it is, when, why you doing this, and how.
Don't write more than about 250-500 words. When editors decide to report on your event, they can always phone for more information.
Summarize the most important part of your message in a single, pithy headline like those you read in news reports. There's no guarantee the media will use it, but it may catch their attention.
Be specific about the important details of your
event. If you are drawing attention to the need for funds for the local
humane society to neuter more animals, report a startling statistic such as
the number of pets that were put down because no one would adopt.
Clearly indicate the names of group members who can be phoned, faxed, or e-mailed for further information. Remember: You want the publicity; make it easy for the media reporters to help you out. Include a line that says "For More Information:" followed by the contact name and phone number.
Organizing an Effective News Release
Tell the most important news first. Assignment editors are busy people. If you save the most important information for later, the editor may not read enough before deciding not to send a reporter. Sometimes you might announce the whole event in one sentence. (Subsequent sentences will supply the details.)
Creating a News Release With Effective Appearance
An assignment editor will make a quick decision about whether to send a reporter to your event. Design your news release to create-immediately-a favourable impression.
Use 2.5 centimetre (one-inch) margins to create an uncluttered look. A print-dense document will make readers feel tired the moment they see it. Double-space all text, and use text enhancements such as boxes and lines to create an appearance that suggests it will be a pleasure to read this communication.
The eye of the reader will tend to be drawn to the part of the document with the largest text. If you want the reader to know immediately that this is a news release, emphasize that, but the organization name—particularly if it is well-known—is also important and so is the suggested headline.
Readers perceive pictures even faster than printed messages. If you include your organization's logo, the reader will see it immediately. It is a way to remind your reader—almost instantaneously—of everything already known about your group. If you've built a good reputation in your community, that will help you hold the editor's attention.
Activity 1: Practicing Writing News Releases
Pretend you're a member of the Golden Horseshoe Social Action Committee. You read in the newspaper that interested parties are invited by the Ontario Legislative Assembly Administration of Justice Committee to present at public hearings their thoughts about legalizing VLT's at race tracks, taverns, and charity gambling venues. Write a news release to interest the media in your presentation opposing the introduction of video lottery terminals in your province. You've got the nod from the committee, as Linda Rogers did, to present a ten-minute position paper to the hearing.
Look over the notes Linda made as she researched VLT's, and write a one-page news release. Be sure to turn some of Linda's notes into quotations; imagine what she will say to the committee. Include some of the other quotes, but don't use MLA style to reference them: It is not usual in a news release, although it was done in the written paper that she prepared for the presentation, distributed to the committee members, made available to interested reporters at the hearing, and later saw in Hansard.
Don't mimic the appearance of the example; try to apply the general suggestions to create a release that has all the essentials, but looks a little different.
Answer to Activity 1: Practicing Writing a News Release
Jackie, and Tania Stirpe. Gambling in Ontario: A Report From a
on the Game." Maclean's. 9 Jan. 1995: 32.
Video Gambling a Winning Move?" Toronto Star. 10 Aug. 1996: A10.
Downplays B.C. VLT Decision." Alberta Report. 5 June 1995: 43.
of the Bars and Back Into the Community." Alberta Report. 18 Sep.
Backlash Begins." Alberta Report. 18 Dec. 1995: 42.
Priti. "No Safe Bet." Kitchener-Waterloo Record. 3 June
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