Creating News


You’re writing a media release (formerly called a “press release”) announcing the hiring of a new president.

Your opening paragraph might look something like this:

XYZ Corporation is announcing the hiring of Mary Doe as president. Mary has been with Acme Widgets for twelve years, the past six as vice president for product development. She invented the Writing Widget, which surpassed revenue projections by more than 150 percent in the first twelve months….

After you scribble a few more paragraphs about Mary and her background and achievements—having said everything that might be considered pertinent for a media release—you’re ready to edit. As you read what you’ve written, tweaking the vocabulary and correcting the punctuation, you might notice something that many writers of media releases notice when they review their first drafts:

It’s boring. It’s not news. There’s no “hook,” nothing to grab the reader’s attention.

Media releases: What’s news?

Writing a media release is more about promotional savvy than writing skill. The fact that your company has lured Mary away from Acme offers little news value unless Mary is famous, has climbed Mount Everest in a bikini, is 14 years old, or stands out in some other way. Being hired is not newsworthy.

Whatever the anomaly that makes Mary special or her hiring a reason to celebrate, you owe it to your audience to share that information. As you are seeking to serve your readers or listeners, you need to give them something useful, interesting, amusing, or otherwise beneficial. Without that, all you’ve done is throw more words onto the massive pile that grows by the trillions minute by minute. I suspect that all that hot air is the real cause of global warming.

Let’s assume that if there were nothing remarkable about Mary you wouldn’t have hired her. It’s possible, though, that her qualifications are esoteric, not of interest to the general public. If that’s the case, then the newsworthy portion of your media release might be the open house that XYZ Corp is going to host in order to introduce Mary to the community.

Once you’ve etched the bare facts onto your shitty first draft, checked it out to see if it makes its point and that point is worth reading, and revised it if necessary, then it’s time to rewrite—making it succinct, well organized, grammatically correct, and so forth. Finally, ask someone else to look it over for those same attributes. Every company has an employee who seems to have a knack for proofing. Enlist that person’s aid.

The finished product might begin like this:

Meet Mary Doe, the new president of XYZ Corporation and inventor of the Writing Widget, the popular handheld device that supplies instant vocabulary on thousands of topics.

Mary will present five free 30-minute Widget Workshops at the times and places listed below. Sign up and you’ll automatically enter a drawing for a free Writing Widget, a $49 value.

Why is the final media release so different from the first draft? XYZ Corp has wisely determined that Mary’s new job, in itself, has little news value but could be a vehicle for exposure of its hottest product.

Not every media release requires a lot of fanfare. News stories should answer the basic questions—who, what, where, when, why, and how? But you should put all your media releases to the final test—the key question—which is “so what?” If you pass the draft around to colleagues and the typical reaction is a very long yawn, you’d better go back to the drawing board and find a way to pump up your story so that media will be interested enough to print, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate it.

To be continued…

From Annagrammatica’s Little Book of Practical Writing

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