A. WRITING NEWS RELEASES
Write news releases to let the public know that a meeting or event is coming, to report what was done or said in a meeting, a decision a group has made, a project that is undertaken, or a human interest story about how the event has affected certain people. News should be news–not history. It should be timely, local, important, a change or conflict, unusual, or have human interest.
1. Collect Information Get as much background information as you can. Cover WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW. This is the most important information and should be found in the first two to four paragraphs of the article. Be accurate. Check spelling of names and places. Check dates carefully. Avoid using jargon or abbreviations.
Interviewing people in order to get data for a news release is a good idea even if you have been with the group a long time. Such an interview can give you a fresh perspective, help you see a new angle, or lead you to another person to interview. You can also use quotes to liven up the release. Human interest success stories are used frequently, especially in home town newspapers.
2. Organize Ideas The lead sentence is the basic idea, expressed as clearly and briefly as possible. It will be what grabs the reader’s attention and what makes the reader decide whether or not to keep on reading. Make it interesting. Focus on people, then places, then things. Avoid starting the story with “The,” “A,” or “An.”
Remember the “inverted pyramid” style of writing which places the most important information first and any other information in descending order of importance. Be sure all the information that is needed comes early in the story and extra information is towards the end, in case your article is cut. Reporters have to fill specific spaces and sometimes have to cut off an inch or two. You don’t want to lose the most important details. Test your story: Will it make sense if it is cut from the bottom, paragraph by paragraph? If the reader scans just the lead, will they know the main facts?
3. Type It In Format Use plain white paper, standard 8-1/2″ x 11″ size. (Avoid onion skin or tissue type paper.) Type on one side only, double-space, and use 1″ margins on all sides. At the top left of the page, type the date, name of contact person (in case more information, clarification, etc. is needed), address, and phone number. Drop about 1-1/2″ and write a simple subject-verb headline. (This isn’t absolutely necessary but is very helpful in identifying the article.) Leave another inch, and type your lead and the rest of the story. Be sure to double space, and indent each paragraph at least five spaces.
Try to limit the news release to one page. If this isn’t possible, and you need to go on to another page, type at the bottom of the page: MORE. In the left hand corner of the second page type: Page 2, and your headline. Complete the story, and type at the end: -30-. (This is a printer’s symbol for “the end.”)
4. Photos or Graphs If you want to use photos, check with the paper first to make certain that your article will be printed. If you use them, make sure you select sharp, action-oriented black and white glossy prints. They should be identified on the back and accompanied by a caption–a statement describing the action and identifying the persons involved. Sometimes papers want to take their own photos and would welcome your assistance in getting the people and place arranged.
If charts or other graphic materials help explain the program, include them with the news release. They should be clean, sharp, and attractive; black and white is best.
5. Express Thanks Thank stations and newspapers for their support. Accept their assessment of how newsworthy your event is and what they are willing to cover. Help them is they ask for help. Sometimes they need help at the last minute, and if they know you are available, it will open doors in the future. If you are spending money on ads, consider supporting the media that have been helpful to you when you asked for free space. Place ads or spots with them. In addition to the daily paper(s) and local radio/tv stations, don’t overlook weekly newspapers, shopper guides, and local magazines.
B. FEATURE STORIES
In addition to information about an event or situation, features may interpret, color, instruct, or entertain. Instead of the 5 W’s lead that is necessary for a news story, open a feature story by setting the stage and grabbing the reader’s attention. A feature lead will seldom stand alone, but it is so interesting that the reader is hooked. A quote, a dramatic statement, a question, or a slogan are a few of the possibilities. Both news and feature writing require a free flowing style, using short sentences, short paragraphs, easy words, active verbs, and transitions. Examples of transitions are: As a result, Consequently, Therefore, This means that, Furthermore, However, All in all, On the other hand, In comparison, Another approach is, In spite of
C. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Another excellent way to get an organization’s story out to a large audience is for one of the members to write a letter to the editor. (This is the place for personal opinions, not in the news release.) Care must be taken not to sound like the town crackpot. The letter must be logical and show some reasoning. Other guidelines are:
- Make it topical, clear, and lively.
- Stick to a few points; be brief.
- Be sure spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct.
- Take sharp issue with an article or editorial, and you’ll stand a good chance of getting the letter published.
- Avoid praise of an article or editorial without including additional background information on the topic.
- Sign all letters clearly, and include address and telephone number.
D. GETTING STARTED
There are few things more intimidating than a blank page. Just start writing! Set a scheduled deadline for yourself. You can always find something else that could be done. There’s no convenient time. Check out the published work. Pat yourself on the back.
E. WHEN YOU ARE INTERVIEWED
If you are asked to be on a radio or tv talk show, keep in mind these tips:
- Answer a reporter’s questions as completely as possible.
- If you can’t answer a question, say why. If you don’t know an answer but know where to get it, offer to do so.
- Act as if everything you say will appear in print. Don’t count on anything being “off the record.” Important news surfaces sooner or later.
- Don’t say, “no comment.” If you use this phrase, a reporter may think you are trying to cover up something.
- Speak in short sentences. Be organized. Don’t ramble or a reporter will try to paraphrase what you say. That can lead to inaccuracies. Also, short sentences make good direct quotes.
- Avoid technical language. Say it simply so everyone can understand.
- Don’t give your opinion on behalf of the group unless you have been authorized to do so by the president.
- It’s OK to have a brief list of key points. At the end of the interview, refer to them, and mention any important points the interview didn’t cover.
- Assume the reporter will phone you later to clarify some points. The reporter is concerned about accuracy and getting the whole story. If you are unavailable when the reporter calls, return the call as soon as possible.
F. IF A MISTAKE OCCURS
Reporters and editors are human and capable of making mistakes like everyone else. In the regular dealings with the media, it is inevitable that mistakes will occur. It is important to know what to do if a mistake occurs.
- Judge its importance.
- Don’t make a fuss over a small error. The reporter feels bad enough without emphasizing it. Let it go if your name was misspelled, for example.
- Only if you think the error is a big one, call the reporter. Be nice, and usually the reporter will offer to ask the editor to print a correction or clarification.
- Be philosophical. To other people, the mistake isn’t as important as it was to you.
- Remember, if you get carried away, the newspaper may not be helpful the next time you want a news item uses.
G. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS
A Public Service Announcement or PSA is a good way to get air time on radio or tv for FREE. Typically, the station wants to receive the information typed on a postcard and sent to them at least two to three weeks prior to the event. Check with your local stations to find out their requirements. Your PSA may be aired on a “community bulletin board” or any other time day or night. Because the service is free, it is not possible to control when the information is aired. So don’t depend solely on a PSA to publicize your event.
H. PRINTED MATERIALS CHECKLIST
When making up printed materials (flyer, poster, newsletter, etc.), consider these items. You may not need to include all of them, but be sure you include the information that is important for your event.
- _____ Theme
- _____ Date
- _____ Place of event
- _____ Time
- _____ Registration deadline
- _____ Cost of event
- _____ Sponsoring organization
- _____ People involved
- _____ Credentials of people/organization
- _____ Contact person or phone number
- _____ Address of organization
- _____ Logo
- _____ Other
Primary Source: Cornell Cooperative Extension, Family Community Leadership Project