Journalists rely heavily – perhaps too heavily – on press releases to provide them with stories. And there are usually plenty to choose from – the postbag and e-mail inbox usually contain dozens every day. Large numbers of press releases go straight into the bin. Others have potential to be developed.
Here are some tips:
1. Do not bin a press release immediately, even if it appears to be worthless. Pause for a moment and ask: Might it be of interest to the advertisement department? A sharp rep might be able to sell an advert with accompanying editorial on the back of the release.
Might it be of some use for another section of your publication – sport, motoring or entertainment? Just because it does not interest you does not mean it won’t interest someone.
Might you be able to run a competition on the back of the press release? If the release is about a new product, then why not get the company to provide 10 samples as competition prizes? Competitions are very popular among readers.
Might it have potential to be turned into a feature of some sort? If the answer to all these is “No”, then you can bin it.
2. All press releases want you to convey some information in a way that suits the sender. But your job is to present their news in your way, not theirs. So you may well rewrite it completely, choosing a different angle than the one that the writer offered you.
3. You won’t want to simply carry the same story as other media outlets. You should see the press release as the starting point for a new storyâ€¦ follow it up, get new information, fresh quotes, new angles – and then completely rewrite it.
Using releases as they are is lazy.
4. Some press releases are not written by press officers, but by people with no journalistic experience at all.
You should read these carefully – there may well be a great story angle buried in the middle or at the end. Make sure you don’t miss buried treasure.
5. Don’t assume that everything in a press release is correct. It may not be. Check the facts. And beware of repeating libels – if you publish them, you are responsible for them, even if the information originally came from someone else.
6. If the press release criticises or involves another party, then make sure you get quotes from everyone concerned.
7. Think of photos and graphics. Some press releases include these, others don’t – and you must be sharp enough to spot visual potential.
8. Make sure a press release is a press release. If it is, it will be marked as such – and you can use it, free, without any copyright restrictions (the law entitles you to one free use, but the sender retains the copyright). If something is not marked as a press release, it could be that a reader has sent it in as a freelance and is expecting payment.
You need to check.
compiled by Cleland Thom