Your primary tool for communicating with the news media is a news release. Like most written documents, news releases have a definite style and definite rules. Here are some of those rules and their implications for you as a publicity person, and a sample press release which demonstrates news style at work.
- News stories are written in what is called an inverted pyramid style. Rather than starting with an introduction and building to a climax, a news story puts the most important information right at the beginning, in the first paragraph, or lead. Subsequent paragraphs add more detail and explain significance. The least relevant material is at the end. This allows editors to tailor the news they have available to fit their "news hole," or available space, by simply trimming from the bottom. You write your news release in this same fashion. Plan on spending most of your time on your lead. Put your significant news up there, not at the bottom of your release.
- When you write your news, write it in news style, the fine points of which are explained below. That way, it'll need less editing and will be more likely to appear intact.
- While most news releases, including this one, are written with print publications in mind, you can also write a separate release for TV and radio. When you write a release for broadcast outlets, write it to be read on air.
Following is a sample news release. Although it talks about swimmers from your team winning events at a national meet, the principles are the same for a release about a local senior or age group meet, where the news might be swimmers qualifying for a regional or national championship meet. The links in the release will take you to explanatory footnotes which will help you understand the fine points of news style and writing a press release. At the end of the footnotes is a brief section on writing advance announcement news releases for the media.
One note: be very careful when talking about time standards. Remember, virtually no one outside the immediate swimming community understands their signficance. If you can't explain the significance of a time standard as part of your story, you're in danger of losing your audience (and that includes the editor who's reading your copy). Far better to say "qualified for the Far Western championship meet to be held next month in Concord" than to say "made his Q time." Not only does this explain, it makes the news you send out before and after Far Westerns far more relevant and attractive. Note how this is handled in the sample news release below.
Questions? Contact Rick Beebe, the communications liaison for Pacific Swimming. He's at (707) 526-7809.
-- Millbrae Marlins news --CONTACT: Joan Johnson 555-1212
Jones, Martin win events at national meet
MILLBRAE, August 1, 1999 -- Tim Jones and Cindy Martin of the Millbrae Marlins Swim Team were event winners at the prestigious Speedo Junior Championships (West) this past weekend in Bakersfield, California.
Jones, a Millbrae resident, won the boys 500 yeard freestyle Friday night with a time of 4:20.89 and was third in the 1000 yard freestyle yesterday with a time of 9:30.72. His winning time in the 500 yard freestyle qualified him for USA Swimming's Olympic Team selection meet to be held next August in Indianapolis.
Jones also swims for Millbrae High School and won the 500 and 1000 freestyles at boys Central Coast sectional championships held at Stanford University last fall.
Martin, a Hillsborough resident, won the girls 200 yard breastroke Saturday with a time of 2:17.11 after finishing fifth in the 100 yard breastroke Thursday night.
Martin swims for Burlingame High School and was a finalist in the 100 yard breastroke and the 200 yard individual medley at the girls Central Coast Championships last fall.
"Tim is the first Marlin swimmer ever to qualify for Olympic Trials," said Marlin head coach Mel Stafford. "Both he and Cindy had excellent meets and are on track for outstanding performances this summer at National Championships."
Jones, his brother Mike, Rich Rodriguez of Millbrae, and Charlie Coleman of Burlingame also placed third in the boys' 400 yard freestyle relay Saturday night.
With more than 100 members from ages 6 to 19, the Marlins are the Millbrae area's largest competitive swim team. Affiliated with Pacific Swimming and USA Swimming, the Marlins train at City Pool and at Millbrae High School. For more information, call 987-6543.
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Comments on Millbrae Marlins press release
Use your team letterhead with logo or put your team name on top in big type. It doesn't hurt to tell them it's news, although that's pretty obvious. <back to release>
Always include the name and phone number(s) of someone who can provide more information or help arrange an interview. <back to release>
In press releases, the most important information goes up top. In this case, the first few paragraphs really tell the entire story, and can stand on their own if space is limited. Everything that follows adds detail. A rule of thumb is that your news will be cut from the bottom. Note also the way the lead paragraph begins with the location where your news is originating from (also known as the dateline), and the date of the release. <back to release>
In news style, always use last name only after the first mention of a name. <back to release>
If you're sending your news to a media outlet which serves a single community and your swimmers are all from that community, you probably don't need this bit of detail. However, if your news is going to a media outlet which serves a number of communities, it's important to include the home town for everyone you name. <back to release>
Come on, use your spell-checker. Professionalism counts. <back to release>
After you've given the facts up top, explain their significance. Remember, your readers, and likely the reporter and editor at the media outlets in your town, don't know the significance of the times Jones swam. Explain it to them. (Remember the warning above!) Not only does this add detail to your story today, but it sets up the news release you'll be writing next spring (and the feature story you'll be pitching, no doubt) when Jones is off to Trials! <back to release>
Tell a continuing story -- build threads to previous coverage. No doubt Jones got plenty of ink during the high school season (that's the Central Coast Championships referred to)-- make the connection, and banner it in your coverage. Whatever you have, build in those details -- make it easy for the writer to add depth and color to your story. And of course you've been keeping a separate file on Jones, with clippings and meet results, so that it's easy to go back and get these details. <back to release>
The quote's a bit lame, but it adds more detail. It might not be used word for word, but the detail might get picked up in the story.<back to release>
A boilerplate paragraph like this, based on the information in the fact sheet you developed for your team, should be at the end of every one of your news releases. It won't be used every time, but put it in religiously. <back to release>
If your news release runs more than a single page, put "--more--" at the bottom of the initial page(s), and start any following page(s) with the number of the page and key words from your headline on the first page. And always put a commonly-understood "end" symbol like the three pound signs above at the bottom of your final page. <back to release>
By the way, although we didn't do it above due to the limitations of the HTML format, always double-space your copy.
Another kind of news release is the advance announcement -- a pre-event announcement of a major meet or of some other kind of special event that you'd like to invite the media to cover. You can start with a news-release type head, then describe your function in a basic who/what/when/where-type format.
Depending on the event, you may also want to include background information (such as a biography) on special attendees, the history of the event, any information needed to help the media understand the newsworthiness of your event. If an event would include excellent photo opportunities, stress that too.
It's critical to follow this kind of advance announcement with a phone call, to ascertain the media's interest. Depending on the magnitude of your event, your advance announcement can be anywhere from a day or two to several weeks. If you have story ideas that relate to the event, be sure to mention them in your phone calls.
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