How the News Gets the News

We may get our news from popular media outlets like CNN, Fox News, CBS, or MSNBC, but where do they get their news from? Media outlets, and any other news source for that matter, get a large majority of their information from press releases. Press releases act as a medium between the source of information and media outlets. A company writes a press release to a media outlet if they think the information is noteworthy such as new technological developments, upper management changes, or even new book releases. Sometimes, a company will post press releases to their website for reporters who are searching for a story to write about. Other times, the company may contact the media directly through fax or e-mail.

The format of a press release differs from what you may be used to reading. A press release has, like most documents, a title. The title must be intriguing enough for a reporter or journalist to even want to begin reading the press release. Geoffrey James at CBS Money Watch writes about a press release with a terrible title sent to him:

“As a reporter, my immediate response to that press release was that it’s not important because it expended an entire sentence saying absolutely nothing. And I assumed (probably rightly) that the company’s marketing team was a bunch of idiots.”

A stack of newspapers.Press releases generally include the following information as well:

1) The Date of Release
This information is generally somewhere towards the top of the document—usually below the title.

2) Contact Information
Contact information of the person who wrote the press release is at the beginning of the document and often times scattered throughout. It is important that a reporter or journalist can get in contact with the author of the press release or a company’s marketing team. This information should not be difficult to find.

3) An Introduction
The introduction outlines the purpose of why the presented information is newsworthy. If possible, the introduction should answer the five W’s: who, what, when, where, why.

4) The Body
Information is thoroughly explained in the section. It needs to give context and detail about why the information is newsworthy. This section contains the main reason you would be writing a press release.

5) Boiler Plate
You may be familiar with a boilerplate as a standard set text for legal documents, but a boilerplate in a press release usually only contains information about the company. A boilerplate in a press release displays the company’s name and contact information for their marketing team.

6) The Close
Once all that is written, a press release must have a close. The close is not a summary paragraph, but a set of defined symbols which indicate the release is over. These symbols vary, but two common closes are “-30-” and “###.”

7) Contact Information
Unlike the boiler plate which contains the company’s contact information, this contact information is specific to the writer of the press release or the company’s marketing team. Typically, the author of a press release leaves a phone number, e-mail, and fax number.

While all important, some of these elements can be left out. Robert Wynne from Forbes suggests, “Headline. Opening Sentence. Body. (What’s the story, why does it matter?) Contact Information.” If you’re confused, you can examine the formats of different press releases and find common themes between companies. For an example, check out this press release from Publishers Weekly.

Even if you have all these elements perfectly written, the title is the most important. It is crucial the title is clear and concise, since it is the first—and usually the only—element a reporter will initially see. Reporters must scan through hundreds of titles a day. For yours to stick out, it needs to be attention grabbing and directly to the point. Avoid long strings of meaningless adjectives and prepositional phrases. This way, reporters are more likely to understand what your press release is about. If they understand your title, they’re more likely read to read the whole release.