Module JP020

News Releases

Module author

Stephen K. Dishart

City University of New York
USA and

Crisis Management Consultants

Learning objectives

After completing the module successfully, you will understand the basic elements of the News Release and be able to work with a client or organization to determine if a news release should be written and distributed.

Further, you will be able to draft a news release and include the essential elements of who, what, where, when, why and how in the body of the release.

In completing the process, you will learn how to distribute a news release and how to evaluate the success of the news release.


Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Background
2.1 Historical Development of The "Press" Release to today's "News" Release
2.2 Sample News Release
2.3 The Key Content of the News Release

Chapter 3: The Purpose of the News Release
3.1 The Litmus Test
3.2 Purposes of the News Release

Chapter 4: From Letterhead to Boilerplate, The Complete Release
4.1 Writing the News Release
4.2 The Letterhead/Logo
4.3 Contact Information
4.4 "For Immediate Release"
4.5 The Headline and Subheadline
4.6 The Dateline
4.7 The Lead Sentence
4.8 Body
4.9 Boilerplate

Chapter 5: News Release Distribution
5.1 Background
5.2 Internet impact on New Release Distribution
5.3 Distribution Services
5.4 Targeting Distribution

Chapter 6: Evaluation
6.1 Background, the value of measurement
6.2 Standardizing evaluation
6.3 Qualitative measurement
6.4 Managing Expectations

Study points 2
Reading extract News Releases


Why Open School of Journalism believes that writing skills concerning news releases are important

News releases have evolved considerably since their introduction in the early 20th century. They have become the main resource for public relations firms to reach audiences through established media channels, and with the development of the Internet, they've transformed from the original press release to the modern news release. Traditionally, business owners or PR firms have sent press releases written in dry, factual prose to media outlets, and reporters were responsible for rewriting the information in a more readable style. Today's reliance on the Internet for distribution makes it necessary to write news releases in an engaging, readable style from the beginning so that a paid staff of reporters isn't needed to rewrite the thousands of media messages received by news websites.


Why study writing news releases?

Before the Internet became the main source of information for most people, press releases usually resembled paid advertisements featured in newspapers and television news broadcasts, and it was difficult for small businesses to get the same sort of attention as their larger competitors. The first press release was created by the PR firm owned by Ivy Lee during the news cycle covering the 1906 Pennsylvania Railroad accident, and Lee distributed a message to the news wires of the time in an attempt to circumvent the bad press following the train wreck. The experiment was a success, and later in the 20th century, Edward Bernays developed the press release format into the concept most people are familiar with today.

These media statements have been the voice of companies in times of crisis and at key moments in the development of businesses, such as product launches and major research discoveries. Hollywood studios have used them to promote films on television news broadcasts, and the program airing the footage typically treats it as regular news rather than a paid advertisement. Fore example, video press releases have included news-style interviews with famous actors, and because the videos contain so much valuable content, they receive a prominent place in the broadcast.

Other examples of high-profile press releases include apparent news coverage of pharmaceutical discoveries that are aired as unbiased reporting. The PR firm distributing the release scores a major victory when a prepared message to the media is treated like factual news coverage, and it has a much greater impact than a commercial advertising campaign.

While PR firms continue to send out an almost constant stream of press releases, business owners and individual promoters must have a keen instinct for preparing a message to media outlets because it often reaches the public without being rewritten in a digestible format. When a newspaper or website is paid to publish a press release, it's rewritten by a journalist working for the paper or website. Many credible news outlets publish a large number of paid press releases without acknowledging that they're prepared messages, the Daily Mail in the U.K. being perhaps the largest and most well-known organization to do so regularly.

The message is written in the editorial style of the publication, and the story appears just as any other story in the news. It resonates much more clearly with readers than a straightforward advertisement because it conveys information that is interesting and engaging to the reader or viewer. In other words, press releases are often a more valuable tool to businesses than advertisements because they're not an interruption of the audience's entertainment; they're part of the entertainment. The ability to craft effective news releases is one of the most important skills a business owner or PR firm can possess.


Overview of the module

News reporting and fact gathering have been summarized by a concept called the five Ws. Other names for this concept include the six Ws or the five Ws and one H. These letters stand for who, what, when, where, why and how, and they've been taught to journalism students since the early 1900s. The News Releases course covers the basics of news gathering and reporting, starting with the five Ws, and it includes detailed information on the entire process of preparing, distributing and measuring the success of a news release. It's delivered in an easily digestible format, beginning with an introduction to the subject and then going over the history, style, creation and importance of news releases. After successfully completing the course, students will have the expertise to work with firms or directly with clients to determine whether a news release should be prepared and distributed and, if so, how to measure the effectiveness of the release.

The course begins with an introduction to the subject to help students get acquainted with the concept. This step is important because people tend to learn information more quickly when it's presented in a digestible format. The course then moves on to the history and importance of news releases, including the transformation they've undergone throughout the 20th century, starting as paid, prepared press releases and developing into today's Internet-ready news stories. Students will learn how to craft the message so that it is completely ready for publication when it reaches the editors of a news website, and they will learn professional fact-gathering techniques so that their news releases can be considered complete works of journalism.

Chapter 2 of the course covers the history of the news release, including its beginnings in the PR industry of the early 20th century, its use in news media throughout the last 100 years and finally its present form as a complete PR package. After completing this chapter, students will understand the key content of the news release, and throughout the section, they will have opportunities to analyze sample news releases.

Chapter 3 moves into more conceptual content, going over the importance of the news release and its role in modern public relations. It also covers the all-important litmus test to determine if a news release can be considered a complete work of journalism. This step involves the application of the five Ws, and after completing chapter 3, students will have a strong understanding of fact-gathering and news analysis. Students will also learn, in depth, all the purposes of a news release so that they develop an intimate familiarity with the format.

There are industry-wide standards for developing a news release, and chapter 4 outlines the complete process, from letterhead to boilerplate text, including the symbols used to end a release. Traditionally, the symbol -30- has been used to denote the end of a news release, but more commonly, the symbol ### is being used in modern journalism. In the early days, news releases were written the same way as straightforward journalism articles, and the five Ws were always included in the lead paragraph. Beginning in the 1940s, however, journalists and PR firms started to get away from answering all of the key questions in the first paragraph. The change led to a more free-form style that is generally more appealing to readers and compels them to finish reading the message to the end.

The reason the chapter begins with letterhead and ends with boilerplate is that these components are the traditional beginning and ending of a news release, and students will have an intimate understanding of how to select the appropriate letterhead and craft a suitable boilerplate for their future releases. The boilerplate text is a short statement about the company's history, the product development, release history and innovations. Essentially, it covers the importance of the product or company in the modern age. Although the lead paragraph no longer contains the answers to all five Ws, the lead sentence is considered the most important piece of information in the document because its job is to hook readers into reading the rest of the message. By the end of chapter 4, students will have professional-level skills in creating a complete journalistic story related to a product, service or company.

Chapter 5 covers the process of distributing finished statements to the press, and it goes into detail on the modern PR industry and how it must work with the Web-based news wires of the 21st century. The chapter focuses on distribution networks, targeted distribution and the Internet's impact on how news releases are distributed and consumed. By the end of this chapter, students will be completely familiar with the industry-wide practice of distributing finished media messages to news outlets for print, Web and television broadcast.

The last chapter of the course teaches students how to evaluate the success of a news release campaign by giving them qualitative analytical skills to judge the effectiveness of a statement. Chapter 6 covers the importance of evaluating the successfulness of a news release, the various methods of standardizing evaluation, qualitative analysis and what to expect after distributing a release to the media. After completing this chapter, students will have professional-level expertise in the world of news releases, and they will be ready to work on their own with clients and PR firms developing effective media statements.