Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Release the press release

Information is everywhere. It's almost a total overload. With the advent of the internet I now get more than 200 emails a day and, after I junk the spam or the irrelevant shit, I still end up with dozens of potential 'stories'.

In reality very few emails are trouser tightening exclusives. Most are PR bull shit; others charity I've-climbed-a-mountain-shaved-my-head-presented-a-cheque-bathed-in-beans kind of nonsense you have seen a million times before; the rest crazies with baffling tales of council/police/hospital corruption.

Press releases should go in the bin without exception (let them pay for an ad if it's that important).
So where do we get our stories from?
We have to remember the basics. The more people you know, the more stories you know (or can stand up).

By relying on whatever comes through the door (or inbox) to fill your paper you are doing your readers a disservice.

You should be out in your communities finding out what real people are thinking, what is happening on the streets.

It is too easy to think you are writing a paper for the people by churning out endless police, council or heath authority releases which look like real stories.

If you really had your fingers on the pulse these releases should become a healthy string of nibs on page 8 rather than the page leads they often are.

And before you blame your workload or the fact you don't get out of your office, think about the reason why.

Could it be that you are too busy writing up the chod to go out and get the real stories?


  1. I've been quite impressed with this blog so far but this post is a bit shit really.

    Yes, 95% of press releases are inane pointless bullshit and we got by without them before, but they have become an important tool in our overall newsgathering.

    My readers want to know about all the events going on in the patch - and I don't know a single newspaper out there which has the resources to look at every notice board, contact every dance club, attend every WI meeting or buy a weekly pint for the local pigeon fancier. Often the best way for people to get their message out is to send me a press release.

    And I'm certainly not going to charge them for letting me know what's going on in the community.

    And even the press releases from councils, police, fire, rail company, Government depts etc regularly generate interesting stories.
    A lot of the stuff our crack team of journalists (who of course were all born on the patch) should already know about, but they often contain gems waiting to be polished.

    Unless you have a team of 20 reporters scouring your patch with a pair of tweezers you'll never cover everything.

    Yes we waste a lot of time wading through them, but with them we're able to cover a lot more than ever before.

  2. I agree. Information is power and a lot of the stuff you get through email can be filleted and regurgitated.
    But the point I was trying (badly) to make was if you ignored everything that came through on email or as a press release for one week and just wrote about the stuff your reporters got on the streets and from contacts would your paper (or readers) really miss out on the actual news?

  3. You're absolutely right in saying that by deleting the dross reporters can spend more time looking for quality leads (as I used to) - common sense, really. Sadly though, this common sense just doesn't apply in the majority of newsrooms I know of at present. Take mine for example - I'm currently the sole churnalist at my weekly and I can tell you now that without using crap PR emails there's simply no way I could fill the paper.

    I started as a migratory freelancer before opting for the regular paycheck, but would swop my deskbound status for a wander in my patch at the drop of the proverbial hat. Thing is, at present it just ain't possible as I can't afford to worry about quality - all that matters (for the management, and thus, for me) is that the paper gets out on time. Obviously if it doesn't, my ass will be in a sling...and I know a lot of other weekly and, god forbid, daily reporters who are in exactly the same position.

    So despite sensing a hint of rhetoric in your column, I'd suggest you employ the pragmatism evident in your previous entry - I certainly don't know every reporter in the UK but of the many I do, deskbound hacking and churnalism seems to be the order of the day and email is a necessary evil to enable them and me to get the job done. Personally I think it stinks but at least I'm still in a job...unlike most of my editorial colleagues of 18 months ago. You said it yourself mate, we're all fucked!

    On a final note, great blogging, please keep up the good work!