May 12, 2008

Don't ask

Today — and not for the first time — a businessperson asked something like, "If I buy an ad, will it guarantee my press release gets in the paper?"




Questions like this really get my blood boiling. Let me make two things perfectly clear: First, asking this question is an insult to the integrity of a newsperson.

Second, if the answer is yes, you are dealing with a news organization that has no integrity.

With this second point, you understand, I acknowledge that not all news organizations have the same ethical standards. But what rankles—as it does with any group—is when all are painted with the same brush.

To imply that all newspeople lack integrity is precisely as prejudiced as to imply that all women are bad drivers or all men are too stubborn to ask for directions or … well, pick your subgroup and the stereotypical insult most commonly hurled at it.

I would say "all generalizations are wrong," but you see the inherent problem …


  1. I've actually run into the opposite problem: I never expect a press release I do for my company to get "picked up" and I'd be even happier if the paper would take the release and do a full-blown story out of it, but what drives me crazy is when I send a press release out, with no expectation of publication and get a note back saying something to the effect of "as soon as you buy advertising, we'll run it!"

    I don't work in the advertising department. I've never made an ad in my life. I have no power over advertising pursestrings. My job is to inform the public of company news that may be relevant to a general readership. I rely on editors to determine the newsworthiness of my reports, and they let me know by the publication of releases, or (again, the ideal) the pursuit of a full-blown story.

    It confounds me when I'm told that anything done by the company or its employees is merely the advertisement of product.

    I am happy to know that there are still newspaper folks out there who not only don't hold that expectation, but even demand that the question never be brought up.

  2. XDPaul, it is both shocking and sad that you got a response as blatant as you cite.

    But I have to tell you, sometimes "press releases" really do read like advertisements, and that's an immediate rejection at our paper. But we don't usually say so. It just goes in the bitbucket. But don't feel bad. Remember Theodore Sturgeon? He's the one who said "90 percent of everything is crap." Well, 90 percent of press releases wind up in the bitbucket, even though not all of them are crap. Some of them are just not right for us, some of them read like advertising, and some of them, frankly, are interesting but we just don't have room for everything.

    The key to success with press releases is understanding the reader of the publication you are submitting to. And yes, sometimes that means you can't write one release and send it to everyone—you might send one sort of release to a general-readership daily, a different release to a business weekly, and still another release to a talk radio station. You need to explain what you have to offer in terms of what the reader/viewer/listener needs.

    One example, from a business angle, would be of a company that's outgrown its office and needs to move into a bigger one. If I get a release that says "we moved into a bigger office last week," that's worth a sentence or two in our paper. Maybe three. But if I get a release that says "in ten or twelve months, we are going to be out of room … so we are looking for an architect and a general contractor, because we want to build a bigger office" that's a real story for a real reporter to really report. Because many of our readers are architects and builders, and they would want to bid on the job.

    I hope this gives you some insight into the workings of the wacky world of journalism.