First, collect all the relevant facts-try to prevent the editor’s having to ring up for important details which are not in the story-and then check them to make sure that they are absolutely correct, The onus is on the writer to make sure that he issues nothing that is incorrect, Unlike the media he has the time and the opportunity to get the story right, This in itself is good press relations, He will become trusted and his material will be sought after if he establishes a reputation for reliability, Having assembled the facts the news story should be written in the following way:
1. The headline should not be clever but should identify what the story is about, It is unlikely that the headline will be printed, editors preferring to be original or to write headlines that fit the space.
2. The subject should be in the first three words, and referably in the first, Many rejected news stories suffer from the defect that the subject is buried in the third or fourth paragraph, The writer must also decide what exactly is the subject, A story about an airline could have as its subject the name of the airline, the kind of aircraft or the route-which subject is news? IT the company name is the subject it should be presented as simply as possible, The full name can come later, And if the company is part of the group, don’t drag in group references in the first sentence, no matter what the company secretary insists.
3. The opening paragraph should summarize the main points of the whole story. It may be all that will get printed.
4. The development should follow in paragraphs which give the facts in a logical sequence such as (a) advantages (b) applications and (c) specifications.
5. The final paragraph should give the name and address of the organisation, and the source of any additional information or material such as price lists, data sheets, samples or demonstrations.
6. The story should bear the name of the author, and be dated.
7. There is no need to use an embargo unless the media are privileged to receive the story in advance, as with an annual report or a copy of a speech that is to be made.
Presentation of a News Release
1. The heading paper should be distinct from ordinary business letter heading, but should not be so designed and worded that it looks like an advertisement, The best news release headings are neat and simple, possibly stating News or Information at the top so that the story predominates, the name and address and telephone number of the sender being printed distinctly but discreetly at the foot of the sheet. Very few news release headings follow this basic requirement, The worst come from advertising managers who insist on claiming-on a news release heading! that their company is the biggest manufacturer of this or that. Only one colour is necessary, the most common being red or blue which may be a good reason for choosing something different such as black, The only purpose of the heading is to provide a means of sending the story and saying where it has come from.
2. The first paragraph should not ‘be indented, All succeeding paragraphs should be indented, This is followed by most newspapers. Other ‘secretarial’ styles should not be used.
3. Sub-headings should not be used-the editor will create them, thank you-unless the story refers to more than one item and sub-heads help to identify them, But it may be better to write separate stories about each item.
4. Capital letters should be restricted to proper names such as surnames, company names and geographical places, Ranks and positions such as general and managing director do not need capital letters, nor do materials such as steel or polystyrene. Nothing should be completely in caps.
5. Nothing should be UTU erlined. To underline means set in italic type.
6. Figures should be spelt out one to, nine, then set out in numbers but to avoid confusion large numbers are best spelt out–twenty-one thousand-or clearly expressed such as one million.
7. Abbreviations should not be spattered with full points, A.B.C., B.Se. (Econ.), I.P.R. and B.O.A.C. should be presented as ABC, B.Se. (Econ), IPR and BOAC. At a glance, the reader will see that without the full points less space is occupied and the initials are more legible.
8. All copy for the press should be typed on a machine with upper and lower case roman characters–not italic or all capitals-and the work should be double spaced on one side of the sheet with equal margins of about one-and-a-half inches, This will permit the editor to add his printing instructions (or amendments) between the lines and in either margin.
9. Continuations should be clearly stated at the foot of the incomplete copy and at the top of the following sheet.
10. The length of a news story should be the minimum necessary to present all the relevant facts Ideally, the story should not exceed one sheet of foolscap, A4 or quarto paper Obviously, stories which set out to supply journalists with important background information will tend to be longer, but the average product publicity story need not exceed 200 to 300 words, if written as recommended above, and given genuine reader interest, it may well be printed word for word as it stands, even given that great accolade of the professional news story–the byline of a staff journalist who accepts your story as his own work.
Throughout, the expression news story or news release has been used. We do not speak of ‘hand-outs’ Nor, when media are not limited to the press, should we speak of ‘press releases’. Strictly speaking, a ‘press conference’ should be called a ‘news conference’ if a mixture of media are invited. However, it seems difficult to find an alternative for ‘press relations’ or ‘press officer’, although ‘information officer’ may be used.