By Guest Blogger
Claire “Voyant” Meyerhoff
In the old days, before the Internet and even fax machines, the Press Release (aka News Release) was Queen of P.R. All over the country, Newsroom Assistants earning $4/hour sorted mail, opened envelopes, unfolded press releases and stacked them in neat piles. For many of these bottom-of-the-totem polers, it was their first real taste of “the power to decide what is news.”
“Hmmm, Senator Charles Grassley is spearheading an effort to make July ‘National Corn Month.’ I’ll put that in the ‘boring government stuff’ stack,” thought Debbie Duespayer, a Desk Assistant in a broadcast newsroom, circa 1984.
“Oh, Mothers Against Drunk Driving is holding an event where they’re going to get a local celebrity intoxicated and do their blood alcohol level on the spot. I’ll put that in the ‘my producer might like this’ stack,” thought Debbie, as she looked at her watch and noticed it was 2:00 a.m. “I leave here in two hours; I hope my VCR recorded Cheers,” she thought. (Note: Never forget that your news release may be read by a person making even less money and working worse hours than you. And you work for a nonprofit . . . so that says something.)
This is what used to happen to press releases. They were put into piles, then the chosen ones were plucked out and put into the “Future File.” Then, the day before, an assignment editor would pull the Future File for the next day and look at all the press releases to see if there was anything worth covering. The rest were chucked in the bin.
My former boss at all-news WTOP, Holland Cooke, even wrote a book called “How to Keep Your Press Release out of the Trash Basket.” Something like that. I would call him to get the exact title, but he’s in Vegas right now attending the “Media Consultants Rule the World But Have to Travel 350 Days a Year to Do It Expo” and I don’t want to bother him.
Out of the trash basket and back to this blog . . .
Obviously, from the senders point of view, it was very important to have a good press release that had the four C’s — CATCHY, CLEAR, CONCISE, and CORRECT — in order to keep it out of the trash basket. Putting all the “go to” information right up top helped, too. I can’t tell you how many times Debbie Duespayer got ticked off because there was no location listed for an “Urgent Press Conference.”
That was then . . . this is now. The Internet has changed things. Debbie Duespayer is now Destiny Duespayer. She’s still working the overnight shift, but she’s reading e-mails pitches instead of opening envelopes.