The Reporter Life: Writing the Press Release

By Rachel H.T. Mendell

06/02/2017

All writers should know how to write a press release. No matter how big or tiny your local paper is, you will want to let them know about writerly things happening in your area. Writers tend to be skittish things, hanging out in coffee shops and caves, keeping to themselves, but writers need to know other writers for help and advice … or just in case they need a drinking buddy for that rejection letter party.

As an editor, I was constantly amazed that there were events happening all over but not one bothered to notify the newspaper. Press releases are generally free. Why wouldn’t you want more people at your event?

The press release is a short statement published in the newspaper (and other publications) to give the public information: church activities, government or community meetings, charity fundraisers, business openings, open houses, etc. When writing a press release remember: Who, What, When, Where, Why and contact information. Example:

The Rotary Club of Galion (who) will hold an art auction (what) May 15 from 5-8 p.m (when) in the Galion Community Theatre (where) for the purpose of raising funds for its Third Grade Dictionary Project (why). Call Dennis at 555-555-5555 (contact) to reserve a spot. *A silent auction will open from 5-6 p.m with goodies donated by local businesses. Space is limited. Call John Jones for more information at 444-444-4444.*

If space in the paper is limited (and it usually is) the portion between the ** might be cut.

Get it all down

Press releases look easy to write but they are not. When you write a press release, the first draft should include everything you think is important. Once it’s all down on paper you can begin to condense the information to fit into the paper’s word count.

Online first

When you are ready to send a press release to a local paper, first check to see if they have an on-line form to fill out. Depending on the paper’s tech department and webmaster, this form may be easy to fill out or utterly frustrating. Be prepared to be frustrated. Fill in all the blanks, submit and pray. You might also call the paper and give your information over the phone. They may have other requirements as well like more contact information or even a fee. Be polite. Newspapers get the brunt of all the complaints in town. If you are polite and pleasant, they will remember you as being “one of the nice ones.”

Make yourself useful

If you get proficient at writing and submitting press releases, consider hiring yourself out (or offer your service for free) to local groups. Some writers have gotten paying jobs at the paper by starting small.

Most important of all, love the editor. The editor is the most scorned of all public figures. The editor is usually a writer with languishing novels and plays in his closet awaiting the day he can retire from the rat race. Of course, the opposite is also true. There are editors that are full of thorns and poison, hard-boiled and crass, caring little for public opinion. Remember, no matter how the editor treats you (or his staff), you must remain pleasant and helpful. Once you lose an editor’s good opinion, it is gone forever (kinda like Mr. Darcy).

Once there was a gentleman who thought he was the most important man in town. He came into the paper frequently to let me know what was going on and how he thought the paper should write about it.  I thanked him for his input and pleasantly went about my business following our normal rules. It became evident that he was greatly offended every time we didn’t do as he suggested. He would come in and follow up on his request. “Why hasn’t such and such run in the paper yet?” He tormented the front desk staff if I wasn’t there and tormented me if I was (I frequently brought in baked goods the day after one of his visits). My publisher begged me to make him happy somehow. I told her that was not possible because he wanted free advertising. Newspapers do not do free advertising. Then I had a brainstorm and found a way to place his information in the community calendar. It was still free advertising, but it was only a half-inch of information. He came in and complained how small it was, but he left me alone after that.

It is pointless to argue with the editor. The paper has strict rules and the editor has to keep publishing happy, advertising happy, and the community happy. Think middle management. If they break rules for one, they will have to break rules for all, and then that rule no longer exists and the paper loses money.

There was another gentleman who ran a local community event every year. Every year he would send us press releases that were as long as the feature story on page one -complete with quotes from other news sources, website, history, and high praise from attendees. Every year, I had to cut the press release and every year he complained. Finally, with a little rewriting, I was able to run his “press release” as an article. This made him happy.

Some editors will work with you. Some will not. Some editors are invisible with staff trained to make the basic decisions. It’s best to know how to write a press release that is short with only the most important information. This is your best bet for getting it published in the paper.

Good luck!

P.S. Every editor is different. All the information I just gave you may be completely the opposite of what you need for your local paper. Be prepared for the unexpected.


Rachel H.T. Mendell

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Bio:

Rachel H.T. Mendell writes freelance from home in her office that she grabbed when her sixth child moved out, which is much nicer than the converted closet she wrote in for almost 20 years. Rachel writes novels, poetry, plays, essays, columns, articles, short stories, long letters, devotionals and experimental allegory. She has been published in various magazines as well as the Galion Inquirer, The Morrow County Sentinel, the Crestline Advocate and online at Richland Source. You can find a few of her articles in Heart of Ohio Magazine and floating around cyberspace. She keeps a blog, Domestic Mobility (http://domesticmobility.blogspot.com), and has recently started a website (http://www.rachelhtmendell.com). Rachel happily answers emails at mendell.rachel7@gmail.com. She is married and has seven children and one grandson. When Rachel is not writing, she’s gardening, caring for chickens, rabbits, and cats. She lives with her family in Morrow County, Ohio.

Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:

1) The Reporter Life


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S.W. Biddulph

Scott Biddulph is a published writer, author, and poet from North Georgia. He began writing as a youngster and followed his lifelong dream of reaching people through the written word when he returned to The University of North Georgia in 2013 to finish earning his BA/English with a concentration on publication and creative writing. His publications include the following: an eBook, Apples of Gold: A collection of inspirational short stories and poems (Smashwords, 2010) and a paperback, Voices from the Heart, (Createspace, 2012). His poetry is published in Papers and Publications Undergraduate Research Journal. Vol 3 (2014) and the award-winning Chestatee Review (Spring, 2015), among other places (Check his LinkedIn profile for a full list of his publications). He is currently working on publishing poetry, creative non-fiction, academic essays, and his memoir. ******** Scott has also worked as an intern editor for the University of North Georgia Press. As a freelance editor, he has done the layout and design of several books and magazines. He is currently working with several authors on various publication projects in which he is either ghostwriting, editing manuscripts, or doing the layout and design of their books. ******** Finally, and most importantly, he is a father, grandfather, husband, and dedicated Harley Davidson rider. He and his family enjoy the beauty of the North Georgia Mountains where they live—especially their screened in back porch where they love to bird watch. ******** ~ "I love realism. I love writing about the raw, down-to-Earth, heartfelt realities of life. I love to write in a way that reaches into the human soul—to take the greatest pains and struggles in life, and make them a blessing to others. Fantasy is a wonderful, interesting thing—but real-life situations, feelings, fears, and dreams are an unexplored ocean of stories that need to be told." ~ ~Scott Biddulph~

9 comments

  1. Thank you for the helpful advice, dear Rachel. When I worked in retail, I was taught to treat the customers as though they are always right. As a writer, I’m learning to treat the editor and readers as though they’re always right.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, actually, not that I know of. In my last year as editor, and then the next year as freelancing for Richland Source, everything was digital – that was our main presence. All content (whether it would be print or digital) went into the same place, a holding tank of words. The software knew to place it on the print page or place it on the website. The software took care of all the formatting. You may need to study your local paper a bit and go talk to them – ask how it works. — The print edition was sort of a “best of the best” kind of thing for what the industry called our “older readers.” LOL! I’m an older reader, I guess!

      Like

  2. Rachel, You are so right! Being nice to the editor is critical. Fortunately in my small town the editor is out and about quite a bit. You might sit next to him at church or the football game. His kids go to school with mine. Most people don’t have any idea the kind of heat he takes for just about everything, from which letters to the editor he prints to what pictures he puts in. I wouldn’t want his job for all the tea in China!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Absolutely! I tried to go to EVERYTHING that was going on when I was editor. It was the best way to get real information and new things happening. In our community (Galion) not many people called the paper. I had to go to them. I had to make the calls. After a month or two on the job I had a group of people willing to call me with anything new. That was awesome! … but, you are right, the tension is excruciating – especially for an introvert like me – and especially from elected officials (but that’s they way it’s supposed to be).

      Liked by 1 person

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