A news release is the best way to communicate information to journalists. Think of it as a news story with an agenda. While it’s written in the style of a news story, a news release is carefully crafted to promote the Church and its message.
To avoid wasted effort, make sure your release is of interest to the media and the rest of your target audience. On average, assignment editors will give your release a five second read before deciding if it’s newsworthy. If not, your release will end up in the trash can.
What is news?
News is basically defined as a timely event or situation of extraordinary interest or importance to a specified audience. Here are five basic factors that determine what makes news.
The word “news” means exactly that—things that are new. If it happened today, it’s news. If the same thing happened last week, it’s no longer interesting.
The number of people affected by the story is important. A winter storm that leaves thousands of people stranded in an airport is more significant than a storm that knocks down tree limbs in a neighborhood.
Stories that happen near to us have more significance. The closer the story is to home, the more newsworthy it is. For someone living in Utah, a mayoral election in Salt Lake City has a different news value than a gubernatorial election in Colorado.
Famous people get more coverage just because they are famous. If you break your arm, it won’t make the news, but if the Queen of England breaks her arm, it’s big news.
Human interest stories are a bit of a special case. They often disregard the main rules of newsworthiness. For example, they don’t become dated as quickly, they need not affect a large number of people, and it may not matter where in the world the story takes place.
Human interest stories appeal to emotion. They aim to evoke responses such as amusement or sadness. Producers often place a humorous or quirky story at the end of a newscast to finish on a feel-good note. Newspapers often have a dedicated area for offbeat or interesting items.
Church stories of interest to the media generally fall into one of these categories. Such stories include features on missionaries, leadership changes, meetings or events, achievements of members, and new Church buildings and temples.
Writing the Release
From the moment we hear our first fairy tale, which begins with “Once upon a time…” and ends with “They lived happily ever after…,” we are conditioned to tell stories in chronological order. The story of the Three Little Pigs begins, “Once upon a time there were three little pigs. One lived in a house of straw, another in a house of sticks, and the third a house of bricks. The first two little pigs laughed at the third little pig for spending so much time building such a strong house when there were so many other fun things to do.”
News writing is completely opposite. The lead or first paragraph contains the most important facts of the story, regardless of where they fit chronologically. This is called the “inverted pyramid” style of writing. Stories are written with information at the beginning that will be of most interest to readers. The story of the Three Little Pigs written in inverted pyramid style would read like this:
“The Big Bad Wolf was killed today when he jumped down a chimney into a pot of boiling water after an apparent murder attempt at the brick home of the Third Little Pig, ending a crime spree that left two dead.”
Here are the principles of inverted pyramid writing:
- The most important information is given in the first two paragraphs: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
- Supporting detail is added in decreasing order of importance.
- The local angle is played up.
- News value is also emphasized: timing, significance, proximity, prominence, and human interest.
- A good lead previews the main story ideas and gives the reader a map of the story.
The best way to begin the writing process is by listing all of the facts associated with your event or announcement and putting them in order of importance. This will help you resist the habit of writing chronologically and determine what you want the news release to accomplish.
- Do I want to increase or maintain awareness?
- Do I want to establish credibility or authority, build image?
- Do I want to get interviews on television, radio, the Internet?
- Do I want to drive traffic to a special event?
Answering these questions will help you establish what needs to be said and how the facts should be presented.
Formatting the News Release
A news release will be most effective if it’s credible. That means it does not contain editorializing or unsubstantiated claims, and all opinions appear as quotes. The release should also have the proper format (see sample press release).
- Use only one side of standard, letter-size white paper.
- Use one-inch margins.
- Copy should be double-spaced.
- Include release date or "For Immediate Release" in the top left-hand corner.
- Put contact information at the top right-hand corner of the release.
- Include an attention-grabbing headline.
- If there’s more than one page, put “more” at the bottom to point to the following page.
- End the release with three pound signs (###).
After Writing the Release
Once the news release is written and formatted, make sure it has been reviewed and has the proper approval from priesthood leaders. Refer to Pitching a News Story for more information on how to distribute the release.
One final review is important to make sure the release is as effective as possible.
- Check spelling.
- Verify the accuracy of names, statistics, and statements.
- Have someone unfamiliar with your event or announcement read the release for clarity.
- Ensure that the release makes sense to people who are unfamiliar with the Church.
- Evaluate whether the release supports the Church’s goals.