Interesting news here on the nature of Newsgathering, in a week dominated and affected by heavy snow.

The winter weather has, according to this report, led to more than 40,000 user-generated content submissions to the BBC News team this week. With significant reductions in the amounts of British workers buying their News from the usual sources, it seems as if many have been getting online and not just sourcing information, but actually adding to the daily stream of News on the Beeb.

Peter Horrocks, Head of the BBC Newsroom, has thanked the citizen journalists on the Beeb’s blog, and it looks as though the thousands upon thousands of public submissions has set a record for the amount of content given over to the BBC for consideration. Horrocks is quick, of course, to make is clear that citizen journalism is not replacing traditional journalism, but rather complementing the variety and diversity of Newsgathering tools available.

It still remains, however, that sourcing, searching, digging, uncovering and being the first to convey News remains the central driver on our radar for good News coverage.

Encouraging to see that Content is, indeed, King.

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The aim here is simple – to give you a winning formula to create attention-grabbing press releases. So you can create a new press release from a proven template, and gain publication – hopefully every time you submit the editorial to a Press contact.

Outline:
According to many in PR, writing a press release for media consumption is filled with little-known nuances, subtle twists and turns, a special language understood by the press and PRs only, and a myriad of other ‘rules’ to gain entry into the privileged position of gaining publication.

This, basically, is not the case. Writing a winning press release is not a secret formula, part of a Dark Art, or rocket science. It is a straightforward process.

Obviously, a PR Consultant or Agency wants you to think this. They don’t want you to have the skills to write your own highly-effective, relevant, newsworthy editorial items, because then they wouldn’t be hired to do it for you. Simple.

But the truth is, a press release is only a news-conveyance tool. It informs and educates. It inspires debate, attention, confidence in a company or individual. It also, conveniently, raises profile and passes on key messages. And sales.

So, let’s get you on the road to creating a prefect press release. Remember, it is not rocket science – but there are a few basics you’ll need to implement.

First things first:
There are five basic ingredients which will make up your press release, namely
* Angle – what is the main thrust of the news in the editorial
* Unique – you will have something unique, different or interesting to say
* Relevance – you News will be highly relevant to the readership
* Value – your news will add value to the publication’s content
* Timeliness – the editorial will be timely, contemporary and factual

These five key ingredients are worth looking at in a bit more detail, to fully understand how crucial each one is in gaining publication time after time.

* Angle – the thrust, or storyline, of your press release is the driving force and main ‘hook & hold’ for the media. Your angle, therefore, needs to be focused, based on a News item in your business, and with no superfluous details.

* Unique – your press release must convey news that is different, unique and interesting. To put is plainly, it must tell the readership something useful which will enrich their lives. And this doesn’t just mean try to flog them something.

* Relevance – to be truly relevant to a publication, you need to be able to offer the readership a product, service, opinion or similar which is of benefit and use to them in their everyday business or personal lives.

* Value – to add value to a publication’s content is a potential minefield, as ‘value’ is determined by the editorial team, rather than what you think is of value to the readership. Extreme and common sense are needed here.

* Timeliness – to provide a timely press release essentially means that your news is contemporary, factual and ‘now’ rather than about an event or launch which happened three months ago. Be aware of current affairs and impacts.

Press release template:
Every press release is formed from a basic template design, which follows the same structure and layout: in essence it goes like this:

* Headline – one line in length, snappy, no clichés, hints at story and angle
* First paragraph – sums up the entire news item in one brief element
* Second to tenth paragraphs – bulk of news item, with relevant quotations
* Final paragraph – ends the news item, ideally with a confirming quotation
* Contact details – of the press release supplier. Email, phone and website
* Notes to Editors – additional information, case study hyperlinks, statistics

Press release PR photography:
This element is as important as the editorial you produce and issue to the media. A professionally-taken, appropriately-formatted image to accompany every press release you send is an absolute must. Never forget the image.

Most offline newspaper and magazines will require jpeg format images at a resolution of 300dpi: this standard will be of the right standard for pretty much any daily newspaper and glossy magazine in the UK.

Images for online reproduction require different formatting, of course, and the best option is to hire a professional photographer – preferably an experienced PR press photographer – who will be able to produce relevant online and offline-ready images for you to submit to the appropriate media.

You may argue that the additional cost involved with hiring a professional photographer is prohibitive, but in reality if you’re serious about gaining publication and delivering a polished press release, images must always be part of the package delivered to the media. Ignore this at your peril.

Timeframe: 0-3 hours
Here’s a rough guide on how to produce a winning press release in a three hour timeline. You should aim for the following:

* First 30 minutes: establish angle, write leading paragraph, form key quotes – press release template here with first paragraph completed only no headline
* 30 minutes-1 hour: Write paragraphs 2-6, including bulk of News details – press release temple here with first six paragraphs completed no headline
*1-2 hours: Write paragraphs 7-10, including concluding quotation – press release template here with 10 paragraphs completed no headline
* 2-2.5 hours: Formulate image caption and Notes to Editors sections – press release template here with paragraphs and Image Cap & Notes completed no headline
* Final 30 minutes: Proof-read the entire press release. Then do it again.

Ready to submit:
You’re nearly there. The final points are important to remember as you tidy up and finish up. Before you collate your media list and email the press release:

1. Make sure you have not repeated any information, quotations, statistics.
2. Check the press release by reading it out loud. This is vitally important.
3. Finally, write the one-line Headline. Always do this last of all. It flows easily.

And finally:
Relax. Take notes about your business, products, service and people. Do not worry if the editorial doesn’t flow at first. Stay with it. Re-draft until you are happy with the tone, layout and newsworthiness of the press releases you produce.

Ultimately, you’ll make it easier for myself and other Editors to carry on with other editorial tasks.

Fascinating article in today’s Media Guardian from pundit Jeff Jarvis concerning a possible future for Journalism, amid the ongoing swathe of cutbacks and redundancies in newsroom across the UK and USA. One of the interesting points raised by Jarvis was the following:

“Journalism’s business and revenue, like its content, will become collaborative and networked. No one company will control news in a market any more; none can afford to.”

Jarvis discusses the not-inconsiderable number of redundancies in American newsrooms  – more than fifteen and a half thousand over the last 12 months, as the pace of online news and bloggers inputs has outstripped the ability of print newspaper bosses in the States to attain consistent profitability in their commercial operations.

Part of this has been due to the simple fact that more and more consumers, audiences and former newspaper readers are sourcing news, features and opinions online than ever before. And this trend looks set to migrate with vigour to the UK. We are seeing it already, of course, to an extent.

But if the way audiences – and advertisers trying to gain their attention – are viewing journalism and sourcing news in this different way is growing pace, why is there a stumbling non-acceptance from the tradition newspaper business models to adapt more quickly, to respond positively and enhance their content offerings? The solution thusfar has been to cut costs and dump editorial staff on the street in an attempt to improve the bottom line. Or, at least, in the UK, there seems to have been consolidation in the extreme in this way.

I recall being made redundant by Northcliffe Newspaper Group years ago – from a decision made by the number-crunchers in London, rather than the management tier at the grassroots in the Bristol region, and wondering then – Why is it, at a time when my editorial Department is performing better than ever, hitting and beating targets, giving the marketing and advertising teams additional assistance in finding and keeping new revenue streams, do we find journalistic resources being cut here?

That question never got answered.

And, I fear, the same will be the case for the current Media staff being laid off. Well, they can blame the Recession of course.

As if maintaining circulation figures for print newspapers and magazines wasn’t difficult enough for Editors in today’s economic environment – now, according to this fascinating article in the Guardian Media – new media channels will force Editors handling content across offline and online mediums to consider web traffic patterns, online readership trends, and clickstream, among other key factors, in the way they manage publications online.

It appears that being able to manage a publication online is also going to be increasingly measured by the routes to the publication, the amount of time a reader stays on certain pages, where they navigate to, and which Columnists they follow for leading opinion on the issues of the day. As more readers migrate online, so too inevitably will the advertisers. Stalemate.

Furthermore, there will be a battle fought between publishers of multiple sources of content from easily-obtainable sites online, and those news-gatherers and opinion formers and thought-leaders which comment on the same issues being cut-and-pasted online from a myriad of web information. There will be a differentiation of readerships – and, of course, advertisers.

A compelling – and in some ways terrifying – commentary on a possible future for Editors’ roles in the new media landscape.

In light if that information, consider this: if you are looking to gain editorial commentary to boost your profile, or to advertise in a key publication to re-inforce your company’s messages…where will you be looking for maximum impact?

Given the detailed measurability available when analysing readership and advertising patterns, the Web will increasingly win.

Surely not?!

Well, according to this from PR man Paul Seaman, the time could well be nigh.

Seaman argues, and very eloquently, that the age of  Churnalism is reaching something of a zenith, and given the increasingly dramatic economic conditions in which the average journalist is operating, the need for collaboration between PRs and the Press has never been greater. More editorial cutbacks means increased deadline pressure.

Maybe this should be amended to the need for effective PR has never been greater. The likes of Rubella Pymley-Bowles from Ostentatious PR will always receive a frosty welcome from any time-pressured Editor.

The PR fluff still rains down on my Inbox daily, Recession or no Recession. It would appear that there are still a sizeable number of UK-based Clients still in the position financially to fork out PR Fees for the production of editorial turds for Media consumption from jumped-up Account Executives, being driven mercilessly and thoughtlessly forward by number-crunching Account Directors and the like. This, of course, adds no value to my Readerships on the magazines I edit – and never will.

That said, if the tiny percentage of decent PRs – and I can currently count them on 1 hand only – can continue to demonstrate a true collaboration, deliver the goods on deadline, commit to producing editorial which adds value for my audiences, whilst remaining sensitive to the demands of a burgeoning Inbox filled with PR fluff and poorly-veiled ‘editorial’ sales adverts…then maybe we can see a more productive interaction between editorial and PR in 2009.

Maybe.

That aside, Seaman’s observations are well worth a read: whether you’re running a newsroom or delivering PR.

Food for thought here as Jeff Jarvis discusses the ground-breaking news that the online advertising revenues of the Los Angeles Times are now, according to Editor Russ Stanton, sufficient to cover the entire newspaper’s editorial costs – for both print and online newsrooms within the organisation.

This marks the making, and potential breaking, of print newspapers as the online medium surges ever forward in 2009.

Before us ‘contemporary’ media folk get too excited, however, Jarvis highlights a number of mitigating factors – such as the culling of the LA Times newsroom from 1,220 editorial staff to 660 – which have led to the historic point in newspapers today.

It will be interesting to see how the British Press, including the vast Trade Media sector, respond to this development.

Some excellent inputs and thoughts on the future of journalism and editing as we head into 2009 here. Happy New Year all!

Here’s a tricky newsroom dilemma…

You’ve received a piece of editorial from a client who is contributing copy for your current magazine. They submit the requested 600 words from your detailed Brief, via email, on deadline day – and it is shite.

Argh! What to do?

If you’re the kind of journalist and editor that likes to sub copy super-fast, work through your multi-tasking editorial tasks and stay on top of forward-planning your next edition well before production week on your current mag (this is how I like to work) then receiving crap client contributed copy can put a real spanner in the editorial works – even for the most talented editor.

And – unfortunately – this wasn’t the first time I had come across off-the-mark copy from this contributor. They had supplied copy three months prior, missing the deadline by 24 hours, and then delivering a full 25 percent under the required word count. Tricky.

At that time, I had dropped the piece and produced alternative copy myself. Not on this occasion.

I contacted the client and informed them I would be utilising images from their website to fill the editorial space and presenting their editorial as a series of bullet points instead. They were not happy, but then again, neither was I!

Bottom line? The editorial page looked awesome. They loved it in the magazine. My mag director planned it in as a regular contributed copy page item from that month on, making each issue an additional £2K. Result!

What would you do with sub-standard client copy in these circumstances?