Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The new media press release - sign up!

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 7, 2006

I've had a tremendous amount of interest in my proposal to change the press/news release into something more useful. Yes, there was a tremendous amount of pushback on my Die! Press Release Die! Die! Die! moderate proposal, but there was also a tremendous amount of support.

Yes, I should have used a less inflammatory headline. However, I wanted to make the point that the press/news release is antiquated and a tremendous waste of valuable human labor. Why not put that work towards something that I can use?

Newsrooms around the world are decimated, there are ever fewer journalists because journalism needs to find a new source of revenues. It is cheaper and more effective to sell products next to a search box than next to journalism.

Or, as I sometimes stress my point, you can sell shampoo next to a search box but not next to a news story about beheadings in Iraq.

This is an extreme example, but the fact is that journalism is not the best way to sell products and services compared with online marketing around a search box. It is cheaper to advertise next to a search box because you don't have to pay for the journalism.

When I worked for a newspaper, the Financial Times, my employer sold products and services to pay for the journalism. The reason Google et al can sell advertising cheaper than newspapers is that they don't have to pay for the journalism. Yet journalism provides a social benefit that Google et al, do not...

So who will pay for the journalism? That is what is decimating newsrooms and that is what is making it difficult to report on the news and to provide that independent analysis/comment that independent media provide society.

This is the reason why I'm advocating change. The future is about professional media and professional communicators (PR firms, corporate communications groups) becoming partners in telling truthful, honest stories.

The future for journalism and PR is about helping communities, companies, people, tell their stories. And the best stories are compelling stories. And the most compelling stories are truthful stories.

And that means no spin. That doesn't mean that you cannot comb your hair, put on some pleasant clothes and put your best side forward, as we all do when we leave the house. But it means no spin, no falsehoods, no lying.

The future calls for honest, truthful representation. Marketing, as a term will go away. Representing, being an advocate for someone, will be more meaningful than our current marketing, PR, sales terms...

And that is where the fundamental unit of company communication, the press/news release plays an important role.

In my 25 years in the business of being a news reporter the press release has not changed one iota. Yet our media world is unrecognizable today from when I started in this business. We have podcasts, vidcasts, a multitude of media at our disposal yet press/news releases rarely have more than one link in them!

My proposal:

Put a lot of links in the press/news release so that I don't have to spend time adding links. But don't put links behind everything, be judicious, do it to add value, to help readers find more information.

- Deconstruct the press release so I can have a page of analyst quotes, a page of customer quotes, a page of company executive quotes, a page of relevant articles...again, all with lots of links connecting me, or my readers with relevant information.

- Deconstruct the press/news release in such a way that things are labelled/tagged. This is the label/tag for: "Company founded date" for "today's stock price" and this is "First quarter revenues." As a publisher, I can pre-assemble the information I need to complete my news story.

As a magazine or news site, maybe I can publish my "API" so that I can receive the news information in exactly the way I want it, so I can quickly integrate it into my news flow. As a reporter, I'm still in control of my spin, my angle on a news story. But there is no reason for me to rewrite things that are facts about a company, an individual, a community.

The journalist puts the spin/angle on a news story in the first two to three paragraphs. The rest is: what the CEO said today, what the company announced that day, what it announced last week, what is stock price that day, when it was founded. It is all factual, unspinable information.

There is no reason why I should have to rewrite it. Why not quote it directly: "The company said: . . ." And text could even have a pastel colored background to tell readers: this part of the news story is from the journalist, this part of the story is from the company. It is all transparent.

So, over the next few weeks, I will be working with representatives from Edelman, Shift Communications, Eastwick, and many others that want to create a standard format, standard labels/tags for the New Media Press Release.

I've no idea what the final product will look like, but that is the good part because we can all work on figuring out these things.

Ross Mayfield, CEO of SocialText, the corporate wiki company, has put together an online collaborative space that we can use to figure out the format for the new media press release. Please drop me an email with "new media press release" in the subject title if you'd like to work on this project.

I can't claim that I know how this will work out, but it will be worth your while, I promise :-)


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