News writing for PR


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A lecture in PR writing for the media for second-year students.

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News writing for PR

  1. 1. PRN 2121/4124 Module 2 News and writing: the key to PR
  2. 2. • Readings • It’s a uni • Take responsibility • Self-directed We start the lecture with a “rocket” to everyone. If you were in the lecture, you’ll know why. SImply, you have to take control of, and responsibility for, your learning. This is not school, where everything is done for you. The aim is to achieve a high degree of self- directed learning. You have to do the readings. After all, they are short, mostly newspaper articles. You will need to print them out and bring to the tutes.
  3. 3. A writer’s problem does not change. He himself changes and the world he lives in changes, but his problem remains the same. It is always how to write truly and, having found out what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it. – Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) Hemingway received the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. Hemingway's distinctive writing style is characterized by economy and understatement
  4. 4. Revision: what is news? News is something that something that somebody somewhere doesn’t want you to print, or wants to suppress. All the rest is advertising. – William Randolph Hurst & Lord Northcliffe •New •Factual •Interesting When a dog bites a man, that’s not news. But if a man bites a dog, that’s news. – John Bogart & Charles Dana A lot of this is a recap on last week’s lecture. However, it will be the last time it gets repeated in a lecture. AS PR people we have to understand what news is. Firstly, news is something that’s new: whether it’s a product or an idea. If it’s not new it won;t be interesting. There must be facts to report, otherwise there is no news, and the facts must be of interest to your audience.
  5. 5. Why news is relevant to PR • Media relations 70% of workload • Binds society • History • Basis of all writing As a PR practitioner you will be dealing with the media in some way shape or form. In this subject (and in fact all communications subjects) By media, you should understand we are not only talking about traditional media (print, radio and TV) but also about the new forms of media, or e- media, which we discussed last week. What are they? If the role of PR is to continually engage your organisation’s publics, then you have to employ tactics to do that. As part of PR planning you will be required to continually produce media strategies to keep your messages in front of key audiences. The trick these days is to know which audiences. But whether it’s the wider populace, or niche markets, such as 13 to 16-year-old girls who attend private schools (what products would they be interested in?) you will have to contact the media, or present your message in some written form through a media channel. News is one of the things that holds society together. It is something we all use and share. News is what we have in common. Newswriting is an important function for society. The newswriter has the job of telling society about itself. “The first draft of history”. It is a basic form, the form from which many other types of writing are derived. Much of media writing is newswriting; that includes public relations and advertising copy writing as well as broadcasting and print. For instance, if the University changed registration procedures or raised tuition rates, you would want to know about it. A news writer would have to tell you. We assume that if you can learn to write news in the inverted pyramid form, you can learn to write in any other form that we teach.
  6. 6. News values • Conflict • Currency • Impact • Prominence • Proximity • Timeliness • Human interest One of the first things you should understand about news is news values. These are the concepts used to determine whether or not an event is news. You will need to understand that these things that go to make up a good news story will also apply equally in PR, when you come to produce a release. An event is judged as newsworthy or not newsworthy depending on whether or not it exhibits any of these values. An event does not have to have all of these things, although sometimes that happens. And almost everything that is news has to have the news value of timeliness. Make sure you understand these values thoroughly.
  7. 7. Importance of writing in PR • Central to all media • Mark of education • Power • The ability to control and articulate ideas and information gives you power over what other people know and think about. • Education • POWER: Writing is a powerful activity. The ability to control and articulate ideas and information gives you power over what other people know and think about. This course is different from all other writing course that you have had in two important ways: First, we emphasise information. The major purpose of writing for the mass media is to present information. Second, one of the purposes of this course is to teach you how to write in a professional environment. That is, we want you to understand what the demands of professionalism are and what you will need to meet those demands. Third, writing in a media environment usually means writing for a mass audience. Chances are, a lot of people are going to read or hear or see what you write (not just your English professor). Understanding that audience is a big part of learning to write for the mass media. Finally, there is the concept of modesty. By that we mean that good writing for the mass media puts the writer in the background and emphasizes instead the content of the writing. An audience doesn’t care what you think or how you feel about what you are writing. The audience wants information, and it wants that information presented accurately, completely, efficiently and precisely.
  8. 8. Grammar and spelling • Apostrophes • Hyphens • The Primary Grammar Handbook (Winch) On the SCAA web site, it mention that this week’s material would include grammar and spelling. This applies only to the tutorials, where you will receive an exercise or two on these two aspects of the unit. However, the fact you are uni students implies a certain level of skill in these two areas. There are references to this on the web site. It’s up to you to familiarise yourselves with the rules. I recommend the book ...
  9. 9. News (PR)-writing basics •Use short simple words •Use short, simple sentences and paragraphs •Write in the active not in the passive •Avoid slang and jargon •Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly •Be brief and specific •Write as if spoken •Write to the LCD
  10. 10. Four characteristics of media writing 1. Accuracy 2. Completeness 3. Efficiency 4. Precision Last week, I mentioned the basic rules: the five Ws, the triple A rule and the KISS principle. Following on from the last slide, let me summarise the four main things that should be a feature of your writing in this unit: 1. Accuracy - goes without saying 2. Completeness - tell the whole story. You should present your information in a context so that it can be easily understood by a mass audience. You should aim to answer all the questions your audience would want answered. That’s why it’s a good rule to put yourself in their position. Chances are if you want the question answered, so will they. 3. Efficiency - use the fewest possible words 4. Precision - stick to the point, don’t waffle. It also means that as a writer, you take special care with the language. You know good grammar and practice it. You use words for precisely what they mean.
  11. 11. Plan your writing - PPP •Research your subject •Understand the material •Know what is important •Know what results you want As with everything in PR, planning is essential, and it applies equally as much to writing your material.
  12. 12. Developing a message • What do you exactly want to say? • What do you want to happen as a result of your communication?
  13. 13. The right medium • Choose the right medium to reach your public. • Use appropriate style for the medium.
  14. 14. Reaching your public • Phrase your message so your public understands. • Know you readers or listeners, including their beliefs, values and characteristics.
  15. 15. Style – readable, listenable • Sentence length • Word length • Avoid being wordy • KISS • Average sentence length is approximate 16 words (Robert Gunning) • Don’t use so many words (revise, edit) and cut down where possible.
  16. 16. ‘Naturalness’ • Write like you’re speaking • Use a conversational style.
  17. 17. Human interest •Remember you are writing TO and FOR people, even when you are not writing about people. •When appropriate – address the reader as you.
  18. 18. Clichés • Over the moon • A cash cow • Hard nut to crack • Nose to grindstone • Straw that broke ... • Wipe slate clean • Sport of kings • Another day, another $ • Every post a winner • Money-hungry • Took the field • Rolling in dough • Muddy the water • Spitting image • Ball’s in your court • Dog-eat-dog At all costs, avoid clichés. What is a cliché? It’s a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. It's something that lots of people say and it conveys some sort of idea or message. The terms Hackneyed, stereotyped and well-worn come to mind. Try to be original in your writing. That, like a lot of things, is easier said than done. Most of all, when I think of cliches, I think of sportswriting, and sportspeople who are often quoted with these “old chestnuts” ...
  19. 19. Eliminate Bias •Use gender-neutral language •Remember – careless sentence structure can offend
  20. 20. Inverted Pyramid The inverted pyramid is an anti-narrative structure of writing about events. Instead of starting at the beginning, the inverted pyramid structure demands that you begin with the most important information and that you present information in decreasing order of importance. Today the inverted pyramid structure is highly developed and widely used, not just in newspapers and wire services but in many kinds of writing. Many business letters, for instance, use an inverted pyramid structure to tell the recipient immediately what the most important information is.
  21. 21. Another view . . . PLUS HOW This second view of the inverted pyramid shows the content and aims of each section. Study newspaper articles. You will notice how each one takes an idea from the lead and develops it. None of those paragraphs drops into a narrative about the story. Ask why the writer put the information together in the way that he or she did. Lead paragraph should be one sentence and a maximum of 30 words. The second paragraph should develop an aspect of the lead paragraph's information. Do not drop into a chronological narrative in the second paragraph.
  22. 22. The lead • Angle - journalism • USP - advertising • Hook - PR One of the main aims of this unit is to have you writing a decent first two paragraphs of a news story/media release, plus headline. Without them you will have no chance of capturing your reader’s attention in those vital first few seconds. You already know you’ve got a good story, but how are you going to pitch it to your audience. Unfortunately, it takes a good deal of practice, and is something not easily taught in a lecture theatre, and in a few weeks. However, at least by having you thinking about the overall way in which articles are approached you will have a greater chance of success when it comes to being asked to write your first release. Your textbook, pages 194-200 has information you should have read before coming to the tutorial.
  23. 23. Summary 1. Write accurate, completely, precisely and efficiently. 2. Provide the latest information. 3. Gather, organise and interpret. 4. Write in a simple, straightforward manner. 5. Present information so readers can see and use easily. As Hemingway says, it does not matter what medium we are working in, the problems that confront us in writing remain the same. So, as media professionals, we should strive to to do certain things: • DOT POINTS Perhaps point three is most important. Interpretation. That is what people need and expect from us. If we simply dump information on them, we don't do them much of a service. Above all, remember it’s not easy. But you’ll get to practice that in the tutorial. NEXT WEEK: Guest lecturer, Bill Rule, Sunday Times.
  24. 24. Layout: the media release • Not old-fashioned • Gold Coast • Basic elements: • date • heading • body • contacts
  25. 25. The backgrounder • Details beyond main theme • Similar to interview notes • What would you want to know? • Not the same as fact sheet Backgrounders are included so journalists can tailor the release to their particular audience. Backgrounders give details ‘behind the product’. If you’re promoting a product, the information can take the form of reference to a designer or engineer, or the latest technologies employed in bringing the product to market. It can include details on the company itself that bring relevance to the product or the story. In many ways it is an abridged feature article. It features key information - a brief history, core products and services, industry information and executive staff. It should be written in a factual, informative way that engages press without being quot;hypequot;. In your first assignment the backgrounder is being sent to radio stations, with the aim of encouraging a talkback segment. By providing a backgrounder, you have done the work for a producer, who is typically flat-out trying to get background information on other stories. Ask yourself what extra information a journalist may need to tailor the story, and that’s what should be in the backgrounder.
  26. 26. Compa ny Backg r ou n der The Wri te Market Headquartered in Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia, The Write Market was created in 1998 to develop and market web sites. The Write Market is a quot;mom and popquot; company whose primary goal is to research and understand the ways that the Web can be used as a marketing medium. The Write Market's flagship site,, is an archive of marketing resources free for public use. It includes tutorials, tools, books, graphics, and links which surround the topic of Internet marketing. This site is a direct reflection of the ongoing research required to understand and apply Internet marketing strategy. The Write Market also offers web design and development services. The Company works with carefully selected consultants to offer a wide range of services, including graphic design, web copy writing, web design, scripting and Internet promotion services. The Internet is still in a fledgling stage. There are numerous strategies to sell products and services using Internet technologies. It is the Company's goal to research, apply and determine which technologies work the best for web marketing. Those discoveries are passed on to the Company's clients and to the public through The Write Market web site. It is not enough to know HTML in order to develop a successful web site. It is a complex process to know which marketing strategies and technology will work best in order to sell a particular product or service. The Write Market's success is based on the vision, research and knowledge of its partners. Renee Kennedy's focus is on researching and applying web marketing and navigation strategies that will achieve sales results. Terry Kent researches and applies the technologies that make the graphic design elements perform at optimal capacity in a cross-platform environment. Currently, The Write Market has published a book on search engine optimization and placement. This book is focused on one of the primary strategies that a web site should use to advertise products and/or services. The book is written for a beginner and includes worksheets to guide the process of search engine promotion. The Write Market's future plans are to continue developing sites, and to publish a book on the topic of quot;How to Write for the Webquot; in December 2001.
  27. 27. Fact sheet • Facts, specifics • Figures, times, dates • Keep short • Mostly bullet points Fact sheets should not be confused with backgrounders. Fact sheets summaries the most important facts and figures, times, dates, product specifics, company history. A fact sheet contains the specifics that quantify your story or release. Keep fact sheets short. Where a backgrounder can run three or more pages (if details warrant it) a fact sheet should be one page only, simply laid out and containing mainly bullet points.
  28. 28. Media alert • Advisory •Usually visual An quot;Alertquot; or quot;Advisoryquot; is an invitation to attend and cover an upcoming event. It is not basis for an article. In our scenario, we will be sending the alert to television, so the activity will have to have some visual aspect to it - a display, film, or at the least a media conference. This form works best when speakers are well-known; the event is self-explanatory (i.e. a panel discussion or a lecture); and the topic doesn’t require quot;sellingquot; because it is timely and of general interest. It also works well for TV and to a lesser extent, print.
  29. 29. YOUR ORGANISATION MEDIA ALERT November 12, 2002 MEDIA CONFERENCE, 14 November 14, 10.30am LATEST POLLING DATA ON AUSTRALIAN ATTITUDES TOWARD THE GLOBAL FUND FOR THE ENVIRONMENT Australia demonstrates financial commitment to improving the environment WHAT Conference to announce the results of a Wirthlin Worldwide poll on Australian opinion of the Global Fund to improve the world’s climate Full polling data and summaries will be made available WHEN 10.30am-11am Thursday, 14 November WHERE Parliament House, Room 226, Media Briefing Room WHO Prime Minister, John Howard John Kennedy, Senior Vice President, Wirthlin Worldwide Richard Feachem, Executive Director of the Global Fund The survey was conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide, an independent polling organisation, for the United Nations Association. Key findings to be announced include: • Citizens support the Australian contribution to the Global Fund • Most want increased Australian involvement and financial commitment to international health issues, in particular those that concern children. Contact: Joe Brown, title, Phone 1234 5678 TIPS: Date of release and contact information clear in header  Headline describes event clearly. Break each line in a logical place (not after quot;willquot;)  Second headlines are often unnecessary: this one gives two facts about the issue likely to be of interest to the reporters we expected to attend (UN correspondents)   Specific description of event. This would be printed on a letterhead, so the connection was understood. However, most alerts are sent by email, so you would have to be clear who you are. Provide an end time. Don't try to 'trick' reporters into arriving early or staying for part of program, i.e. if meet and greet is from 7-7:30 make it clear that program begins at 7:30.  Alerts are not diplomatic. List only key participants, and ' big' names. You can credit deserving individuals verbally or in literature at the event.  Include only necessary background information.  Often none is required. Here poll org. is relevant as it's well-known as conservative-- adding perceived legitimacy to the findings 
  30. 30. Other items • Sound grabs • Biographies SMRs • Graphics • Pictures • Product, personnel You won’t need to produce this material in this unit. However, in a full media kit they would be included. Today, all of this material can easily be placed on line. However, the components are linked to the SOCIAL MEDIA RELEASE, which we will be studying in the coming weeks, and which will form part of your second assignment.
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