Writing a news release: Similar to but different from writing a news story

Keep Alachua County Beautiful executive director Mickie MacKenzie was our source for writing a news release. She discussed the importance of promoting citizen concern about having a clean and healthy environment. (Photo by Chass Bronson)


We’re now in the public relations section of Writing for Mass Communication.

We’ve analyzed news releases and the stories based on those releases that have been published in the newspaper. We’ve dissected news releases and discussed leads, use of quotes, inclusion of sponsors and mission statement. We’ve talked about how news releases are similar to news stories and how they are different. I’ve emphasized that AP style is used in news releases. They’ve written news releases based on information provided and from using the organization’s Web site.

So today it was time to take the next step — a live source.

Mickie MacKenzie, executive director of Keep Alachua County Beautiful, came to campus to be “our supervisor” as we collected information to write a news release on the Great American Cleanup.

I role played being her intern and asking questions to enable the class to be able to write a news release.

She and I had talked three times on the phone about this activity and I had e-mailed her, too, but I didn’t meet her until today. That’s a fun part of the assignment for me — getting to meet people from the community who are involved in organizations and activities that are newsworthy and are useful for the students to learn about.

A show of hands in one of the lectures indicated that less than a third of the students were aware of Keep America Beautiful. They all know about it now, and I imagine that some of the students will be at Westside Park on April 19 to participate in the cleanup.

Sources and supervisors often talk faster than you can write. I could hear a few students puffing in exasperation when Mickie was talking faster than they could write. But that’s the way it works — most people are talking at their speed and not at your writing speed. With practice, you learn how to let them talk with you listening and then repeat information to make sure you heard them correctly and to slow them down.

Accuracy – KACB’s Web site included the organization’s contact information. I had assumed that would be what we’d be using, but she provided us with a different e-mail address. So always good to check contact information, even if it is on an organization’s or person’s Web site.

And one last note on accuracy…

I’d posted a handout on the course Web site with information about this assignment and included the Keep Alachua County Beautiful Web site. Ah, the importance of having every letter correct and in the proper order. Instead of arriving at the KACB Web site, the students clicked to Kansas Advocates for Better Care, certainly a worthwhile organization but not the one they will be writing a news release for.

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