From the Editor: Press releases always welcome, but they are just the first step

People are a lot more savvy about how newspapers work than they used to be.

Most folks, for example, seem to understand that there’s a hard-line separation between the newsroom and ad salespeople. They realize reporters can write about anything that is said in a public meeting, and that editors almost never smoke cigars in the newsroom or rail against webbed crime-fighters.

Press releases are a more complicated matter.

On one hand, they are very helpful in alerting reporters to possible news stories, laying out the basics and providing a valuable foundation of facts. All newspapers welcome them. We want to hear from you, whether it’s through a press release, a notable, an announcement or just a short note.

We want people to tell us about serious issues and story ideas. We want to hear about the kid who won a laser tag tournament, peacocks harassing dogs, wedding anniversaries and all the things that make a community newspaper part of a community.

On the other hand, it’s surprising how often people misunderstand the purpose of a formal press release. No, we probably won’t run your press release in the newspaper — though small “notables” and announcements are a different matter. We have reporters with degrees in journalism who understand newspaper style rules, as well as the mechanics and ethics of writing news.

Don’t be surprised if a reporter calls you to follow up on your press release.

There are exceptions. Sometimes we receive straight-forward information announcing things like events or donations that have no possible spin or controversy associated with them. These are stories that may not warrant a full-news treatment or we simply need to fill a space. In that case, we might edit or rewrite such information for newspaper style and clarity, explaining in the story that it is “according to a press release.”

We may publish it in the newspaper if we have room.

Sometimes people get mad or have hurt feelings when their press releases don’t run. For example, a former county commissioner used to write “press releases” on politically charged issues that were one-sided and portrayed herself as the conquering hero. She was mistaken in thinking we would run them as news, although we do covet opinion pieces.

Things were different in the old days of community newspapers when voluminous pages had to be filled and small-town papers functioned like Facebook for the analog age — just without the mean comments and conspiracy theories. (Although those old newspapers often included mind-bending racism and sexism.)

Yet people shouldn’t hesitate to send us information, whether it’s in the form of a formal press release or an informal note. Email us at editor@whidbeynewsgroup.com.

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