Photo by MMattes/thinkstock.com.
Although we may now be firmly in the age of social media, traditional media will continue to be an important part of a farm marketing plan for the foreseeable future. That means you shouldn't forget the basics of writing a news release. In fact, it's probably more important than ever to write strong news releases, and it helps to also develop your photography skills. Here's why.
Newsrooms are shrinking. Blame it on the economy, the rise of online media or both, but newspapers today typically have fewer reporters and photographers on staff. That means editors have to prioritize assignments and reporters, and photographers will be sent out to cover breaking news like fires, accidents, crime and politics first.
If you want your local paper to cover your farm, most likely you'll have to write the story yourself. That will usually be in the form of a news release. Harried editors will appreciate receiving a news release that's virtually ready to publish, and you can ensure that it's publish-ready by following a few tips.
It's important to understand what a news release is and what it isn't. A news release, also known as a press release, is a news story that you write about your own business. The perspective should be in the third person; in other words, it should be written as if someone else were writing about you. Your audience is the newspaper's readers, not its editor or reporters.
That said, you still have to grab the attention of the editor or reporter first. So give the release an intriguing headline that conveys the news. The editor may rewrite it, but at least you've grabbed their attention.
Put the most important information near the top of the release. The reader should understand what the story is about after reading only the first sentence or two. Details can come later, in the lower part of the release, but critical information such as your website or an event date, time and location should be near the top. If the editor only has room for a paragraph or two, they're likely to cut from the bottom.
Today, news writing style is often more informal because of the influence of social media. So it's all right to make the tone of your release somewhat conversational, but don't overdo it and get too cute or too crazy.
Technology makes news release distribution easier. You can email your release, but paste the text into the body of the message - don't send it as an attachment. This makes it easier for the recipient to read the release immediately, whether on a computer or a mobile device. Plus, some folks are wary - and rightly so - about opening attachments that could unleash malware.
If you want to provide additional background information or photos to go with the release, include links to the info and images on your website rather than sending them as attachments. The photos could also be posted to a photo-sharing site such as Flickr so editors can download them if they choose to use them.
Speaking of photography, if you provide strong, high-quality visuals to go along with your release, editors will appreciate it. Many daily newspapers, which in the past would only use photos by their own staff, will now use contributed photos, provided the quality is good enough.
Several factors contribute to a photo's usability for publication. Most newer digital cameras, even the point-and-shoot type, can shoot publication-quality images, as long as you have the camera set to the highest resolution and follow some basic photography principles.
In news photography, people pictures are the most desirable, and it's important to see faces. Get close! Fill the frame with your main subject, ideally one or a few people. Get action! The photo is even better if the people are doing something. Try an angle other than eye-level. Photos from a lower or higher perspective are more interesting and may help to show the faces of people engaged in an activity.
When you send photos to a publication, include a caption for each photo that provides the names of the people pictured and a description of what they're doing. Sometimes the editor will only run a photo and caption and not the news release, but that's OK. You still get coverage, and as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
So the next time you want to get the word out in traditional media, if you're willing to help the media by playing reporter and photographer, you'll increase the chances that they'll publish your news.
The author, a freelance writer, is a public affairs specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Amherst, Massachusetts, and was previously director of communications for the Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture.