A recent study by Reginald F. Moody, Ph.d., published in the Public Relations Journal, analyzed how newspaper editors prefer to receive their news releases. What type of writing style did they find most enjoyable and most usable regarding the format?
When I was in grad school for public relations, as well as most students in journalism, we all learned the straight, hard news story: inverted pyramid with the 5ws/1h constructed in the lead: who, what, where, when, why, and how. The most important information goes up top as a summary, and more detailed, supporting info in following paragraphs. The least important content goes at the bottom. This helps an editor get to the crux of the story immediately and also delete story content to fit word count if needed.
The other type of release was what is called the soft lead…more of a narrative type story. Magazine editors are very familiar with these types of releases. News releases based on this format get more into the setting, characters, themes, feelings, conflicts, plots, and other aspects of the story. These types of releases can be more enjoyable and engaging to editors and some research shows that editors are breaking away from traditional news releases in favor for these types of feature-oriented communiqués; especially if the news isn’t that exciting or compelling. This method also might be resonating more strongly with a new breed of readers.
The outcome I took from the research, and in tune with my years in academia and corporate is this: some editors prefer straight news and some prefer more of the soft, feature tone. Ok, not very conclusive. But I think the takeaway here is to not ignore writing a news release with a feature lead. Most PR practitioners write straight news releases with a hard news format. Depending on the story and how much of a hard news element it has, it might be a better strategy to take the narrative tone. Of course, one of the differences between news and features is the date sensitivity…does the news release absolutely have to be released today? Or, can it go out tomorrow? If the latter, the narrative news release might be the way to go to increase impact and looks by the media.
One last point made in the study is that sometimes the best release is a hybrid approach; a release that uses elements from both writing styles. This is also gaining momentum by news release writers.