Seeing as my exam tomorrow is on Media Writing, it seems fitting here to talk about writing news reports and press releases. Well the first thing you have to know is that they are necessarily boring. It is a totally different experience writing them as compared to writing imaginative fiction, where anything can happen. Over here, only the truth happens.
That said, the reading process doesn’t need to be boring at all. Reporters of news reports have the liberty to add what we call “colour” to their writing, by describing a crime in dramatic (but accurate) fashion, using similes or metaphors, that kind of thing. Press releases are more limited in that they have to represent the company, so the writer cannot go off on their own tangent. News reports, at least, can be sensationalised to some extent.
However, colour forms a very small part of the writing. The main thing that has been drilled into us is simplicity and clarity. The lead must comprise about 30 to 35 words and be 1 sentence only, and it must answer all the questions of the story, the 5Ws and 1H, basically. Imagine trying to squeeze all the details of the article into that one sentence! This is all because readers rarely read to the end of an article, so the lead must be detailed enough to entice them to read further, or to at least explain the story if they choose to skip it. How journalists toil for the sake of their fastidious readers! And subsequent paragraphs also have to be 1 or 2 sentences in length. Basically the point of news reports and press releases are that sentences have to be short and understandable.
By the way, some of you may be wondering what I mean by press releases. Well, they are the articles that PR executives send to journalists, hoping for them to take up their story. For instance, say a company has just released a new product. How will the journalists know if the PR people doesn’t tell them? And how will they know whether the product is news-worthy if the PR person doesn’t write an article out for them? So in a way, some of the articles you see in newspapers weren’t written by the journalists themselves, but by PR people in a company, painting their company in a good light. And press releases are also highly competitive — perhaps even moreso than news reports — because a journalist receives hundreds of press releases a day, and only chooses 10% of them to publish each day, while the remainder go straight into the trash. Press releases have to be really enticing to be chosen, and a journalist has a much more critical eye than the common reader.
So writing news reports and press releases is a very businesslike task. All the important information go to the top, and everything is kept compact and short. You may add colour, context (why the reader should care, because most of the time, they don’t) and transitions to smooth out the story, but the use of the word “story” is still very different from narratives. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction, but fact still must be woven and packaged into a palatable form before it can compete with fiction for readers’ eyeballs and attention.