If you’re the person in your group who’s writing news releases, you hopefully have a format to follow (like this fine example from Green Media Toolshed). That takes care of what your text should look like on the page, but where many groups still can get stuck is by not having the main point of the story–what reporters call the “lede”–clear in the opening paragraph. And that can mean losing the attention of the reporter or editor who is looking at covering your story.
Opening your news release with something that is not the heart of the story is called “burying the lede.” The first paragraph should convey the main angle that you’re hoping a reporter will focus on. Why is this news? How will it potentially affect people reading the story? This is your chance to engage the reader by making clear what this story has to do with them.
A great example of “burying the lede” comes from a story that the writer Nora Ephron tells (you can find it via Google Books here). In her high school journalism class, she gets a class assignment to write the opening of a news story for the school paper.
All the faculty will be traveling to a big conference with a prominent speaker in a neighboring city the following week. She and the other students dutifully write out the opening of the news story, focusing on the prominence of the speaker, and where the event will be.
The teacher takes all their draft opening lines and tosses them. What’s the actual lead to this news story? “There will be no school next Thursday.”
When writing a news release or sometimes even when creating a story for your website, stop and ask yourself, “What’s the big idea here? What does the reader want to know?” Sure, your media release should explain the relevant facts, but make sure that your story is not just a recitation of the facts. Make sure that it’s obvious to the reader, right from the beginning, what this story has to do with them. That’s the lead (in reporter-speak, “lede”)–what will get the reader to keep going or move on.
The lead is your chance to tell people what really matters. Take advantage of the opportunity, and you’ll make it more likely that a reporter or editor will see why they should cover your story.
Want more guidance on effective media releases? Check out this PDF from the SPIN Project on News Releases.