Last month The Yes Men issued a statement supposedly from G.E. stating the company was donating the entirety of its $3.2 billion tax refund back to the federal government. The release, issued on official-looking G.E. stationery, was picked up by The Associated Press and USA Today, which then pulled its story and ran another on the fact that AP got duped.
The Yes Men even went to the trouble of creating a website that looked like a legitimate G.E. site and included a link in the release.
The news business is fast and furious. In this 24-hour news cycle there is constantly something breaking (even if it's just that The Biebs got his bangs cut). This pace certainly means human error could be a factor in misspellings and other typos.
But releasing a completely false story? What happened to fact checking? The reporters I work with (the good ones, anyway) check and double check information before submitting a story. Dates, names and phone numbers - nothing is too small.
Know why? Because those reporters are held accountable for the mistakes. And it's not pretty when they make too many of them.
How does a completely bogus story slip through the cracks at two of the most elite news organizations in the country? Hey, USA Today, you ever think about calling the company? Hey, AP, ever think about asking around a little? A $3.2 billion donation to the federal government didn't strike you as a TAD more generous than G.E. had ever been in the past?
To quote Charlie Brown: good grief.
News release mistakes can turn a positive spin into a communications hiccup. These may seem like simple considerations to avoid, but reporters won’t take a second look before tossing your release if it qualifies with these infractions:
1. Language is too glowing regarding the subject matter. Stick to the hard facts. If it sounds as though the product or service is being editorialized, the information may lose its credibility.
2. Contriving a hook. Creating a hook for your release is a good idea...as long as it is relevant, creative and makes sense. Nothing will kill credibility with an reporter faster than a week or contrived hook.
3. The setup is too lengthy. Get to the point and get there quickly. Who, what, when, where and why. Don’t make the reader “fish” for the salient information. Remember your inverted pyramid. Give them the basics in the first paragraph.
4. Feigning familiarity with a publication or journalist. Don’t act as though you know the journalist or editor you are submitting your release to if you actually don’t know them. The insincerity of your greeting will translate directly to the release content and will likely result in it being tossed with yesterday’s news.
5. Proofing Errors. All content must be accurate. Period. Proofing errors are an instant deal killer for many reporters. Not to mention the poor reflection on you as a professional. Along those lines, make sure you’re up on your AP Style. They just made some changes to long-standing rules, and you need to know ‘em.