HOW DO YOU GET A NEW RELEASE PUBLISHED?
By: Mary Adams McLendon
It’s 7 p.m. and the newsroom downtown is going through the routine panic that overtakes it every night an hour or so before deadline. The ringing phones, humming computer terminals and yelling – coupled with the always -messy desks – make the place inhospitable to outsiders. Over at the religion editor’s desk, he groans as he grinds out his cigar in an overflowing ashtray. He looks at the clock. It’s 30 minutes until his
deadline and he still has one six-inch “hole” for a story left on his page. With his boredom showing, he reaches for a foot-high stack of press releases on the corner of his desk. Some of the pages in the jumbled pile are yellow with age.
What are the chances he will pick up your press release at this point? Pretty good – if you know what to do.
The ideal press release helps both you and the newspaper, and the biggest mistake most ministers make is writing news releases that meet only the church’s needs. Here are things to remember as you prepare news
releases you hope will get printed.
Avoid using church jargon. Assume the editor and the newspaper’s readers don’t understand what “got the victory” or “prayed up” mean. Write in plain, simple English and avoid those cliches you throw around with
Write a press release about something that is unusual or different – a revival with a special speaker, a different youth program, a special musical program, etc. News is the different, the unusual. If you litter
the religion editor’s desk with a press release about every trivial thing your church does, he’ll do what most people do with litter – throw it in the trash.
It helps to study what your newspaper carries on its pages about churches. You may notice after several weeks that the religion editor in your town seems to give better-than-average space to musical programs,
for example. With that information, write your release accordingly next time you have a singing group appear on Sunday morning.
Your release should cover what the journalism students call the “5W’s and the H” – the who, what, when, where, why and how of a story. Tour press release should cover each of those points at least briefly. The
points you will emphasize will vary with each story. If your congregation is having a special Good Friday service, emphasize the what. But don’t forget when it will occur, how it will be conducted, where your church is and so on.
Always type and double-space your press release. Leave a one-inch margin along each side of the page. Start your story’s first, or “lead” paragraph about halfway down the first page. Always put your name and
telephone number in the upper left- or right-hand corner of the first page. This way it will be easy for the newspaper to reach you if the editor needs more information.
After you have written your first release, take the time to call on the religion editor in person. Whether your local newspaper comes out in the morning or the afternoon, the best time to drop in is around 2 p.m. On
afternoon papers, the deadline for that day’s edition has passed. On morning papers, the deadline will be several hours away. Regardless, you will be catching the news staff when they are comparatively relaxed and have time to talk. The paper may not have a religion editor or writer, but find out who handles church-related news-and be friendly.
Tell the editor or reporter you want to help him in any way you can. Newspaper people have a bad reputation as far as church relationships go. Many of them tend to be cynical about everything-including religion. But like anyone else, they respond to people who are honest, open and friendly. Remember: You may be building a friendship that could lead that editor to the Lord. But do not whip out your Bible and start preaching at him then and there. Your release will end up in the wastebasket and you will immediately become just another nut to him like a lot of other crazies who pester newspaper people every day.
A good reason to try to meet the editor in person is that you will be harder to turn down. Your release now has a face behind it. Newspapers receive dozens of press releases in the mail every day. Knowing who you
are may be just enough to get your release used instead of someone else’s.
Never offer to pay the editor for running your release. Newspapers do not charge for using such items. Never ask an editor if you can review the story he writes based on the information you give him. This is a
very touchy area with newspaper people and most will be offended if you ask.
Make sure the newspaper gets your release several days in advance of the event you want to publicize. A week in advance is usually good.
You can expect that the editor will rewrite your release for publication. Don’t be upset. Editors are professionals at rewriting a story so that it reads smoothly and covers all the facts without being too long.
It helps, of course, if your release is already in a well-written form when you hand it to the editor. Most writers say the hardest thing is to write the lead, or opening paragraph. Most readers are lazy and only
read a small amount of each paper, scanning the headlines and maybe the first paragraph of each story. Reporters and editors spend a lot of time crafting leads that will intrigue the reader and get him to read the
whole story. You should do the same.
Consider the two leads below, both for the same story:
“On March 12, Mike Evans, a noted international evangelist, will be the special speaker at First Church of Billings. Evans will talk about his recent trip to Israel.”
But what about this:
“The recent war in Lebanon is a ‘dress rehearsal for Armageddon,’ according to evangelist Mike Evans, who has recently returned from Israel. Evans will speak on his journey when he appears March 12 at First Church of God in Billings.”
Both of the above leads contain the facts, but one gets your attention, and the whole purpose of the story is to get the public to read what is said.
Along with checking over your release for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes, putting a good lead on it is of major importance.What about pictures? Newspapers prefer black and white photographs because they reproduce better. The newspaper may want to come out and take its own photos. A phone call or letter may be enough.
If the newspaper does use your story, call the editor and say thanks. The editor, like anyone else, likes to be appreciated.
A well-written press release is a welcome item in a newsroom. With these things in mind you can easily begin to see your press releases become regular items in your paper. Once you develop a good relationship with the religion editor, a phone call or fact sheet – rather than a full press release – may be enough to get your story in the paper. Once the editor knows you are a reliable source and that you are being objective
(even though you are not), he will come to admire you and respect you as a news source. Eventually the editor will start coming to you for stories.
The Church needs newspapers to spread its message beyond the four walls of church buildings. Relations with the press have been strained, but if you take time to put yourself in the editor’s chair and understand his pressures and needs, things can change for the better. With a little extra effort, you can begin to build a relationship with a very important person. That relationship can pay off by building your church and all of God’s kingdom.
How to Prepare a News Release
When you type a news release, always leave space at the top for the headline or whatever the editor might want to write at the top of the news release.
Always double-space. If possible, triple-space. Remember, you need room for the editor to edit your news release between each line.
Put the words: “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” at the top of the paper. Then put your name and address so the editor can contact you. Put a “working title” at the top of the page.
Generally, paragraphs are one sentence long. They are never more than four lines long. Remember that set into type, these paragraphs will be very long for a reader to follow with his eyes unless you keep your
If the news release is “more than a page long – and it most always will be, type “–more–” at the bottom of the page so the editor knows there is more to read. The typesetter also needs to know this.
Start you second page and all succeeding pages by typing the title and page number. When you finish the news release, write “–30–” at the end so the editor and typesetter know it’s the end.
If you include photos, they should be black and white, if possible. Most editors prefer 5×7 inch. But 8×10 is okay, too. Type the description on a sticky-backed label and affix to the back of each photo.
Don’t write with a ball point pen because it damages the photo. Don’t send a photo you can’t afford to have lost or never returned.
Mail photos with a heavy piece of cardboard so they don’t bend. Write “Photos – Do Not Bend” on the outside.
Always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Include proper postage, since most newspapers will not return anything unless postage is included.
Tips for Communicating the Gospel in Print
1. Make your church newsletter something people want to read, instead of throw away.
2. Use your newspaper ad to put the plan of salvation in a professional way.
3. Have you ever considered direct mail? You can rent the names of households in your area. You can zero in on those homes with a message about your church.
4. Brochures can tell the story of what Christ is doing in your church.
5. Local high school newspapers are frequently glad to publicize events that relate to their own students, or they’ll run human interest stories about some of their students. Always work through a student on the
staff. Maybe there’s one in your church youth group who is on the staff.
6. Your denominational magazine is always looking for good articles. Consider writing one and submitting it. It might be a favorite sermon. Or it might be an exciting miracle that happened in your church.
7. Christian magazines are looking for good writers, too. You might consider sending articles to Ministries, Charisma, Christian Life, Virtue, Eternity, Chrisitianity Today, etc.
8. Secular magazines-like a “city” magazine in your area – may be open to an article about exciting things that are going on not only in your church, but in all churches. Your articles don’t have to push only what
you’re doing, but might be on all churches in your area where the Spirit is moving.
9. If you live in a small town, you might consider writing a column for the local weekly newspaper. But this is only if you have an “in” with the local editor, and if you have something to say 52 times a year.
10. How about writing a column and paying for the space to run it? The newspaper would run the word “advertisement” by it, but at least you’d be getting your message across to the readers of the newspaper.
11. Maybe you could run the “newspaper Bible” in your newspaper as a daily column. Contact “Newspaper Bible,” Box 1374, Roswell NM 88201. The Living Bible text is used. Articles are kept short (8-15 verses) yet
long enough to present a complete teaching. Thousands of people who would never pick up a Bible will see it. The text is “camera ready” to be placed in the paper. All you do is arrange for it and pay the tab, if
12. If you have an up-to-date testimony in your church (a miraculous healing, etc.) how about printing a tract? Get a good writer to write it interestingly. Maybe even pay a newspaper reporter or magazine free-
lancer $25 to $50 to rewrite it very well. Have an artist design it and have it printed. A small tract would cost only a penny or so each. Your people would love to hand them out as they share Jesus with their
friends. Do it while the testimony is “hot.”
13. You can publish “minibooks” for only pennies. You can put your best sermons in print. Better to get a writer to work with you so you aren’t embarrassed by the lack of quality later on. That is unless, of course,
you are a good writer yourself.
14. Consider writing a book. You need to work up to this. But there is no better way to have the message of what God is saying to you “live on” than in a book. You can self-publish, or you can submit it to a publisher.
15. Ever thought of running the plan of salvation in a simple way in your own bulletin or newsletter as a short, standing feature? Think of all the unsaved people in your congregation who would read it during a
service. They might then be more ready to respond to an appeal for salvation at the end of the service after having read it.
16. How about publishing a small magazine periodically? If it is professional (and you wouldn’t do it if it weren’t) you might consider the expense of sending it free-of-charge to residents in the area surrounding your church. Good public relations. And the people who see it this way might be touched with the gospel message presented.
17. Perhaps you should consider printing a flier occasionally, listing prayer needs along with the names of people in the hospital. It can be placed in a person’s Bible where they’ll have it during their devotional
time. Some churches hand this out at the mid-week prayer service, but it could be done at any time. It should be updated at least every two weeks.
18. Encourage your people to read the Bible by printing your own Bible-reading plan, along with an exhortation on how to better study the Bible. You might suggest Scriptures to read in order to finish reading through the Bible in one year.
19. If you have a strong sermon outline, save it. Have your secretary type it. Later, you might want to assemble these into loose-leaf notebooks to make available to congregation members as well as other
ministers who are always looking for good sermon material.
20. Do your people memorize the Scripture as they should? Probably not. Select the key verses and passages for them to memorize and put them on a flier. This way they can carry the flier around in their pockets and memorize the Scriptures during spare moments. Or you might want to print on a little heavier paper stock and lay out the Scriptures so they could be cut apart into index card size, with one verse or group of verses on each individually cut apart piece of paper. This helps them to memorize the Scriptures even better because they can use the cards as flash cards.
21. If you have a message of comfort and cheer for the sick or those who have lost a loved one, consider publishing a “mini” booklet with 32 or so pages. You and your people will have something to leave with those they visited in the hospital or at the funeral home. It will probably be read, and it can really minister at a very important time in a person’s life.
22. If you or someone in your church make up good stories for children, how about publishing them on the front and back of two pages. The kids would love them. They could share the stories with their friends, etc.
Or you might submit the story to one of the children’s magazines that take free-lance material.
(The above material was taken from the book Solving the Ministry’s Toughest Problems.)
Christian Information Network