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The News Release Format For The 21st Century:
A Receiver-Based Model For The Electronic Medium
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of South Carolina
4002 Carolina Coliseum
Columbia, South Carolina 29208
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The News Release Format For The 21st Century:
A Receiver-Based Model For The Electronic Medium
A content analysis of electronic news releases shows that electronic
news releases are basically an electronic version of traditional
print public relations material that is not being formatted or
structured to fit the qualities and advantages of the electronic
medium. This study reviews the current status of the electronic news
release format and suggests an electronic news release format suited
to take advantage of the qualities of the receiver-based medium.
The News Release Format For The 21st Century:
A Receiver-Based Model For The Electronic Medium
Throughout the 20th Century the news release was considered as a
basic tool and one of the most effective tactics for practitioners to
get their messages in front of the media and in turn in front of the
various publics important to the organization. The traditional
strategy of a news release has always been to have information
contained in the release disseminated to the public by the media and
by passing through the media the information in the news release
gained credibility and created awareness of the information
distributed by the organization. However, emerging technology in the
1990s changed the very nature and strategy of the news release in
that electronic news releases in the 21st Century are no longer
developed strictly for the media but today's news release represents
a shift in organizational communications where the news release
represents a new dynamic opportunity for direct unmediated
communication between an organization and its publics. The news
release today has evolved from a traditional paper based media
communication to an electronic communication that can be easily
distributed to the media as well as to various key stakeholders and
the general public.
The evolution of the Internet and World Wide Web in the mid 1990s
also created a significant transition in communications where
communications evolved from a sender based model of communications
into a receiver based model fundamentally changing the very nature of
communications as well as the practice of public relations. Simply
stated, the electronic news release of the 21st Century has
transcended the physical boundaries of the one-dimensional
paper-based release and is now a nonlinear and interactive document
where readers can tailor the content to their own interests and specifications.
For the past few years there has been a general theme in academic
literature suggesting that the profession of public relations has not
yet fully recognized the shift to a receiver based model of
communications nor has it embraced the concept that the electronic
medium requires an entirely new receiver based approach to writing
and formatting materials for electronic distribution. However, over
the years there has been general agreement that while informational
content is the major factor in news release effectiveness, format and
style play an important role in message acceptance and for the news
release to be effective it should be structured to fit the
requirements of the specific media receiving the information. While
different formats have been developed and accepted for various media,
specifically radio and television, there has been no universal format
developed or accepted for the electronic news release.
The challenge for both educators and practitioners today is to
acknowledge the news release's shift in purpose from a sender-based
communication model to a receiver-based model and adopt a different
approach to news release writing which incorporates not only the
values and elements of a traditional paper-based release but also
focuses on the interactivity, qualities, and advantages of the
computer mediated medium. The purpose of this study is to review the
current state of the electronic news release format in order to
better understand what changes in format are necessary for the
electronic news release to continue to be an effective method of
communication for public relations practitioners.
The News Release
The news release has long been recognized as a major public relations
tool for practitioners to cost effectively disseminate information to
various media outlets in order to establish positive relationships
between an organization and its various publics and to create
awareness about specific ideas, services, and products (Bivins, 1999;
O'Keefe, 1997; Newsom & Carrell, 2001; Wilcox, 2001; Yale,
1995). The news release, which has been called the cornerstone of
all public relations campaigns (Yale, 1995), is the most basic and
widely used tool for publicity purposes and is generally associated
with being uncontrolled information from the standpoint that the
particular media outlet receiving the information has total editorial
control over the content, style, timing, and placement of the
information (Bivins, 1999; O'Keefe, 1997). McIntyre (1992) notes that
the news release is the most cost effective tool that a practitioner
has to generate publicity.
While there is no documented evidence of the first news release
developed specifically for generating publicity, Cutlip (1995) states
that telegraphic news dispatches were developed and issued in the mid
1850s and that the circus was one of the first organizations to
regularly use news releases as a major part of their promotional
campaigns. Cutlip, Center and Broom (2000) state Ivy Lee was among
the first to use news releases on a large scale when in 1906 Lee
provided the media with regular coal strike conference meeting
reports and the authors note that Lee established many of the
techniques and principles used in public relations today. The authors
note that Lee's documents were referred to as handouts but state that
the document is now called either a press release or a news release.
Bivins (1999) states that the news release is information presented
to the press, specifically the print media, and Guth and Marsh (2003)
define a news release as "ideally, is an objective, straightforward,
unbiased news story that a public relations practitioner writes and
distributes to appropriate news media" (p. 274). The news release is
also the foundation of Grunig's press agentry and public information
models of public relations in that the news release procedure
concerns the development and dissemination of accurate information
about the organization and is asymmetrical because only information
that the organization chooses is disseminated (Grunig, 1990). Grunig
notes that news releases in these models are meant to change the
ideas, attitudes, and behaviors of publics but not those of the
organization. It is important to note, however, that Grunig states
that news releases are used in virtually every aspect of public
relations including all four models of public relations; press
agentry, public information, two-way asymmetric, and two-way
symmetric (Grunig & Hunt, 1994).
However, with the new technology of the Internet and World Wide Web,
the news release is reaching not only the media but also the general
public as well as specific stakeholders. According to Lissauer (2003)
"Because of their availability on the Web, full-text press releases
were no longer just for the media; they became vehicles to reach
millions of consumers and investors directly" (p. 8). Wright (2001)
notes that the Internet has provided a medium which "makes it
possible to bypass other media and permit communication directly from
an organization to its customers, stockholders, employees, and other
strategic publics" (p. 9).
The News Release and World Wide Web
Wilcox (2001) notes that before the Web, advertising was the only way
to send a controlled message to the general public but that the Web
is the first medium to reach a mass audience without the message
being filtered by editors in the traditional media. Howard and
Mathews (2000) note the advantage of the Internet and World Wide Web
is that it is a direct channel of communication between an
organization and its stakeholders. Springston (2001) notes that the
World Wide Web has basically transformed mass communication from a
sender-based model to a receiver-based model. But Holmes (2002) notes
most news releases today are still being developed for print
technology and that news releases for the 21st Century are not
strictly for the media but for any stakeholder that has access to the
Internet. Holmes also notes most news releases are still
one-dimensional double spaced text moved from paper to the Internet
with no thought given as to how the new medium changes the way in
which the information can be used or the quantity and quality of
information communicated. Engel (2001) states that the Internet has
expanded upon the traditional printed page in that the page is no
longer limited to the physical confines of two dimensional, static
space and now the virtual page offers a very different rhetoric where
readers can tailor the content to their own specifications. Senyak
(2000) states that communications have changed so rapidly that many
public relations people continue to deliver products that no longer
work to a media that no longer exists. Holtz (2000) states that the
vast majority of content appearing online is written no differently
than that produced for print, and unfortunately, "the result of
treating computer screens as an alternative form of paper is less
effective communication" (p. 12). Ochman (2000) states, "The Internet
needs a new method of company information dissemination that fits the
medium. But, first a new form of Internet news release needs to be
adopted" (p. 17).
Because the Internet and World Wide Web are considered as a new and
unique medium and have been described as emerging technology, most
public relations research has focused primarily on the technological
capabilities of the Internet and World Wide Web, such as design,
links, navigation, and software. Hallahan (2001) notes there are
significant differences between print and the World Wide Web in terms
of layout and that the two key criteria for the Web are content and
design simplicity and that the field of public relations is only just
beginning to understand the impact of the World Wide Web. Hallahan
also notes usability is a branch of ergonomics, the study of design
for human use, and states public relations materials can adopt many
of the usabilities principles that will help make public relations
materials more user friendly and practitioners can use the techniques
to better understand how to improve communication effectiveness.
Zimmerman and Muraski (1995), who note that the two key areas of
usability study are content and design, define usability testing as
the process of evaluating how well the intended user can interact
with a technology to carry out assigned activities. Zimmerman and
Muraski state that the value of usability research for public
relations is that practitioners can enhance the effectiveness of
mediated messages if they adopt many of the usability principles. In
terms of usability, Nielsen (2003), who has been studying the
usability of Web sites and Web site material since the 1980s, states
usability testing makes it easier to focus on the user's goals rather
than those of the producers, and results from usability testing
suggest that scannable, concise, and objective writing styles make a
positive difference in user's performance and satisfaction.
Many public relations scholars and practitioners writing about the
development of text and material to be specifically used on the
Internet or World Wide Web (Fredin, 2001; Garrand, 2001; Kohl, 2000;
Kilian, 2001, 1999; Lordan, 2001; Marlow, 1996; Middleberg, 2001;
O'Keefe, 1997; and Sammons, 1999) acknowledge Nielsen's work in
usability studies in that they agree with Nielsen's (1997) assessment
that in writing for the computer mediated medium, there are three
basic guidelines; (1) be succinct; (2) write for scannability; and
(3) break the written material into chunks of information. Neilsen
also notes that because people read 25 percent slower from a computer
screen when compared to reading from paper, the author should write
50 percent less material. According to Nielsen only ten percent of
users will scroll beyond information that is visible on the screen.
While interactivity has always existed to some degree in the media,
the computer and the Internet have brought interactivity into its
prime where information is accessible in any order at the command of
the reader (Bonime & Pohlmann, 1998). Bonime and Pohlmann define
interactivity as "the property of any medium that responds
dynamically to user control" (p. 9) and state that interactivity
describes the ability of computers to present ideas nonsequentially
where the structure closely resembles the way ideas are formed in our
minds and is more versatile than the linear form used by print,
movies, and speech. The authors also note with nonlinear writing each
user can take the path most appropriate for his or her personal
knowledge base, interest, and experience.
News Release Format
One aspect of the news release that has remained virtually unchanged
since its inception is the news release format, the shape, size, and
general arrangement of the information presented in the news release.
Noting that journalists are inundated with dozens of news releases
every day, Aronson and Spetner (1993) state that a major aspect in
getting a news release noticed is a consistent style and format that
gives the release a professional look. Newsom and Carrell (2001)
state the format is an important aspect of the news release and the
three key factors for any public relations writing are message,
style, and format. McCleneghan (1999) notes that writing, which
includes news release format and style, is the most valuable applied
public relations skill.
In 1958, Cutlip and Center stated in terms of format the key elements
of a public relations news story were the identification of the
sender and the organization, the release date, and dateline. The
authors also noted that the Associated Press style of writing should
be used along with a summary lead and the material should be
presented in two pages or less, doubled spaced, with wide margins. In
more recent discussions of how to prepare a news release (Aronson &
Spetner, 1993; Bivins, 1999; Helitzer, 1992; Hunt & Grunig, 1994;
McIntyre, 1992; and Yale, 2001) the same three elements are used as
the basic foundation for the release but the original elements have
been expanded to the point that there are now six elements which are
generally accepted as the basic news release format and found in
virtually all paper-based news releases. The six standard format
elements of the current news release are:
1. Letterhead - the first page of a paper-based release is usually
printed on an organization's letterhead stating the name and address
of the organization; can also include telephone numbers, e-mail
addresses, logos, usually has information and graphics specific to
the organization, and identifies the document as a news release;
2. Release Date – states the date the release was issued or
distributed and can stand alone at the top of the document or be
included in the text as a part of the dateline;
3. Contact Person - the name of the public relations representative
to be contacted for additional information about the release subject
and generally includes a direct phone number, mailing address, fax
number and e-mail address;
4. Headline - A brief statement that appears before the body of the
release that gives the reader a quick indication of what the release is about;
5. Dateline - appears at the start of the lead paragraph and is city
and state where the release originated; may also include the date the
release was issued; and
6. Boilerplate - A standardized statement at the end of the release
that briefly defines the organization and contains basic information
about the organization.
It is also important to note that over the years scholars and
practitioners have stated the news release should be developed in a
different format when used with various mass media. Cutlip and Center
(1971) stated that "the release must be tailored for its medium" (p.
422) noting the differences in format and style between newspapers,
trade publications, radio, and television. Newsom and Carrell (2001)
state news releases should be developed on the basis of the message,
distribution medium, and targeted audiences and that in writing for
the electronic media the information presented in a news release must
be thought of in a different way. Wilcox (2001) notes that there are
various styles of news releases designed for specific media including
the traditional news release, the audio news release, and the video
news release and that the most effective approach in news release
writing is to develop news releases that are formatted for the
medium. Ochman (2000) states that the format for an electronic news
release is currently the same as the format for the paper-based print
media and notes that both BusinessWire and PRNewswire use formats
that were created for print releases and "both companies have simply
moved their traditional print business to the Internet" (p. 17).
RQ1: To what extent, if any, are the basic, traditional elements of
the news release being used in electronic news releases developed for
display on World Wide Web pages and distribution through the Internet?
RQ: To what extent, if any, have the traditional format elements of
the news release evolved to fit the requirements of the electronic medium.
In order to determine format elements being used in electronic news
releases a descriptive content analysis of 100 news releases was
conducted. The population was defined as the last 20 news releases
produced by companies on the Fortune 500 list of the largest
corporations in the United States. Simple random sampling was used to
select the news releases for the study and data collection took place
over a three week period. Coders consisted of 15 undergraduate
students in a public relations writing class and intercoder
reliability was 98.3 percent of agreement. The analysis focused on
the six major format elements defined in the literature review.
Research Question One
To what extent, if any, are the basic, traditional elements of the
news release being used in electronic news releases developed for
display on World Wide Web pages and distribution through the Internet?
As Table A indicates, all of the six major elements of a news
release, letterhead, release date, contact person, headline,
dateline, and boilerplate, are being used in the news release
developed for distribution through the Internet and for display on
World Wide Web pages. The study found that a news release letterhead
appeared in some fashion in 91 percent of the releases studied.
However, the letterhead has changed dramatically from its paper-based
origins and has evolved into a computer-based format designed
especially to be viewed and read from a computer screen. The study
also found that the only mailing addresses, telephone numbers, fax
numbers, and e-mail addresses for the organization were listed as
contact information and not as a part of the letterhead or Web page.
Table A notes that only 19 percent of the releases contained the
phrase "For Immediate Release" which traditionally noted the timing
of the release of the information which is usually considered as part
of a paper-based news release letterhead generally located at the top
of the document. It also should be noted that the study did not find
a consensus on what to call the actual document in that the release
was identified as a news release on 47 percent of the documents and
referred to as a press release on 46 percent of the documents.
The study revealed that 95 percent of the releases contained a
release date noting when the document was issued, distributed to the
media, or posted on the organization's Web site. However, the
analysis showed that while the traditional placement for the release
date in the document is above the headline, only 32 percent of the
releases studied placed the release date above the headline. Table A
shows that 72 percent of the release dates were placed in the
document text as part of the traditional dateline. Five percent used
no release date and nine percent used the release date twice, once
above the headline and as a part of the dateline.
Table A shows that 64 percent of the releases analyzed listed some
form of corporate contact information for those interested in
obtaining additional informational on the subject presented in the
release. It is worth noting that over one-third, or 36 percent,
listed no contact information as part of the news release. In terms
of the release headline, Table A shows that 99 percent of the
releases studied had a headline and in addition 27 releases also
contained a sub-headline in the document.
The analysis of datelines used in the releases show that 92 percent
of the releases used some type of dateline and that 72, or 78 percent
of the datelines, contained not only the Associated Press format of
using the city and state where the release originated, but also the
date the release was issued, the release date.
As Tables A indicates, a boilerplate describing the organization was
used in 85, or 85 percent, of the releases studied. However, it
should be noted that a safe harbor or forward looking statement was
also used in 30 of the documents and that 25 of the safe harbor
statements were used in conjunction with an informational boilerplate
statement and that five of the safe harbor statements were used
without a traditional boilerplate.
Research Question Two
To what extent, if any, have the traditional format elements of the
news release evolved to fit the requirements of the electronic medium.
As discussed in the previous section, despite being redefined,
combined, expanded, or unchanged, the six traditional elements of a
news release are present and play a very important role in the
development of a news release designed for distribution on the
Internet and display on World Wide Web pages. However, several
patterns concerning format emerged from the analysis that revealed a
consistent difference between the traditional paper-based news
release elements and the news release elements developed for
electronic distribution and viewing on a computer screen.
The traditional elements of a news release letterhead, company name,
address, telephone number, the phrase "For Immediate Release," and an
identifying slug such as "News Release" or "Press Release," while
still present in some electronic releases, have changed or been
eliminated to fit the electronic medium. While a traditional
paper-based letterhead includes company addresses and telephone
numbers, the electronic-based news release generally includes
addresses and telephone numbers as part of the contact information
which was listed at the bottom of the release instead of at the top
of the release. While the traditional paper-based letterhead is not
used with an electronic news release, the letterhead for the
electronic release has become the organization's World Wide Web page
and the electronic news release can be considered as text embedded
within the Web page which is generally surrounded by standardized
organizational graphics. In this sense, the Web page has become the
electronic letterhead because the design and layout of the Web page
and corporate site are meant to be displayed on a computer screen and
can not be considered as a traditional paper-based letterhead. The
letterhead is now a virtual page not limited by the confines of a two
dimensional paper-based release.
The phrase "For Immediate Release" has basically been eliminated from
the electronic release being present in only 19 percent of releases.
According to usability research, the phrase, which is considered a
traditional part of the release and letterhead, should not be used in
electronic news releases, especially those posted on World Wide Web
sites, because the phrase takes up needed space on an electronic
document where the most important information should be listed at the
top of the document. However, the document should be identified but
the study found that the use of the slugs "news release" and "press
release" were evenly split, 46 percent to 47 percent, in identifying
the document. The electronic document should simply be referred to
as a "news release" because the electronic release is no longer just
a tool to reach the press or media, it is a public relations
communication tactic that can deliver a message and information
directly to the public through the Internet and World Wide Web.
In terms of the release date being a major element of a news release,
the release date has changed from being a stand-alone element at the
top of the document to become a part of the overall dateline. The
inclusion of the release date in the dateline, from a usability
standpoint, makes sense in that by combining the elements, less space
at the top of the document is required and readers will not have to
scroll through the document to find the major elements of the release
such as the headline and lead which serve as a document summary for
an electronic news release.
The analysis showed that the news release format element of having
contact information listed as part of the release is one of the
elements of a release that has evolved the most in moving from a
paper-based format to an electronic format. According to the analysis
in the 64 percent of news releases that contained contact information
the most common format for listing contact information is to list the
contact person's name and telephone number at the bottom of the
release, following all news release text. The pattern of listing
contact information at the end of the release is in line with
usability studies in that the information can stand on its own as a
separate element and, according to the inverted pyramid style of
writing, can be placed at the end of the document because the
information is not a major aspect of the material presented in the
release. Because electronic releases and corporate Web pages are
meant to be interactive, it should be noted that e-mail addresses
were only used in 21 releases and 19 releases contained an active
link to an additional site where the user could receive additional
information. In terms of usability and user interactivity, these
percentages clearly show a need for improvement in making releases
more user friendly and especially more interactive.
The news release headline has not changed in moving from a
paper-based to an electronic format. According to usability studies,
the headline is still a major aspect of the release because users
will skim material and the release headline gives the reader a brief
chunk of text designed to be meaningful information that can stand on
its own to assist the user in understanding release content.
Another element of the news release that has evolved from the
traditional paper-based format is the dateline. According to the
analysis, the dateline is no longer just about location, but has
expanded to include the traditional format element of the document's
release date. While Table A shows that 92 percent of the releases
contained a dateline and 95 percent of the releases used a release
date, the key point according to Table A is that 76 percent of the
release dates were placed in the text and used in conjunction with
the traditional dateline. By essentially combining the traditional
elements of the dateline and release date into one format item at the
beginning of the text, there is a more efficient use of space at the
top of the release and the headline becomes more of a focal point for
While the boilerplate has not changed from its traditional definition
or location in the release, a new type of boilerplate has been added
to the news release. In 30 of the releases studied, the text of the
release contained a standard paragraph or series of paragraphs
defined in the release boilerplate text as either a safe harbor
statement or a forward looking statement that applies to the Private
Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.
As indicated in Table A, 96 percent of the news releases studied
utilized single spacing in the body of the text while only four
percent used the traditional double spacing of text. Table A also
shows that 37 percent of the releases used specific headings in the
body of the text and 17 percent listed information in the body of the
text in a bulleted format. Boldface type was used at least once in 30
percent of the releases to highlight specific text or information and
16 percent took advantage of the electronic format by placing
hypertext or active links within the document. Five releases, or five
percent of the releases studied, inserted a picture in the text and
nine percent placed charts and graphs in the text. The analysis also
found that 13 percent of news releases included a printer friendly
version of the release to make the release easier to print or
download a copy of the release.
As outlined in the Literature Review, Holmes (2000), Holtz (2000),
and Friden (1997) note that material developed for one medium should
not be used in other communications mediums and that each medium has
its own specific requirements. The basic premise for this study was
to expand on the author's comments and to specifically explore the
basic public relations tactic of the news release to see if the
electronic news release is being formatted and written to take full
advantage of the distribution medium as well as the capabilities of
the Internet and World Wide Web.
The findings of the study show that only the traditional news release
format elements of a headline and boilerplate have not changed and
are being used extensively in news releases developed for
distribution through the Internet and for display on World Wide Web
pages. The data also shows that the traditional elements of a
dateline and release date have been combined into one format element,
and in the electronic format, is generally referred to as the dateline.
In addition, for all practical purposes, the traditional news release
letterhead is nonexistent in the electronic news release and has been
replaced by the corporate Web page on which the release is posted.
While the traditional letterhead included such information as the
company name, main company address, and a general telephone number
for the company, these items do not appear directly on the electronic
news release but can possibly be found in other areas of the
corporate home page. Basically what the study found is that the
traditional news release letterhead is no longer applicable simply
because the news release is read from a computer screen and
traditional news release paper is not necessary. It should also be
noted that in the printer friendly versions of the news release a
specific letterhead was not used and only the news release text could
Worth noting is the lack of contact information found on the
corporate electronic news release as well as the placement of contact
information when presented. While the study found that the majority
of releases, 64 percent, did contain some contact information, only
21 percent contained a contact's e-mail address and only 19 percent
contained an active link for additional information. Contact
information on the electronic release generally followed the
paper-based format model listing the contact's name in 57 percent of
the releases and stating a contact phone number in 58 percent of the
releases. This is a strong indication that this aspect of the
paper-based format has just been transferred to the electronic
release format. However, the study also found that when contact
information was included in the electronic news release, the
information was placed at the bottom of the document 77 percent of
the time. The placing of the contact information at the bottom of the
release does follow the usability studies discussed in the Literature
Review, so clearly some usability principles are being applied to the
electronic format. The study also shows that in terms of format there
was a consistent use of only the headline, dateline, and boilerplate.
In terms of how text is presented, the study found a very consistent
use of line spacing in that text was single-spaced.
While the study showed a consistent use of some elements, the study
also found that various traditional paper-based format and style
elements are not being used in the electronic format. For example,
the slug "For Immediate Release" is not being used because the
information placed on a Web page is considered to be published
material and a phrase to note the timing of the release is no longer needed.
Most importantly, the study found that news releases are not using
interactive techniques with only 16 percent of the releases
containing active links or hypertext. In addition, textual
highlights, which are considered to be a very important element in
producing text that can be easily scanned, are not being consistently
used. The study also found that electronic news releases are not
using elements suggested by usability studies in that very few
releases used headings or sub-headings in the release to break the
text into chunks of information. Also, suggested textual highlights
such as a bulleted format, boldface type, color, pictures, charts,
graphs, and active links are not being fully utilized in electronic
The study suggests that while some usability techniques are being
applied in electronic news releases, the majority of electronic news
releases are still being developed using many of the elements and
characteristics that were specifically designed for a paper-based
news release. The data and the analyses show that while the
electronic news release is being distributed through the Internet and
posted on World Wide Web pages, the documents are still being
formatted and developed as a paper-based document.
As discussed in the literature review, several practitioners and
scholars suggested that public relations written material being
produced for computer-based technology is no different than the
material being presented in a paper-based document. This study
supports their hypothesis that electronic corporate news releases
developed for Internet distribution and posting on World Wide Web
pages are not using the proper format to take full advantage of the
medium used for distribution. While several individual suggestions
were presented in the literature review concerning various aspects of
document formatting for electronic news releases, there was no
overall specific format or style presented in terms of how an
electronic news release should be formatted to fit the distribution
medium and process.
In terms of developing a format especially suited for the electronic
release distributed through the Internet and posted on corporate
World Wide Web pages, results from this study suggest that for an
electronic news release to be effective and able to take full
advantage of the distribution medium, there are six basic format
elements that should be utilized in the development of an electronic
news release. The six basic format elements for an electronic news
release are: (1) a news release slug; (2) a headline; (3) a dateline;
(4) the news release text; (5) a boilerplate; and (6) contact information.
News Release Slug
The news release slug, which is also a major aspect of the
traditional paper-based news release format and generally
incorporated as a part of the overall news release letterhead, is
simply the term "News Release" placed at the top of the document to
identify the document along with the specific name of the corporation
or organization issuing the news release. The news release slug
should be at the top of the document and according to usability
studies should be highlighted by either using boldface type, larger
type, textual color, or any combination of highlights that would make
the news release slug stand out so the document can be quickly
identified. The sole purpose of the news release slug is to identify
the document as information or news presented by a corporation or
organization and that the document is attributable to that
corporation or organization.
It should also be noted that the term "News Release" is used and not
the term "Press Release." Because the information presented in the
release is posted or published on a World Wide Web page, the document
is no longer just meant for the "press" but should be considered as a
public document issued by the corporation or organization and
available for the general public. The term "Press Release" is simply
outdated and is no longer applicable to the electronic medium and
The news release headline is basically one aspect of the traditional
paper-based news release format that has been simply transferred to
the electronic-based format with no major changes. As noted in the
literature review, the news release headline is a brief statement
prior to the text of the release that gives the reader an indication
about the contents of the release and can be in larger type than the
body of the release. A key point being that the headline should be
highlighted and according to usability studies discussed in the
literature review, the electronic headline should be short, crisp,
and highlighted to give the reader a brief, meaningful chunk of text
to assist the user in understanding the document's content.
The dateline in the electronic format is a combination of the
traditional paper-based elements of a dateline, location where the
information was issued, and the release date, the date the document
was issued, released, or posted. The electronic dateline is in the
traditional location of a dateline at the beginning of the text just
before the start of the first paragraph that is usually referred to
as the lead.
News Release Text
In the electronic news release format the most important element is
the news release text and specifically how the text is presented. In
terms of usability studies and techniques concerning writing for the
World Wide Web and Internet, the major factors in presenting text
centers on three basic elements; headings, highlights, and hypertext.
Headings are an important aspect in that the body of the text can be
broken into segments, or chunks of information, that makes the
information presented easier to skim or scan which is a major
principal of usability techniques. By breaking the text into specific
manageable chunks of information with appropriate headings, the
material is easier for the user to read from a computer screen and
headings also show the level of importance in the material presented.
It should be noted that the study found that only 37 percent of the
releases studied contained headings in the text of the release.
Highlights are an important aspect in that they allow specific
information and important facts in the text to standout and textual
highlights allows the reader to skim the material more easily.
Highlights can include items such as boldface type, bulleted
information, colored text, and even charts, graphs, and photos. The
study showed that in terms of textual highlights, very few, less than
30 percent, of the electronic releases contained one textual highlight.
Because the electronic news release is distributed through the
Internet, the electronic news release should be very interactive and
contain hypertext, active links, whenever possible. Hypertext not
only allows the user to easily scan the material presented but also
to use the active links to find additional information of interest on
specific topics that the user wants. Hypertext in a news release can
include active links to various organizational materials including
biographies, backgrounders, fact sheets, position papers, financial
results, as well as various videos and commercials. Hypertext can
also include materials produced outside the corporation such as
recent newspaper and magazine articles related to the news release topic.
Another element of the electronic news release that is basically the
same as in the traditional paper-based format is the boilerplate. The
boilerplate by definition is a standard paragraph at the end of a
news release that states some basic information about the
organization that helps to better identify and define the
organization presenting the material. However an additional
boilerplate, generally referred to as a "safe harbor statement," can
used to comply with the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of
1995 and should be considered when any information contained in the
release is financial in nature or information is presented that could
be interpreted as forward looking in nature.
For the electronic news release format a key point is that contact
information should be active and placed at the bottom of the release
and not at the top of the release as in the traditional paper-based
format. According to the usability principles discussed in the
Literature Review, contact information is an element of the release
that can stand on its own and is not a major aspect of the
information being presented. For scannability in electronic documents
the most important information is presented at the top of the
document and the information is presented in a descending order of
importance, basically referred to as the inverted pyramid style of
Contact information at a minimum should include a general active
e-mail link to the public relations staff or present various active
links for specific topics. In addition to an active e-mail link or
address, contact information can include the contact's name,
telephone number, and mailing address. While it is possible that the
additional contact information can be placed in another location on
the Web site, the main point is that there should be an active e-mail
address or link at the bottom of every electronic news release.
As with other studies of this type there are several limitations to
this analysis that could affect the data and results of the study.
Primarily, the study was confined to only those releases developed by
companies listed on the current Fortune 500 list. The study did not
consider any electronic news releases published by the government,
smaller organizations, and non-profit agencies. In addition, news
releases for this study were obtained directly from the company's
public World Wide Web page and the news releases used in the study
were considered to be actual news releases distributed to the media
as well as the general public. However, this analysis provides
evidence that can be used as a foundation for future research
concerning the electronic news release as well as research focused on
organizational home pages and how public relations material is
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Basic Elements of a Release
News Release Elements
Used In Release
100 Total Releases
Not Used In
For Immediate Release
On Top of Release
In Text of release
Listed Both Locations
Safe Harbor Statement
Both Statements Used
Printer Friendly Version
Text Single Spaced
Text Double Spaced
Headings in Text
Bulleted Lists in Text
Hypertext in Text
Bold Highlights in Text
Photos in Text
Graphs & Charts in Text