Jam, jargon and journalism
SPARE a thought for the reporters of today. Rather than roving their patch, getting the craic and gathering a rich array of tales, they find themselves stuck in an office, chained to a screen.
The trade is widely reviled, thanks in no small part to powerful figures who have stoked the perception it's all about what you can get away with. Along with banking and politics, journalism appears to have been bled of the integrity vital to its heart.
However it's extremely unlikely your contacts at the Anytown Gazette use any of the highly unsavoury practices favoured by a handful of their notorious colleagues at the 'top' of the profession. More often than not, they'll be buried in a cyber deluge of press releases, struggling to meet deadlines, working ludicrously long hours to produce a decent paper in the face of savage staffing cuts and dwindling resources.
The modern media is a mindblowing maelstrom of messages. Some of us flounder as communication channels multiply by the minute. I learned to write news stories on a typewriter. As a junior reporter the joys of the Scottish Borders and its people were there for the exploring. I criss-crossed the countryside in a company van, interviewing all sorts of characters, accepting the odd wee cup of tea and scone and jam along the way. No satnav, no mobile phone, no laptop, no Twitter, no multifunctional communication devices with functions I can't even start to fathom.
Enough of the old timer stuff. And I'm not that old anyway. What useful help can I still offer about sharing news from your Transition group with the wider world?
Thankfully the fundamentals of good communication remain constant. Who, where, why, what, when. Oh, and how as well. Refer to the relevant sections of the Transition Handbook and Transition Companion. A quick internet search will reveal lots of advice on writing press releases. For example, don't use lots of capital letters. The chair doesn't need to be upper case any more than the gardener does. The Guardian Style Guide is a great reference source.
Always include quotes. Unattributed information is likely to be cut out. 'Local trade helps revitalise communities.' Says who? You? The chair of your group? A guest speaker? Mrs Bloggs from 37 Transition Row? All fine - just make sure your source is named and relevant.
Someone's interest in your work can easily turn to irritation if you don't explain it in an accessible way. I won't bore you with anecdotes, just point out that it's not uncommon for callers to newsrooms to come across as somewhat patronising when journalists seek clarity on the information they seek to share.
One culprit is jargon. We're all full of it and sometimes not aware we're using it. If you're not familiar with the terms used by those involved, Transition is jargon. Peak oil is jargon. Permaculture, community resilience, LETS schemes... what are they all about? As for acronymns, well they're most definitely not the stuff of decent copy. How can someone be expected to know about things they haven't come across before?
The patience of your hard-pressed media contact will soon wear thin if they're bombarded with terminology they don't understand. If they don't understand it, nor will their readers, viewers or listeners. They're unlikely to have the time or inclination to look up explanations or wade through pages of attachments to try and work it out. Your effort will be in vain if your story ends up binned or cut to the quick. Respect people's time and make your point in the body of an e-mail in clear, straightforward language. And always include a contact name, accurate phone number and e-mail address. It sounds obvious, but is an extremely common oversight.
Apply the same guidelines to news releases published on websites and items linked from social media. Keep them simple and snappy and don't mix up multiple messages.
If possible always include a picture, high res if for print. I'm going to break the golden rule of relevancy by posting an image that's nothing to do with what I've written here. Still, along with royalty and celebrities, animals are usually a pretty good bet, so here's our dog Skye enjoying some December daylight. Happy holidays one and all.