I’ve had the opportunity to write various news style articles for about a dozen online publications now. When I first started getting news writing gigs, I was a little hesitant. After all, there is a big difference between a journalist and a writer. However, I like to think that I can write anything given enough time and effort.
Don’t Rewrite The Press Release
Once you have been a freelance writer for a while, you can kind of tell who a client has been working with before based upon what they worry about you doing. Sometimes, clients will really emphasize invoicing, which means their previous writers had issues with invoicing properly, or on-time. When you see an ad for writers that have perfect spelling and grammar, you know that they have tried to get really cheap writers and ended up with foreign writers who didn’t actually have the skills.
The irony is, sometimes, there isn’t much else you can actually do.
When Is News Not News
The problem, of course, is that most press releases are actually marketing information. There isn’t really any news there. This is particularly true for companies, especially technology companies, releasing new products or services. The end result is that you are trying to write a news article about a product that no one has used in a significant manner. What exactly is the news then?
This issue is one I run into on a fairly regular basis as a freelance technology writer.
If one were to write a totally honest news article from a press release, it might look something like this:
Today, XYZ Technologies sent out a press release to several companies that publish tech news in hopes of getting those companies to write articles, as free advertising, that could be used to reach potential customers and establish credibility in the marketplace. The press release, carefully written by the company’s communication team, explains that the company has a new product for sale.
The product is called XYZ Super Technology Tool. Although no major customers have used or installed the Super Technology Tool in a production environment, XYZ says that customers definitely have a need for it, and that it will function well to serve that need. Also included, are specifications supplied by the manufacturer, although these were not verified by any third-party.
Companies that wish to try out this brand new tool can download a free demo after entering their email address so that a sales person can follow up on a “warm lead.”
How To Turn a Press Release Into News
If you pay attention, you’ll notice that most tech news sites indeed do little more than rewrite the press release. After all, there is really nothing else to do. This isn’t just a tech issue. This is what happens anytime someone announces something when they start something, but before they have actually done anything. Politicians do this as well.
Today, the Obama administration announced a new program to use frogs to clear out bugs from schools that are infested with flies.
Basically, your real news outlets will just rewrite that press release. But, then they do one extra thing to turn it into news. They ask people about it. The is particularly easy in politics:
Every Republican in the country hates this new program with a passion and insists that doing anything like this at all will destroy the country. Meanwhile, every Democrat assures people that this is the most brilliant government program every conceived.
To turn a tech press release into news, you do the same thing. Press releases often come with an attached email suggesting that a reporter talk to a Vice President of something at the company. The point of that, is to get a quote. A quote turns anything into news.
If that doesn’t work, then you ask someone who uses, or might use the product. “Steve SoandSo, Senior System Administrator at A Company, says that the XYZ Super Technology Tool addresses a complex issue faced by every company. However, SoandSo did not have a time frame for when A Company might try out the new tool.”
If you actually understand the product, or are willing to do the research, then the other way to turn a press release into news is with context. That is, doing more than rewriting the press release and quoting the people who gave you the press release in the first place.
The new Super Technology Tool comes late to an already crowded marketplace. However, the new offering does offer several new features that make it stand out from the competition, like an additional lemon-lime flavor.
In the end, the frustration of writing news is the speed. For many publications, there is a same day turn around for news articles, so unless you have free time during your day, or you block out some news writing time for each day, it can be tough to make work. Ideally, a news site would give you an idea of the flow. For example, leaving enough time in your day to write one, two, or three articles each day, is totally doable for the freelancer looking to add new clients, or diversify his current clients.