Press Release Checklist (continued)
A weak lead paragraph -- All the work you do in your pre-writing should produce a strong lead graf that makes the reader -- in your case, initially, the editor -- want to keep on reading. This is where your own creativity comes to the fore. Regardless of your "Who" or your "What," and regardless of your choice of news angle, your opening sentences are going to captivate the imagination of whoever reads your release. Your "Who" was not "The homeless of Turtle Bay," but your lead paragraph may well open with those words, if they flow into a colorful, compelling first sentence. If you have come up with a lively "Visual" on your Message Planner, you may find that it helps make your lead paragraph that much livelier. Remember, most of the time your lead paragraph is going to do the whole job, all by itself. Very few editors will take the time to read beyond the first graf, before making a decision about whether to assign the story to a reporter. This is where your skills decide the issue.
Poor organization of paragraphs -- Not just on your Message Planner, but where it matters -- in the release. When you set out to communicate a message, you make sure that your lead paragraph sets the tone -- but it will probably not convey the entire message. It may summarize the message, but you will need to make a number of points to clarify or emphasize. For example, in your "From the Heart" release, you will probably need an entire paragraph to describe and demonstrate the extent of Mayor Cline's support for the project... you will need another paragraph to explain what the Westland College Student Association is all about... you will need yet another paragraph to identify and give credit to the Anodyne Shelter... and so on. These don't have to be long paragraphs (remember my guidelines: no sentence longer than three typewritten lines, no paragraphs longer than three sentences) but they do need to be arranged in the most effective order. That's your job. You should use your pre-writing to create the order, but in the writing you may discover a more effective flow... go with it. Just keep in mind: each graf should be centered on a single point, and when you've made the point, indent 15-20 spaces and make your next point.
Ineffective (or absent) quotes -- Every press release benefits from a good quote or two. If you are not using a quote, your release is probably incomplete. But if your quotes are empty -- expressing simple enthusiasm, for example, without advancing the story with fresh information -- then they're not pulling their weight, they're just taking up room. Referring back to "Organization of Paragraphs" above, it's always a good idea after you've figured out what points you want to make, in what order, to assign one of those points to a quote. It's often a good idea, too, to finish your press release with a good strong quote that restates your message in a fresh way. Every quote must be attributed to a person by name (and identification if necessary). Unless your quote is one short sentence, it's a good idea to break it up and identify the quoted person early on. Click at the QUOTES link (here or on the left navigation bar) for complete information on the use of quotes.
Spelling and grammar problems. -- Poor spelling and grammar problems will automatically lower your grade by one point. That means that no matter how well you write, you can't make an "A" in this course if your final portfolio includes work with misspellings. Why? Because you couldn't send press releases with misspellings and grammar problems to editors and expect to be taken seriously. In the classroom -- when students do their finals without the benefit of word processor spell-checks or the opportunity to have someone else proofread their work for errors, I don't enforce this rule... after all, why should you be punished for the shortcomings of your elementary education? But for every assignment I expect that you will take every opportunity -- including the help of a friend as well as spell-checking software and even grammar-checking software -- to make certain that there are no errors.