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The Online Press Release

Columbia College Student Portfolio

Instructor Dictates Two Versions of "Only One Valid Press Release Format"

Students are forced to comply with strict rules for preparing press releases -- with different rules for hard copy and online.

CHICAGO, Sept. 18, 1999   /NotRealNews/ -- “There is only one correct format for a press release,” Columbia College instructor Alton Miller said today. “But which ‘only one’ correct format you use depends on whether your release is in hard copy or online.”

      For traditional hard-copy press releases (faxed or mailed to the media), Miller requires that they be double-spaced, with one-inch margins all around, and extra room provided at the headline for editors’ notes. Contact phone numbers belong at the top of the page. Other requirements of these releases can be found online at

      For online press releases, the rules are different. Copy is single-spaced, and the headline is at the very beginning, immediately following the wire service or website logo. “This turns an internet liability into an asset,” Miller says. “Editors and readers browse quickly. We need to arrest their attention with a strong boldfaced headline and an intriguing subhead in italics, if we expect them to stay awhile and read our release.”


      Unlike hard copy releases, online releases should always begin with a dateline -- where and when the information is generated. Follow Associated Press Stylebook guidelines: for example, CHICAGO doesn’t need to be identified by state, but CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill., does. Put just the city name in caps.

      Also unlike hard copy releases, which are almost always current, online press releases can linger on a website for years. For this reason the date must include the year, as shown above.

      For releases posted on this website, the style is to include the “folio service,” NotRealNews, in slashes, followed by a dash, as shown in the dateline above. (This is a borrowed bit of style, based on the PRNewswire style.) We are using this name to avoid confusion, lest anyone’s web search should turn up one of our press releases about a fictitious product or event.

      You can dispense with another convention of the hard-copy release. “Obviously you don’t need to include a line, ‘For Immediate Release,’” Miller says, “because by putting it online you have put it into public circulation -- it’s already released.”

Subheads and Paragraphs

      Paragraphing is very important in a press release, because good paragraphs indicate logical progession of ideas, and concise expression of your message. But because online releases are single spaced with double spacing between grafs, indentation can be modest -- a half inch or so, instead of 15-20 spaces.

      Unlike a hard-copy press release, which must be handled and perceived by the editor as a single compact document, an online press release will be viewed a screen at a time. Subheads can help the reader follow the key points you are making to support your message.

      Contact information, which comes at the end of an online release, is no less important than with a hard-copy release. “An editor working late may need to be able to reach you for that one final detail,” Miller says. “It can mean the difference between a story that makes the papers, and a story that gets killed.” It’s always a good idea to also include a website address, if available -- so that reporters can access background information. This is in addition to the standard website source information provided for the wire service, as shown below.

Keep it short

      Although online releases are not paginated, you should aim for a length of about 400 words (this sample is way too long). “Of course you could say more about your wonderful product or service,” says Miller, “but the editor is going to be limited by space restrictions, and readers are going to be limited by boredom. If you can’t put your message across in 400 words or less, it probably won’t get communicated at all.” Of course, the publicist can provide web links for additional information, related stories, and photos.

      As with his hard-copy release guidelines, Miller explains that he doesn’t really believe his is the only right way to prepare a press release. “The truth is, there are many valid styles,” he says. “But because each agency you work for -- or each client you serve -- or each online service you use -- will require you to conform to their preferred style, it’s good training to accept the idea that for every release there’s only one valid format.”

      End every press release with the word “end,” centered and set off by hyphens, as shown below.

- end -

Contact: Alton Miller, 312-280-0884, or at

Source: NotRealNews, Columbia College Marketing Communication Department, 600 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60605 - Telephone 312-344-7600