How do I get beyond briefs to do real stories?

Mary Ann Hogan
Chips Quinn Writing Coach

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Making the most of a press release

Dear Coach,

Help! I’m drowning in press releases! I’ve been at my newspaper a week, and each morning editors dump what seems like a garbage-truck-full of releases on my desk, saying, “Here. Rewrite these.” Next thing I know, it’s 5 p.m., and I’m not even halfway through the stack. At this rate, I’ll never get to write a byline story. How can I tell them I want to go on to bigger and better things? –Frustrated in Florida

Dear Frustrated,

The secret to the “bigger and better things” is in the stack in front of you. The press-release mill is not only part of the day-in, day-out routine of a newspaper, it’s a proving ground — an easy way your editor can measure your abilities. Successfully tackling a press release is the first and most obvious way you can gain an editor’s trust. If you write good, solid, accurate briefs or brights from a release, your editor will trust you with bigger and better assignments.

What your editors want to know straight away:

  • Can you rewrite a release into a brief?
  • Can you get the information right?
  • Will you double-check information by calling the phone numbers on the release?
  • In your rewrite, will you leave out the extraneous and streamline the poorly worded?

Listening to what your editor wants from releases is important. If she says something vague, like “rewrite these,” be sure to ask: “Would you like briefs, brights when appropriate, or … what?”

Mary Ann Hogan’s Ask The Coach columns, first written for the Chips Quinn Scholars program, are republished with permission from the Freedom Forum Institute, 2019.

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