3 things for today's journalism students:
On the agenda for today's journalism class: Writing from a news release.
It's there because I found it there when I inherited the class. And so the students get a news release and the chance to turn it into something clear and relevant over the course of a few minutes. But they'll also hear that this is a skill of diminishing relevance in the era of online journalism, for at least three reasons:
* The online journalist doesn't need to consume and regurgitate material in a news release. Instead, link to the news release and post just your "value-added" content: Reaction, quotes, analysis or context.
* The modern public relations operation doesn't need to rely on journalists to consume and regurgitate material in the often vain hope it'll become a news story. Much more effectively, it emails or Tweets or Facebook-posts its own content directly to the public.
* Often, the best stories to arise from a development aren't to be found in the news release; they come from asking questions of the people involved, allowing journalists to to spin the story forward past the news release.
So the students will get the word: Often, your best work will come when you toss away the news release -- or use it just for color or a bit of detail -- and report on something deeper or different.
Consider, for instance, this news release from May: "Mayor Emanuel, NFL Commissioner Goodell Commemorate Soldier Field's LEED Status."
The details of that news release were blown away over the next day by newscast and front-page print coverage that emerged when a reporter asked a slightly off-topic question:
Moral: News releases are just a starting point. Real journalism begins only when reporters start asking questions. At that point, "writing from a news release" becomes a skill of marginal value.
Discuss below, please.