Release Me

Writing a press release is hard, if by “hard” we mean “not hard.” No offense to the public relations students I had classes with when I was a journalism student, but it’s not exactly brain science or rocket surgery.

Not that journalism is any trickier. Why, I once wrote an entire article without using a single verb. Every time it appropriate to a verb, I just it out.

You can see how easy it is to write a press release by examining this one, which is basically every press release I have ever read, compressed into one:

“This Friday, our group will be holding an event. This will be the most important event that has ever occurred, and any newspaper not putting it on the front page is clearly a newspaper fit to be used only for personal hygiene and not as a news source. We will be calling the newspaper office several thousand times to make sure they got this press release, and then to see if they’re running it, and then to see if they ran it (because we don’t actually read the paper), and then a few more times just to bug them.”

Anyway, though writing a press release is not difficult, it occasionally trips people up. For example, the Little London Dinner Theater recently extended its run of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Why Won’t People Stop Doing This Show?” and made the announcement by faxing me this release. Read it carefully:

“Due to popular demand, ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ has not been extended until Friday, February 23.”

My first thought was how wonderful it was that the people’s voice had been heard, and that the theater had opted not to show “Joseph” any more times than necessary. Then I figured the word “not” had slipped in there accidentally.

But this is nothing — yes, NOTHING! — compared to a press release we got from Provo School District. Its purpose was to laud the local crisis team for all it did in the year 2000 in preventing teen suicides and stuff like that. Team member and therapist Stuart Harper is quoted as saying, “Team members will debrief with both students and parents to help them recognize that they are not alone in their feelings.”

Note that team members will not debrief students and parents; they will debrief WITH them. That is, team members will join students and parents in a room and they’ll all debrief together, possibly with cameras rolling. Woo-hoo!

But this is nothing — yes, NOTHING! — compared to something else from the same press release. What they meant to say, I think, is that in 2000, the crisis team responded to six school-related suicides; they also helped defuse some other situations in which weapons were involved.

But what they SAID was this:

“Last year alone, the crisis team responded to six school-related suicides and provided additional support with weapons.”

Good for them for helping out like that! A kid calls a suicide hotline and announces his intent to kill himself; alas, however, he is without a gun or knife with which to do the job. That’s when the crisis team swings into action and provides additional support with weapons.

I don’t mean to belittle the important work the crisis team does, nor am I necessarily in favor of teen suicide. (Spend some time at Movies 8 on a Friday night, though, and you’re bound to find your anti-teen-suicide stance loosening somewhat.) All I’m saying is that the way you write says a lot about you and the organizations you represent. If you badly, people not you seriously.

I wrote this several weeks before I published it. Just after I wrote it, a school shooting occurred in San Diego, and I was worried anything relating to kids and weapons would strike the wrong nerve. So I held onto it until people started to forget about the shooting (which, perhaps sadly, didn't take very long). Then, coincidentally, the day before it was finally published, another shooting occurred, again in the San Diego area. I had already submitted the column but discussed with my editor whether we should pull it. He said he didn't think it would be a problem. 4The new shooting had been much less severe, had happened far away from our readers, and had not killed anyone. In news terms, it was a much less significant story than the last one had been, and was not liable to weigh as heavily on people's minds. So we went ahead with the column.

As usual with "Snide Remarks," you can tell what my life is like by reading the column. At this point I had been working my desk job at the Herald for many months, dealing on a daily basis with people sending press releases, hoping to get coverage for their events. Many of these events were truly boring and of little interest to anyone, but of course the people organizing them thought differently. (Then we had UVSC, which would do a major theatrical production -- something that actually is of interest to a lot of readers -- and not send out a press release until two days before it started, if at all.)

Movies 8 is a second-run "dollar theater" that is entirely over-run with high school students, BYU freshmen, and people on really cheap dates. It's impossible to enjoy a movie there, in my opinion, because of the chaotic environment, frequent projector problems, bad sound and uncomfortable seats. But if you've waited three months to see a movie just so you could save $5 on the ticket, you deserve what you get.