December 18, 2017

In an age when almost everything the papers print comes straight out of a press release, people sometimes wonder what the point of journalists is.

Why don’t publishers just run one of those algae rhythm things to pick out the most relevant press releases – and publish them just as they are?

Well, the thing is… journalists actually have an important role to play in taking badly written press releases and turning them into something readable. Something, ideally, that makes some kind of sense.

For example, Co-op insurance recently put out a press release revealing that they’d seen a spike in motor claims over the weekend of 9-10 December.

Claims were up, they reported, 42% on (snowy) Sunday 10th compared with (snow-free) Sunday 3rd.

Journalists working for news outlet The Independent were able to contribute significant ‘added value’ to this story by translating the press release’s advice that motorists challenged by snow and ice should “ake sure [sic] you have sufficient tread depth on your tires” into “ensure that tyres have ample tread depth”.

Sometimes fixing press releases is a pretty straightforward task.

Sometimes not so much.

For example, take this line from the Co-op’s press release: “Go easy on your breaks to avoid skidding and test them gently before setting off.”

Going easy on one’s breaks may be some newfangled transatlantic youth-quake idiom of which Bankstone News is tragically ignorant, but the intended sense seems less than fully clear.

Unless…

Could it be that breaks stands to brakes as tires stands to tyres?

But even then, you might wonder how the snow-and-ice-challenged motorist is supposed to test their brakes before setting off.

That’s why you need journalists.

Another top tip from the Co-op release that might need a tad of interpreting is its advice that drivers should “increase the gap between you and the vehicle in front”.

Logically, if you follow that advice for too long you’ll lose sight of the vehicle in front and hence your point of reference.

It takes a journalist to turn this into something like “leave a larger gap than usual between you and the vehicle in front”.

Sometimes even journalists can get confused though. The Co-op’s press release makes three claims about the increased volume of claims over the weekend of 9-10 December 2017.

They are as follows:

  1. The Co-op “saw a 50% increase in motor collision claims on Sunday” (presumably compared with an average day’s claims volume – or possibly the day before?)
  2. “Accidents and collisions increased by 42% on Sunday when compared to the previous week (Sunday 3rd December)”
  3. (In a quote from Nick Ansley, Head of Motor Insurance at the Co-op) “On Sunday we saw a 50% increase in the number of claims reported due to road incidents in comparison to last Sunday.”

Try sorting that one out without calling up the PR person whose contact detail appear at the foot of the press release, which – based on the standard of the press release itself – might not seem a confidence-inspiring proposition.

If you’re fixing press release to a deadline, it’s hardly worth taking the time to phone only to hear “Um, let me check that and get back to you.”

Although it might be worth it, if it turns out Mr Ansley (or whoever put those words in his mouth) got two different stats mixed up.

At which point you’d feel like a proper journalist – not just a press release fixer – and could run with the following scoop:

Shock as Co-op man lies about cold weather motor claims


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