Not so fast, AdAge: ‘RIP, the press release (1906-2010)’

Communicator blasts magazine’s declaration of death for the oft-maligned release.

Communicator blasts magazine’s declaration of death for the oft-maligned release

Dear @SimonDumenco:

What a great whoosh of hot air to jumpstart my cool, gray, damp Seattle day!

You wrote:

Next, your use of the pejorative, “spin,” implies that press releases—or tweets—are inherently nefarious, deceptive and suspect. You wrote:

Legend has it that early PR man Ivy Ledbetter Lee issued the very first press release in 1906 on behalf of the Pennsylvania Railroad, after a derailed train plunged into a creek in Atlantic City, resulting in 53 passenger deaths; The New York Times printed it verbatim.

If the same thing happened today, we’d all be looking for @nytimes to RT @PennsylvaniaRR’s real-time spin.

Any corporate, celebrity, political or government communication—press releases, tweets and Facebook pages/updates, press conferences or interviews with muckety-muck execs—could be engineered with deflection or deception in mind. Technology is agnostic. Motives lie with people.

What press releases—or blog posts—can do is provide an accessible back story that cannot or will not be included in a 30-second TV news story or a six-column-inch news story. One thing tweets do well is provide a link to more detailed information: the press release, whether its form is a classic release or the modern blog post. Heck, remember that this is how I found your column. The fact that the AdAge tweet led me to it doesn’t diminish the importance of the column; it’s just a new way of discovery.

Moreover, the railroad anecdote reinforces my first point: there is a vast difference between the vapidness of celebrity culture and true news events that affect lives, livelihoods and liberty. There is also a vast difference between the journalists who report on these multi-faceted aspects of life and those who hound celebrities.

Thus, I would not expect The New York Times to blindly retweet statements from the Pennsylvania railroad. If you have examples of this happening during the BP crisis, please, do share the URLs.

As far as parodists such as @BPGlobalPR and @SarrahPalinU5A, it’s a far stretch to think that “[dropping] the ball” on Twitter is why they have been successful. Such thinking implies that good communication (whatever that means) can somehow trump actual behavior. It can’t. A reminder:

You can fool some of the people all of the time; you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can never fool all of the people all of the time. – disputed origin

Finally, thanks for the @Kelsey_Grammer example, not because it proves your point, but because it illustrates the pitfalls of trying to use Twitter like a traditionally mediated space, one where the publicist speaks for the celebrity.

Grammer’s rep, Stan Rosenfield, recently told TVGuide.com that there was no “Frasier” spin-off in the works, despite what appeared on @Kelsey_Grammer. “That’s what happens,” he explained, “when [the] people who do your tweeting misinterpret something.”

Thanks again for the laugh!

Kathy E. Gill teaches undergraduate digital journalism and classes in the Master of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington. She blogs at WiredPen and can be found on Twitter @kegill.

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