The eventual success of your organization's public and media relations efforts depends mainly on how often your news releases are issued and, more importantly, how often the news they contain is selected to run. The latter decision is in the hands of a person whose title is usually editor. Understanding an editor's job will help you do your job better.
Can you name the editor of your local computer magazine or local newspaper? The editor is a very important ally in public relations. The editor (whose title might also be managing editor or editor in chief) has overall responsibility for the publication's content. Below him or her, depending on the periodical's size, are subject editors who are assigned to specific beats (often called “departments”). These editors oversee the content for their departments. Sometimes each editor has additional staff, such as reporters, freelancer writers, photographers, copy writers, copy editors, etc.
The information contained in news releases is the primary source of information for most editors. Newsworthy releases are selected and edited or worked into an article. The selected releases are the lucky ones; most never see the light of day. When you consider that the editor at a daily publication receives upwards of 500 news releases on any given day, gauging the statistical possibility of an individual release being picked up for coverage is easy.
Newspapers don't mean just the regular daily newspapers targeted at the general public. There are special-interest newspapers for business, computers, information technology, telecommunications, and other fields. The specialty papers may run weekly instead of daily, but, like their daily counterparts, they are primarily news-driven rather than feature-driven (which is more the case with magazines).
Newspaper editors reject many more releases than they use. The larger the paper's circulation or the more active the area being covered, the more releases the editor has to sort through.
Most newspapers have a space budget, which is not to be confused with a financial budget. The space budget consists of the total number of pages printed, divided between advertising and news articles. Advertisements are the lifeblood of a newspaper; ads consistently provide the largest portion of income. The ads must be accommodated first, after which the issue's remaining space is allocated to specific stories and departments by the key editors.
The selection of news releases to cover is based on the editor's personal and professional judgment. The main factor in that judgment can be summed up in a single word: “newsworthiness”. Unfortunately, newsworthiness is defined by individual editor's opinions. Newsworthy stories are generally those that offer the most information with the most urgency to the most people.
If a news release issued on particular day is not covered in the following day's paper, this does not mean the news will not appear at all. Releases not considered newsworthy enough to appear in a weekday edition may be suitable for the weekend paper, where there is more room and less emphasis on breaking news. Even if a news item is selected for use, the article may still get pulled at the last minute. Perhaps an advertiser cancelled a large insert just prior to deadline, necessitating a layout change, or a big story emerged late in the day. When this happens, more expendable news is sacrificed.
What happens to releases that aren't selected for immediate coverage? Some are kept for future use, but more likely they are sent into the editor's trash can.
Magazines operate very much like newspapers, with departments, editors, space budgets, and advertising, but magazines differ in a few important ways.
The potential lifespan of a news release is much longer for a magazine. A monthly publication might not use your news for several months. Depending on the printing and preparation schedule, your release could appear as soon as a week or two after you send the release or as late as six-months later. The nice thing is that whenever your news appears, the information remains in front of the reader for a full month instead of just one day.
The editorial focus and format of a magazine are usually more specialized than those of newspapers. “Focus” refers to the subjects a magazine covers; for instance, Linux Journal focuses on Linux in general while ComputerWorld might focus on Linux in the enterprise. “Format” refers to the way in which a magazine's news and information is presented, usually as a particular mix of regular columns, articles, features (main stories), shorter pieces, and editorials (opinion pieces). Magazine stories don't have to be as “newsy” as newspaper stories. To a greater degree, a magazine researches and creates news rather than relying on current events.
General-interest magazines try to appeal to a large segment of the population. (Examples are Macleans, Readers' Digest, and People.) Special-interest magazines target a limited, well-defined community of readers who share a particular interest along with associated activities and concerns. Special-interest magazines are good targets for the Linux community, especially those focusing on Linux, operating systems, storage, security, computers, and information technology.
Whether special interest or general interest, the closer your news release relates to the audience of a publication and the greater the impact on that audience, the more likely an editor will choose your news to publish. The key factors are editorial relevance and appeal to the publication's target audience.