I forget her name.
She was a college classmate returning from an internship where she learned “hands-on” media relations at a real PR shop, some place in Wisconsin where the news never stopped and jaded journalists had to be “worked.” Oshkosh. Or maybe Ashwaubenon.
She was back from the city, back in the student newsroom and ready to share everything she learned from people with an eye for good writing. Not stuff we’d heard from professors, God no, but from the people who cut their teeth every day on the bones of news-hungry journalists. The real-world public relations team plus one, the star intern.
She tossed her hair and delivered the first lesson: We students need to learn about the word said, as in its placement.
She critiqued reporting from The Pioneer Press. “Really, people,” she snorted, “quotes need to end the same way. It’s Director John Smith said, not said Director John Smith! Really, people, you should hear how we laughed at that kind of thing in the office.”
We. She counted herself among a professional we. And she tossed her hair again, which she probably learned from her hands-on PR experience because our professors did not teach hair tossing.
I was a pure journalism student, and the purists considered public relations the Dark Side of the Force. And I would never go to the Dark Side, even if reporters didn’t place said correctly, even if Darth Vader was my father or a cousin twice removed.
A year later, I got a hands-on job at a hands-on newspaper, tossed into that group of people who sometimes misplaced the word said. I wondered if the hair-tossers at the PR office laughed at
us my co-workers.
Soon, perhaps my first day, I discovered the difference between PR gurus and PR hair tossers. How? Because we got hair-tosser press releases, with appropriately placed saids, once or twice or thirty times a day:
Dear Food Science Reporter,
How sweet is this news?! Chemical Food Solutions Inc.™ is unveiling a tasty new chocolate additive for the nation’s chocoholics! Thanks to Chemical Food Solutions Inc.,™ your readers will drink up the drinkable form of our better-than-chocolate chocolate while they read you’re (sic) newspaper. After all, chocolate is a favorite food group!
“The additive has real potential to tickle tastebuds across the country,” Chemical Food Solutions Inc.’s Interim Associate Director of External Marketing and Communications John Smith said.
And that was followed by a couple pages of blah blah blah.
Here’s what would really happen when a press release like that arrived: The Food Science Reporter aka obit writer would pass it around the newsroom so everyone could share a nice morning laugh.
But let’s pretend. Let’s say the hair-tosser kind of press release actually got ink in my newspaper. (It couldn’t actually get ink in my newspaper, but try really, really hard to pretend.)
So, grumpy, hung-over Frank “Frankie-Prankie” “Frankfarter” “Frankenstink” Jones gets the release on his desk and uses it to wipe up a coffee spill.
Meanwhile, the news editor zigzags through the newsroom pleading for copy. “We’ve got a Texas-sized news hole, and what do I have for tomorrow? Jed’s story on corn prices being the same as yesterday. Eric’s column on the color of the new stage curtain at the high school. And a feature piece already headlined: ‘Gingerbread: When Does it Expire?’ Hmm. Nobody seems to be claiming a byline for that.”
Crime guy Robb says, “I got nothin’. Nobody is robbing nothin’ these days.”
Frank waves the press release. “If you promote me to Food Services Reporter, I can get you 20 inches on a new chocolate additive.”
“Absolutely,” the news editor says. “You’ll still be whatever it says on your business card, and you’ll probably take a pay cut, but definitely cough up 25 inches on that chocolate story, plus three photos. By the way, Shelley called in sick so you’ll also be covering tonight’s special assessment hearing for the city’s inflow and infiltration task force.”
He didn’t have a PR internship, but he did get a journalism degree. In this forced exercise, here’s two options he would have considered for that quote.
1. “The additive has real potential to tickle tastebuds across the country,” a spokesperson said in a prepared statement.
2. Chemical Food Solutions, Inc., released a statement touting its new product. “The additive has real potential to tickle tastebuds across the country,” said John Smith, a spokesperson for the company.
That’s an A+, Frankie Prankie
So why the long story today? Because last night I had a dream about the hair-tosser. I remembered (or made up) every detail. Her hair, her big teeth and big ego, and the way she laughed at the Pioneer Press from our tiny student newsroom.
This rambling post should make a point that there are no absolutes in writing, I say.
And it should be much, much shorter, say I.
But mostly, it’s driving me crazy that I can’t remember her name.