Sunday, August 7, 2011

News Release, Press Release: News vs Hype

(Editor's Note:  The McCarville Report Online receives numerous requests for publicity each day from politicians. Some of their requests are news releases; others are press releases. For a long time, I've toyed with the idea of explaining the two and why we almost always use news releases and almost never use press releases. The Oklahoman's J. E. McReynolds has beat us to the punch. Here's his well-done OpEd piece in today's issue.)

Your tax dollars at quirk.

In July, the state House of Representatives media office issued 27 news releases, many of which were really press releases, most of which should have been handled by individual lawmakers — on their own time and their own dime — and some of which were downright quirky to boot.

In terms of taxpayer-funded media releases, what's the difference between a news release and a press release?

Government news releases tend to actually make the news. Government press releases are attempts by politicians to call attention to themselves or their ideological leanings. This might be of interest only to journalists except that taxpayers are funding both types of releases.

Government news release: State Treasurer Ken Miller issued his monthly gross revenue report Tuesday.

Government press release: State Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, issued a statement July 27 defending Texas Gov. Rick Perry's intention to participate in a prayer rally this month.

News release: Tuesday, legislative leaders announced the selection of members of a joint House-Senate committee to examine effects of Obamacare on Oklahomans.

Press release: One of the House members, Edmond Republican Randy Grau, announced separately that he's one of the committee's 12 members.

News release: Wednesday, members of another joint committee, this one on water policy, were named.

Press release: A day earlier, conservative Republican State Rep. Charles Key criticized members of Congress (including conservative Republican U.S. Rep. James Lankford) who voted to raise the debt ceiling.

Since June 1, the House media office has issued press releases, all instigated by individual lawmakers, urging Oklahomans to take care in the extreme heat, urging Congress to pass a federal balanced budget amendment, urging U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn to back off from allegations of waste in a Langston University program and urging the state to boycott a National Governors Association meeting involving relations with China.

The urge is strong to condemn the media office for this panoply of press releases. That would be unfair. The office works for lawmakers and has a legitimate role in communicating their activities. But some members, particularly conservative Republicans, are using the office as a self-promotion machine to grind out ideological pronouncements rather than policy positions.

House Speaker Kris Steele, who has his own media spokesman, tends to restrict releases from his office to the actual news variety. The last thing he wants is to be an arbiter of what crosses the line away from news when House members request the services of the media office.

When Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, used state resources to promote his district's annual watermelon festival, he was doing what politicians do in boosting the fortunes of their constituencies. When members lamented the loss of a colleague (freshman Rep. Rusty Farley died July 4) with taxpayer-funded releases, who could object?

But when members on either side of the aisle use the media office to advance ideological agendas, something isn't working.

McReynolds is The Oklahoman's Opinion page editor.

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