Decipher the Difference between a Press Release and a News Release

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We often hear the terms press release and news release used interchangeably. There is some confusion as to the variation in meaning. Yet there is actually no difference between the two. As William Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Some people call it a press release but it is a news release too.

A radio commentator spoke the other day at a writers’ workshop. He was head of the news department of a popular local radio station. When asked the difference between a press release and a news release, he said, “It’s called a news release today because nobody uses presses anymore.”

Yet we still speak in the rhetoric of antiquity every day of our lives. Consider such words as ‘haymaker’ used in boxing circles to mean a heavy, swinging blow. Gentleman Jim Corbett popularized this word in his autobiography, The Roar of the Crowd. The word actually derives from the slang expression ‘to make hay,’ to take advantage of opportunities. The word envisions a worker swinging a scythe while haymaking. The term is still used today yet virtually no one swings a scythe anymore.

Another example is the phrase ‘the haves and the have-nots’ to define the rich and the poor in society. The famous Spanish writer Cervantes first used the phrase in Don Quixote in the 17th century (1605-15) when Sancho Panza says: “There are only two families in the world, the haves and the have-nots.” And we still use the term today.

Closer to home, the term “newspaper” is the current common word to depict the daily periodicals on sale on the newsstand or delivered to our doorsteps. Yet who among us believes it is truly just the news? It is in fact rhetoric often based on selective thinking, editorial opinions, personal biases and frames of reference. The word ‘news’ is thought to have derived from the English word ‘nives’ meaning new. The word is older than the earliest newspapers yet it is used today meaning news in paper.

The original term ‘press release’ may possibly be connected to the phrase ‘press notice’ coined in 1885 when the term press agent is first recorded. ‘Press notice’ meant praise in the newspapers for an author’s work, an actor’s performance, a play’s opening. It may be traced to Mark Twain who first used the phrase to quell one’s ego, “Don’t believe your press notices.”

Don’t agonize over which term is most correct. Whether you call it a ‘Press Release’ or a ‘News Release,’ remember that it must still impart news.

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