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How Stuff Gets in the News ... or Doesn't

By Gregory Flannery · March 8th, 2008 · On Second Thought

I recently received a press release from the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau that I found interesting for a variety of reasons � none of them having to do with the intended purpose.

The press release announced in advance that a hotel maintenance work will receive a Bureau Hero Award next week. His heroic act? The worker "personally scraped the ice and snow off cars in the parking lot so that, when the guests got to their cars to leave, they had a pleasant surprise."

Let's disregard the silly use of the word "personally," which added nothing to the explanation of events. Is there an impersonal way to scrape ice and snow?

Consider instead the use of the word "hero" to describe his actions. Did he risk life or limb? Did he fend off violent persons determined to keep snow and ice on hotel guests' cars? Did he act in defiance of a superior's orders, thereby risking his job to do a good deed? If so, the press release said nothing about it.

What he did was generous, thoughtful, even beyond the scope of his job duties. But in what sense was it heroic?

The headline of the press release promised a "great visual opportunity." This is language primarily aimed at TV stations, which, of course, depend on visuals as a lure for their audiences and will often broadcast stories for no reason other than their visual appeal.

No details about the "visual opportunity" are provided, so we are left to assume that it will be nothing more exciting than the presentation of a plaque or certificate to the honoree. This is known in the business as a "grip and grin" � a scene in which two people will shake hands and smile. Nothing about such a scenario involves a "great visual opportunity."

The press release even employed a technique known as the "embargo," asking recipients, "Please hold story until after event." In other words, the Convention & Visitors Bureau wants reporters to plan on attending and covering the ceremony but doesn't want some enterprising reporter rushing the story into print in order to scoop his or her competition. The award is apparently to be a surprise. I suspect the secret is safe.

My favorite line in the press release is what appears to be the Convention & Visitors Bureau's slogan: "Northern Kentucky � the Southern Side of Cincinnati." It's a motto that would seem to undercut the organization's putative mission of promoting the area as a place with its own unique qualities, independent of the urban behemoth north of the Ohio River.

Reporters and editors receive dozens of press releases every day, many from earnest nonprofit groups trying to get a little bit of attention for their good work. The only way to get that attention is to present an event as a big damn deal worthy of a reporter's time, a photographer's time and space in a newspaper or air time on a news show.

This press release, however, over-reached, over-selling the event as something it's most likely not: namely, a great visual opportunity involving an act of heroism. I'm curious to see whether any media other than the maintenance worker's company newsletter reports the presentation.

If nothing else, a follow-up press release from the Convention & Visitors Bureau is almost a certainty.

CONTACT GREGORY FLANNERY: gflannery@citybeat.com



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