Clash of the centuries

I’m so ashamed of a nasty email I shot off last night; a bitter tirade aimed at a young man just doing his best in a job that probably doesn’t pay much and maybe doesn’t fulfil his life’s ambitions.

The backstory

A media wire service invited me to a workshop on how to write a press release. Instead of simply swiping right to delete the spam I read it and saw red. I smarted at its grammar and clunky vocabulary, at the expectation anyone should invest in a course on ‘secret media business’.

The very notion of media release writing being an essential skill in the contemporary communication landscape is a furphy; a con perpetuated by legacy media with an overblown sense of its own importance.  In the invitation to a media masterclass, I saw a company clinging desperately to the outdated notion of a powerful fourth estate, which might deign to spotlight a story or cause, if only it’s marketed the right way.

Apparently, journalists are very busy. So if a submission is to be heard above the in-box din, to get a free run as a news story rather than paid advertising, then a person really needs to learn how to write the right stuff.

I’ve never studied the dark arts of the media release. But I’ve written quite a few and they’ve all, without exception, been picked up by the suburban papers or on-line outlets I sent them to. Usually they’re just run as is and attributed to a staff writer.

Let me tell you why.

Because I write a story (that’s all I know how to do), complete with demographic details and supporting quotes which can be slotted into the hungry, 24-hour media beast with no effort from harried journalists working in understaffed newsrooms. It’s not rocket science.

As for learning how to crack the access code to big media, the boys on the panel I’d been invited to connect with, I reckon I’m better off developing my own channels and learning to navigate emerging platforms. My kids watch Youtube and listen to podcasts. They get their news from Facebook. Today, having my media release picked up by newsprint or radio feels as relevant as having my hair permed.

The real story

This beef with the twenty-first century runs deeper than a gripe about media. The unfortunate young man who copped my cranky email bore the brunt of personal frustrations; my simmering suspicions that writing skills are no longer necessary for a career in media. What if I’ve missed my chance?

There was a moment in my twenties when I could have had a crack. But I didn’t. Now, knowing when to use an ‘s’ rather than a ‘c’, appreciating that ‘whilst’ doesn’t add gravitas, is about as useful as wood turning.

Worse than irrelevant, I realised I’m a bore. One of those fogeys mired in rules and linguistic standards. An entitled, middle-aged, two-thumbed warrior braying from the cheap seats.

The sequel

Today I sent another email. This time I apologised and wished the young man (the email came with a gravatar) good luck with his masterclass.

I hope his job has a future. Better yet, I hope he’s working weekends on a multi-media story destined for mass consumption on a platform that doesn’t even exist yet.

More power to him.

copywriting me

Angela Bensted is Brisbane-based freelance writer who likes to listen first and struggle with syntax later. She pitches stories to magazines, sometimes successfully, and helps businesses produce compelling copy for print and online.

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