Thursday, October 25, 2007

Today's headline writing exercises

Instead of canned exercises from our textbook, we're going to work with some real-world news releases today. We'll find them on PR Newswire, an internet service that posts releases on a daily basis. I'll paste some more information below, in case you're not familiar with it. You'll find PR Newswire at -- logically enough -- But first, how to do the exercises:

1. Load the "Head_files" folder from the CD in the back of your textbook to hard drive. Go ahead and create a folder, labeled with COMM 207 and your name, in the "My Documents" folder; or save your work to your flashdrive. When you open one of the headline templates and insert copy into it for an exercise, be sure to rename it and use the "Save As" function so you don't write over the template. It will be a Microsoft Word document.

2. Find the story we're working with on PR Newswire. I'll point you there, at least for starters. Copy and paste the text into the headline template (where it says "Paste story here."

3. Edit the story, stripping out line feeds and doing whatever you need to the text -- you'll probably have to take out corporate spin, decide which angles will most interest readers and -- all too often! -- convert it to good AP style. Try to rewrite it so it's lively and interesting. I know that's a stretch for some of the stuff you'll see, but try anyway.

4. Write a head for it in the style indicated at the top of the Microsoft Word document. I've found it's best to insert a line of extra leading on top so you don't write over the 1/24/3 heading.

5. As you try these exercises, remember, always remember, this is an experiment, and we'll have to *tweak it till we get right. We could do this with the little exercises in the book, but I think it's better practice to use PR Newswire and work with live copy.

*Important generational footnote. "Tweak" doesn't always mean what you think it means! People of an older generation, especially writers and editors, use it in the sense of making small adjustments or minor editing changes to a piece of copy. In fact, I just looked in and it doesn't even make any reference to crystal meth. For that you'll have to go to Both are good references for editors, by the way, although neither is considered authoritative by The Associated Press.

Here's more about PR Newswire. It's another business that's been around a long time, but has really taken off with the advent of the Internet:
Now in its 50th year, PR Newswire Association LLC ( provides electronic distribution, targeting, measurement, translation and broadcast services on behalf of some 40,000 corporate, government, association, labor, non-profit, and other customers worldwide who seek to reach a variety of critical audience including the news media, the investment community, government decision-makers, and the general public with their up-to-the-minute, full-text news developments. Established in 1954, PR Newswire has offices in 14 countries and routinely sends its customers' news to outlets in 135 countries and in 30 languages. Utilizing the latest in communications technology, PR Newswire content is considered a mainstay among news reporters, investors and individuals who seek breaking news from the source. PR Newswire's leading brands include ProfNetSM, eWatch™, MEDIAtlas™ and MultiVu™. PR Newswire is a subsidiary of United Business Media plc of London.

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