Contributor: Steve O'Keefe
the world of the on-line newsroom. By focussing
on the key elements that make up newsrooms, this
article provides essential advice on creating effective
and appropriate networking and informational hubs.
Online newsrooms have been around for a few years
now, long enough for PR professionals like myself
to learn hard lessons about how well they work.
This article is a survey of online newsroom content
and activities, starting with essential elements
and leading up to advanced, sophisticated, and often
Before you get all hyped-up about building a fancy
online newsroom on your web site, let's start with
a few caveats. First of all, this is passive PR;
online newsrooms don't drive coverage so much as
support it. News releases lure media contacts and
other important publics to your site (investors,
analysts, customers, suppliers, employees, etc.).
Your online newsroom will give these people the
depth of information they seek about your company
history, products, services, and activities. But
the newsroom won't generate news coverage, it will
only enrich it.
The second caveat is to watch your budget. Certain
online newsroom activities (such as live, streaming
news conferences) will not generate enough return
to make them worth the considerable investment.
You might feel like you're pushing the envelope
by building an online newsroom with all the bells
and whistles, but it's still passive PR. If it doesn't
produce the desired results, that envelope could
be pushed back at you (with your pink slip enclosed).
With those cautions in mind, let's do a quick survey
of what you must have in your online newsroom, what
you'd like to have, and what you might add if you
had an unlimited budget and great IT support.
There is only one thing every online newsroom must
have, and that is a way to contact someone for assistance
or information. Most journalists coming to your
site are already working on a story or have a story
idea in mind. All they really need is the e-mail
address and/or phone number for someone who can
help them gather documents, artwork, interviews,
or other materials.
There are problems that come with providing contact
information in the newsroom. Some sites have eliminated
all contact info because it is abused by people
who make customer service inquiries or employment
inquiries through the newsroom. Other newsrooms
require that journalists register first to get access
to contact information. In my opinion, these are
both poor strategies for resolving the problem of
contact info abuse. Journalists on a deadline do
not want to apply for access or fumble to remember
a password. Most organizations don't have enough
staff to handle access requests during non-standard
Here are my suggestions for handling contact information
and access. First, provide a single page of contact
info, including staff names, e-mail addresses, phone
and fax numbers, etc. The only contact information
on news releases, archived news releases, and other
content in the newsroom, should be departmental
phone numbers and generic e-mail addresses, such
as email@example.com. That way, current contact information
will always be available to those who need it, and
when your staff changes, you only have to reformat
the contact information page (not every news release
on the site).
As far as the abuse of contact information goes,
get used to it. The contact info for your PR staff
should be public. Part of everyone's job description
is to redirect e-mail and phone calls to the proper
department. It is better to have PR staff sort this
e-mail than to have PR inquiries sorted by customer
service staff. You really don't want an inquiry
from a Wall Street Journal reporter being filtered
through customer service.
This brings me to the topic of things you don't
need in online news rooms. You don't need anything
you can't maintain. If you have a small company,
you have to think about whether it's really worth
devoting much effort to an online news room. Perhaps
all you need is contact information?
You don't need feedback threads or discussion areas
at your site. Trust me, the press doesn't need a
forum on your site, nor do you want to police one,
and you don't want the whole world to read reporters'
critical comments about your operations. You don't
need chat facilities unless you provide them in
combination with access-restricted online events.
You don't need to update the site every day to keep
it fresh. When you've got news to share, add it
to the site, and make sure any calendars are current.
Beyond contact information, the next level of newsroom
depth is to have, well, news, plus enough background
information to enrich a story. Here are my best
bets for basic content.
Headline news about the company. This
news is usually prepared by the publicity department,
and is featured not only in the news room, but at
the home page of the web site. This might be your
latest news release, or teaser copy for your last
three or four most important news releases.
News Release Archive
An archive of news releases as far back as you care
to go. If your archive contains more than 10 news
releases, you'll want to make it searchable by keyword
and date. That means you need to store the news
releases in a database, and that will probably require
some assistance from IT.
A concise story of the company's history. This section
of the news room can also include a mission statement
and/or a statement of core values.
Bios of key staff, including management and the
board of directors. Profiles should include photos.
These profiles are often provided by Human Resources
or Investor Relations.
Offering good artwork can greatly increase the size
of a story and the amount of coverage you get. The
media often come to your site looking for artwork
to accompany a story that's already written and
ready to go to press. Media contacts should be offered
access to high-resolution artwork that is suitable
for use in print publications and television broadcasts.
The minimum standard for print and broadcast reproduction
is 300 dpi. It's a good idea to use low-resolution
(72 dpi) images to show the media what you have
to offer, and include a link to high-res artwork
that indicates the format the artwork is in, the
resolution, and the file size (for example, 300
dpi TIFF 1.5MB). If you have a lot of artwork to
offer, you'll want to database it, and that will
require assistance from IT. For a good example of
how to handle artwork, take a look at Apple Computer's
Don't attempt to include ambitious content in your
newsroom that you can't maintain. Most calendars
I've seen in online newsrooms chronicle ancient
history (not forthcoming events). Poorly maintained
newsrooms create a worse impression than simply
having no newsroom at all.
For an example of a company that has done a good
job building a full-featured online newsroom, check
out Microsoft. The software maker didn't always
have a good newsroom, and was severely criticized
by the media for poor coverage of the antitrust
case against the company. But Microsoft has learned.
It's coverage of legal affairs is now a model for
all companies under attack.
For large companies with multiple products, services,
subsidiaries, and/or brands, Online Press Kits are
a real time saver for journalists. Instead of having
all the news room content in large, searchable databases,
content related to specific products or divisions
is gathered together for the media into handy kits
that contain all the news releases, product information,
artwork, and contact information related to that
product or division.
Archives of news conferences and online presentations.
Calendar of Events
This would include such things as news conferences,
shareholder meetings, public appearances, trade
shows, and sponsored events. Any events that will
be held at the web site should be promoted.
Information about the organizations philanthropic
activities. This information is often presented
as a combination of news releases covering current
events, and a newsletter archive chronicling the
organization's efforts to improve the world.
Position papers on pending legislation, providing
both the media and legislative aids with detailed
information to help them make the case for the company's
The company's current stock price. Access to the
latest annual report and an archive of previous
annual reports. News releases for the latest earnings
reports, and an archive of financial performance
news releases. Much of this may be accomplished
through links to an independent Investor Relations
Speeches and Other Transcripts
Many sites offer the full text of significant speeches
made by company spokespersons. Chat transcripts
can also be offered this way.
At the high-end of online newsroom content, there
are three offerings that are too complex to describe
in detail here: Online News Conferences, Online
Presentations, and your own News Wire. They all
require a major commitment of resources, but for
companies that can afford the price tag, staff time,
and learning curve, they can provide substantial
results. Let's take a quick look at these 21st Century
Online News Conferences
Live online news conferences can be just as expensive
to produce as television programming. However, the
resulting video stream is not suitable for broadcast
on television or even print reproduction of stills.
I recommend using streaming video only in crisis
situations; otherwise, streaming audio with a still
photo of the speaker communicates just as well and
is far less expensive.
Online news conferences satisfy the SEC's Regulation
FD requirement for full disclosure of material financial
information, and are popular for earnings reports
and analyst briefings. The fact that Intel and Microsoft
outsource production of these programs to specialist
firms should tell you that they are complex to produce.
If you're interested in streaming live news conferences,
you should consult Yahoo! Broadcast Services.
This is a way of communicating that is ideally suited
to the needs of association executives. An online
presentation is nothing more than a narrated PowerPoint
slide show that is streamed over the Internet. These
modules are inexpensive to create and communicate
well if kept brief (five minutes or less). They're
perfect for introducing new products or services,
or taking stands on issues of the day. They can
be easily edited, updated, and stored, accumulating
into an impressive library over time.
News Wire or News Feed
The back door to media coverage is to become a provider
of news (not just news releases). Many companies
have started to assemble news wires by summarizing
the top stories in their field on a daily or weekly
basis, and syndicating those summaries to the media
and other interested parties. Using a news feed,
you build name recognition by being cited as the
source of a story, rather than the subject of a
story. Do you have what it takes to become the AP
of your niche? For an example of a great niche newswire,
check out MP3newswire.net.
Everyone agrees that the Internet has completely
changed PR practices in just a few short years,
but that's where the consensus ends and the arguments
begin. For many years, there were no guidelines
for using this new technology (just trial and error).
Today, we can learn from the lessons of those who,
like myself, have stumbled into a successful formula
for integrating the Internet into public relations
For instruction, I recommend three recent books:
Shel Holtz' Public Relations on the Net (Amacom
Books, 1999), Don Middleberg's Winning PR in the
Wired World (McGraw Hill, 2001), and my own Complete
Guide to Internet Publicity (John Wiley & Sons,
2002-2007). There is no need for you to repeat the mistakes
made by others.