Writing a press release

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If you are planning to send out a press release about OpenStreetMap, perhaps to publicise a local mapping party, here are some suggestions and resources.

General advice

What do you want to get from the release? If you are writing about a mapping party, explain this in the first sentence. Don't waffle on for eight paragraphs and only then say "We are organising an event on Friday, all welcome."

Be timely. For Internet media, send it a week or so in advance. For newspapers, a couple of weeks. For magazines, a couple of months. Do feel free to send a reminder closer to the time, ideally adding new information - "Hope you found the release helpful. You might be interested to know that 50 people are already coming and it's being sponsored by SuperMegaCorp. Drop me a line if you have any questions." But do not phone to nag - being a PITA is the best way to avoid coverage.

Be humble. Don't demand or even expect a reply. Journalists get bombarded with speculative releases like this. If you don't get featured, it's generally because your release wasn't interesting enough.

Be focused. Only put in what's necessary. Don't confuse the issue. For example, "you can download the data" is enough for most purposes - the fact it's in a custom XML format is only really interesting to very specialist media. By the same token, you almost certainly won't need to mention the OpenStreetMap Foundation unless you're writing a release aimed at the third sector.

Don't assume prior knowledge on the part of the journalist. He or she almost certainly won't know about map copyright, for example. Don't just say "it's an open map" and expect the journalist to know why this is good.

Don't be political. OSM press releases are for publicising OpenStreetMap, not a general concept of "freeness" or "open source". Feel free to allude to other successful projects (e.g. Wikipedia), but even then, be careful in what you select. If you say "It's just like Linux", chances are that only computer geeks will come to your event.

Setting out your release

By and large, it should go like this:

Headline - make it snappy

Introductory paragraph - one sentence explaining what's happening: put it in bold

Short, snappy paragraphs - the main body of the release. Stuff them with impressive facts and figures. Refer to current events where possible (are satnav products sending drivers down narrow local lanes? Explain why the OSM approach could fix this). Short bullet-point lists are good, too.

Contact details for the public - the OSM URL, and the phone number and e-mail address of the event organiser. If you have a URL for the event, so much the better, but Mediawiki URLs are so long as to make them entirely unsuitable for reprinting - use a local redirect if possible, or even TinyURL.

Notes for editors - Include your name, phone number and e-mail address so they can get in contact with you. Say that "high-resolution images are available on request" - and make sure that they are. (High resolution means 300dpi, i.e. something to be reproduced 4in (10cm) across needs to be 1200 pixels wide.) And add any useful background information on OSM they might find useful in writing the story.

Make sure you send it in a format the journalist is likely to be able to read. Good practice is often to paste the release in the body of the mail, and also attach in a commonly-used format (.doc or .pdf). Your open-source hackles may be raised at sending .doc rather than .odt - live with it! And obviously, don't send large attachments without prior arrangement.

Examples of good OSM press releases

See Category:Press Releases for all press release wiki pages (some good examples)

See also: