By Lilly Vogelesang
I was on my way back from working a trade show this weekend, dead on my feet, dragging my suitcase into the airport lounge, when I heard the news. I plonked my suitcase down, flopped down into the chair, and glanced at the TV. There on the screen I saw the most startling images, riots breaking out in Ferguson, smoke billowing out of burning cars and buildings, windows broken.
From the news itself, I only got the most basic of information. Darren Wilson, the officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, was not charged of any crime. The outcry from the local community was violent.
After flying overnight, when I arrived back in Canada the next day, I had an hour to kill in the airport before my next flight. I opened up my iPad and scrolled through Tumblr.
Tumblr is usually the place I go to have fun, look at new images from aspiring artists around the world, read fun stories, look at cat videos to make me smile. My whole dashboard was filled with posts about #Ferguson. There was a moratorium on the usual posts, as the whole community opted to focus on the issue at hand. I saw the most amazing images that were composed about #Ferguson, and #BlackLivesMatter.
From Tumblr, I learned so much more than I had from that news post. There were links to the court transcripts, to the police reports, to the witness statements. Everything was there, and accessible, in a platform that was run by people averaging in age from 15-25. Not only were these young people reporting the facts, and engaging with communities around the world, they were even going so far as to use social media to communicate locations and times for protests.
I was shocked and astounded by how fast the news spread. It wasn’t just local, either – there were people protesting from as far away as the Middle East, Hong Kong, South America, and of course my own Canada. Around the world, everyone was banding together to spread information, and to link hands. The traditional news media wasn’t necessary.
For some of the most provoking images, I tried to go back and trace them to the source. I followed reblog after reblog, to get back to the original, but it was like trying to wade through quicksand. People around the world were all taking pictures holding their hands up, in the “don’t shoot” stance Michael Brown took before he was shot 6 times for the crime of not stealing a pack of cigars.
Even hackers got involved, such as the famous group Anonymous, which shut down the government websites in the aftermath of the announcement.
From Tumblr I found out:
- Where to donate money to the Brown family
- Where and when to protest
- How to protect myself from teargas (advice came from Palestine)
- How to sign a petition to send to Barack Obama
- Court transcripts, witness statements, and official documents
- Many examples of precedents
- How to support the legal case and make a difference
- About the #BoycottBlackFriday campaign – “No Justice, No Profit”
- That the KKK were actively involved in protests
- Walmart donated $10k to Wilson
- That flag burning is not illegal
- The police were shooting rubber bullets into crowds, which can be lethal
- … And so much more.
So, all of this to say, in today’s world, when it comes to breaking news, the idea of a Press Release being the way that information spreads is ludicrous.
However. Press Releases, from my point of view, are still important. I’ll give you a few reasons why:
- It’s a way to publish information that people can refer to when they are spreading the information through other channels.
- When something official needs to be announced, people still want to go to the source. For example, if a new product is released, or a crisis is being responded to, people want to hear that information from a “legitimate” source they trust.
- If the type of information is such that you want a news agency to pick it up, then publishing a press release is still the best way.
That being said, there are some caveats to these points.
The most important one being: you must be the trusted source if your press release is to hold any type of validity and usefulness. If not, then you’re better off getting the word out through the voice of trusted influencers instead.
When writing Press Releases today, one must think about and acknowledge that the information contained therein will be spread not just through the traditional news media, but through social networking sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and more.