One who went before

Helen Deiss - Ky Kernel

Helen Deiss, editor, checked The Kentucky Kernel with head pressman Karl Davis in the old printing plant in 1948. (Photo courtesy University of Kentucky)

This photo in my spouse’s University of Kentucky alumni magazine — celebrating the university’s 150th anniversary —  caught my eye. The young woman, Helen Deiss, was the editor of the campus newspaper in 1948, and here she was checking an issue just off the press. She looks younger than a traditional college student, and yet she exudes calm and confidence at a time when women in editorial positions were few.

Helen Deiss Irvin passed away in 2015 at 86, but according to her obituary, she went on to become a reporter for what was then the Lexington Leader, receive a Ph.D. from UK and teach in Transylvania University’s division of humanities. She later attended Harvard Law School and practiced in Washington, DC, until she was 83. Along the way, she authored a book, Women in Kentucky. “She loved animals, books and sports,” the obit reads.

Helen sounds like a lady who sought and found a variety of outlets for her gifts and interests. It wasn’t “just” journalism, teaching, or law … she did them all. Many, if not most, of the women who followed her in journalism would also weave teaching, law, public relations, nursing, occupational therapy, or any number of other disciplines into their working lives. It’s a pluralism that has become a reality of 21st-century life and a time when journalism is struggling to retain the best of what it was and morph into its future self.

The Kentucky Kernel became an independent newspaper in 1971, operating without university funding, and it’s still going today.

But look at young Helen giving that newspaper the once-over in 1948. She knew what she was doing and would find many more ways to do it. So can we.

What was, and what’s left

Indianapolis Star photo by Greg Griffo

Indianapolis Star photo by Greg Griffo

This is the Indianapolis Star building, which until a few weeks ago stood at 307 N. Pennsylvania St. The newspaper called it home for some 100 years before moving to what used to be a department store at Circle Centre mall downtown. For a relative snippet of time, I called it home, too.

My dad, Tom Crowe, worked there from 1960 to 1990, as an ad salesman, advertising director, and finally as vice president and general manager. Long before Take Our Daughters to Work Day was a thing, Dad was taking me with him to “the plant” with the rich, sharp smell of newsprint and ink and the inky footprints in the first-floor hallway. I peered over the desks of God knows how many poor souls trying to get their work done as I followed Dad around the building. He almost always whistled. The place reminded me of a Chutes and Ladders game, with ramps, steps, and corridors going off every which way. That’s what happens when you morph two or three old buildings into one.

The mailroom was the best, because you could watch and hear the presses running. The stories the people on the second floor had written — wrapped around the ads the people on the third floor had sold — were all coming out on those big sheets of paper rattling through the machinery. The finished, folded papers that came out on the conveyor belt would then go into homes all over the city. People read the paper. They talked about what was in it. Printed words mattered.

Many drawings and homework assignments were completed at the small conference table in the office Dad moved into after being promoted to general manager. It was off the New York Street entrance — just out of the frame in this photo. There were no windows, and while the daylight addict in me hated that, I never felt anxious or claustrophobic in there. Decades later, during an energy healing session, I was asked to picture myself in a place where I felt absolutely safe and at home. I went not to a beach, shady grove, or cozy fireside, but to Dad’s office, puzzling through social studies or perhaps just reading the comics in that day’s paper while he worked.

We were a large, often dysfunctional extended family. Charlie Simmons, one of Dad’s coworkers in the advertising department, sat with Mom and me through several of Dad’s heart surgeries. Other employees confided in Dad about their battles with depression or alcoholism, or their confusion over decisions their own children had made. We went to one another’s weddings and funerals, watched the fireworks together at the Fourth Estate employee park every Fourth of July, and knew at least something about what was going on in one another’s lives.

When I went to work in the business office during the summer as a college student, Don Bates in personnel — a sideline photographer who had taken my baby pictures — took the photo for my ID badge. “No bearskin rug this time,” he said, grinning as he clicked the shutter.

I could not have asked for a more educational, and fun, introduction to the working world. Wednesdays in the cashiers’ office were hectic, as all the circulation district managers brought in their checks, cash, and money orders. Frazzled after totaling everything up and balancing on one such day, we got into a rubber band fight. Without even trying, I managed to loop one over a sprinkler head. About 15 years later, when I stopped by for a visit, I happened to look up and that same rubber band still hung there.

At the News during another break, I got to practice the copyediting and headline writing skills that would become a large part of my career. Bo Connor at the Star helped me get my first full-time journalism job at The Republic in Columbus, Ind.

Dad passed away in 1994, just four years after retiring. The first phone calls I received that day — after Mom, telling me the news — came from 307 N. Penn.

A few years later, the News closed down. Then the Star was sold to Gannett. Then came the move to Circle Centre and the sale of the building. Then came the demolition.

Nothing stays the same, and really, nothing should. Not all change is for the better, and often more change is needed because of it. If we are smart, we learn. Dad, who kept a brick from the old Detroit Times building in his office, would be the first to tell me it’s OK to let go of what was and make room for what will be.

What can we pull from the past and retrofit to work for us now? That’s a question we in print media are going to have to figure out. Most days, I think it comes down to caring about what we do and why, and caring for one another in the process. That’s probably a gross oversimplification, but it’s a place to start.

In the meantime, after we make our next deadline, I just may fire off another rubber band.

Build a better press release

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Now we turn to writing a more detailed press release. Here are my top tips for producing press releases the media will use:

1. Hire someone who knows what they’re doing. OK, grammatically speaking, hire someone who knows what he or she is doing. Heck, just hire me.

Still want to do it yourself? Read on.

2. Send your press release by email; see my previous news-release how-to about finding email addresses and putting them in the bcc field. You can put your message in the body of the email, but if you send the press release in an attached file, Word is the most usable format. A .doc (rather than .docx) file is safer since not everyone has upgraded to the latest version of Word.

Name the file according to your organization, the subject, and, if applicable, the date. For example, if you work for Company B and are sending out a press release about the company’s annual Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy Festival coming up on April 21, your filename (or slug, as we used to call it) could be CompanyB-BoogieFest-04.21.15.

This way, when the recipient downloads that and every other file she’s received that day, she can identify and sort it at a glance. A file named “Press Release” is much more likely to get lost in the shuffle.

3. Keep your formatting simple. Fancy email stationery, fancy fonts, or intricate coding to work around a logo or info box — fuhgeddaboudit. Impress me with the efficiency of your words.

4. Keep it short, simple, and businesslike. Answer the four W’s and the H — who, what, when, where, why, and how — in the first paragraph. Do not put the organization’s mission statement or any conversational fluff in the first paragraph. Just the facts, plus the name, phone number, and email of at least one person to contact with questions about the release.

Here’s an example of a press release that came to us in good shape “as is” from the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. Let’s look at it paragraph by paragraph.

Sept. 10, 2012 FORT WAYNE, Ind. – The University of Saint Francis will expand its downtown Fort Wayne presence with the purchase of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce building at 826 Ewing St. as a home for its Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership. A fall closing date is anticipated.

This is the most important part of the press release: The lead. This succinctly tells you who is doing what, where, and approximately when. Granted, it does not address why USF is expanding its downtown presence or how it’s going to be funded.

The purchase locates the business school near the USF Performing Arts Center at 431 W. Berry St. The university purchased the former Scottish Rite Center in January as a performance hall and as a location for its Media Entrepreneurship Training in the Arts (META) program.

But see, here’s more information and a little more background in the very next paragraph.

“Locating the school of business near the USF Performing Arts Center supports the META program’s downtown momentum,” said Sister M. Elise Kriss, university president. “Since META intersects with business courses, locating the study centers near one another creates convenience for our students while partnering with the city to draw visitors to an enhanced downtown. The move also provides more space for the business school’s other programs and opens up main campus space for the School of Arts and Sciences.”

Ah, the obligatory quote from the president, leader, or spokesperson. This one would actually be worth printing since, to the credit of Sister Elise and the press release writer, it gives more of the logistics and the “why.” However, it could also be cut without leaving any gaping factual holes.

The chamber building has been for sale since 2010. The chamber is expected to remain in the building through the spring of 2013 while a search is undertaken for new office space in the downtown area.

Here we have a bit more background and timeframe for what is going to happen.

“We certainly appreciate the historical significance of the Chamber building in so many of Fort Wayne’s business dealings over the past 84 years,” said Chamber President and CEO Mike Landram. “Selling the building to the University of Saint Francis is the best and highest use of the building in service to the business community. We couldn’t be happier with this arrangement. We’ve been preparing for this day for quite some time. It’s now time to evaluate available spaces within the downtown area that will allow us best serve chamber members.” Questions regarding the sale of the building can be directed to Landram at 260.424.1435 or mlandram@fwchamber.org.

There is nothing at all wrong with this quote; it’s full of goodwill and forward thinking. If the editor or whoever has space to fill, it can legitimately be included. If not, it can legitimately be cut. The last sentence about where to direct questions about the sale of the building might be left in if the editor feels it is relevant (say, in a business or real estate publication). I would have made it a separate paragraph since it’s not part of the quote.

The Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit organization with a membership of 1,700 northeast Indiana businesses. It supports economic growth through member business resources and facilitating strategic connections across business, education and government.

The University of Saint Francis, founded in 1890 as a comprehensive university in the Catholic Franciscan tradition, offers more than 60 undergraduate and 14 graduate programs in five schools: The School of Health Sciences, School of Arts and Sciences, Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership, School of Professional Studies and School of Creative Arts. It enrolls more than 2,300 students from a broad geographic region. The university has a regional campus in Crown Point, Ind.

These are the official descriptions that go at the bottom of every press release and rarely, if ever, make it into print. But if you have to include them at your end, you have to include them. We get that.

As I said earlier, good photos are welcome — either attached or available on request.

Keep it simple, get to the point, and get it right. You’ll create a much more abundant flow of information between your organization and the people you want to reach.