Chess Journalists of America

The following article was published in The Chess Journalist, Vol. XXX, No. 2, Consecutive No. 100, June 2001 (Editor: John Hillery). One-time only publication rights have been obtained from the contributor. All other rights are hereby assigned to the author. Articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CJA, its offices or members. Copyright 2001 by the Chess Journalists of America.

Chess publicity in the general media:
Writing a Press Release

by James M. Nevler

1) How to say it

Preparing your own press releases is not a difficult task. You are not out to produce the Great American Novel; all you have to do is come up with an accurate, readable account of whatever you are writing about. It is safe to resort to some simple formulas

If at all available, use an official letterhead for the press release. State tournaments should be announced on the state federation's letterhead. If the local title event is held at the YMCA, put out the publicity on Y stationery. If you pay fair market value for whatever materials you use, this should prove no problem to arrange. Your own club letterhead can be designed and produced for a minimal cost. A letterhead, while not always impressive, does give your organization an air of authenticity. It can help make the media take you seriously.

Your press release should follow a straightforward, logical pattern, much like one of Smyslov's games.

Your press release should follow a straightforward, logical pattern, much like one of Smyslov's games. Avoid Tal-style complications. Keep thoughts simple. Put as few ideas as necessary in each release. Try to get it all on one piece of double-spaced paper. Always type. As many as ten people may have to read the release before it gets into print. Remember that almost everybody who will read the story has no real knowledge of the game. Avoid all unexplained use of chess vocabulary, such as "fish," "sac," "Swiss system," "Benoni," "zugzwang," and "Dragon." Editors ignore what they don't understand.

Editors also ignore sloppy work. Unlike a chess game, the rules of journalism give you plenty of chances to retract errors. Use the dictionary whenever you are in doubt. Proofread everything. Then have somebody else read the release. Most people miss their really stupid errors because these are so obvious.

Check the spelling of names at least twice, including the first names. There are differences between Walter Brown of Illinois and GM Walter Browne of California, and between Jon Jacobs of New York and John Jacobs of Texas.

Make sure the release includes the name, address and telephone number of somebody to get in touch with for information. Nowadays an e-mail address is also a good idea, but make sure whoever owns it answers his mail.

2) What to say

News stories traditionally contain "the five W's and H." Your release should be no exception. "Who, what , when, where, why and how" do not have to be placed in any special order, but they all have to be in the story. Usually the same phrase or sentence answers more than one need.

"Who" includes who the winner is: age, background, chess title if appropriate. Most papers like the address and town also. All this does not have to be in one sentence, but it should probably be kept together for structural logic.

"What" is whatever the newsworthy individual did or won. This may be easily combined with "why," the cause rather than the result, and "how," the technical facts.

"Where" and "when" are both easy to forget. [[I have been immensely annoyed by tournament reports in chess magazines that should know better, which never get around to giving the date or site of the event -- ed.]] The location of the event is often the crucial factor in determining whether an editor is interested. Local events or local winners of state or national events naturally attract more news space than unfamiliar grandmasters who win major tournaments because the local readers can identify with the local names or places. Larry Christiansen's defense of the U.S. Junior Championship in 1975 was important enough to the newspaper in his hometown of Riverside, California, that it arranged with a paper in the Norristown, Pennsylvania area to get immediate notification when he won the event.

3) Names in the news

Similarly, neighbors of competitors in a county championship this author organized responded to advance publicity by mentioning to the players that they had seen their names in the paper. Many neighbors also showed up to watch -- which was the whole idea behind publicizing the invitational championship. Outstanding accomplishments by local people are always news to local news organizations.

"When" must be included for the obvious reason that things that happened months ago are not by definition news. It does no good to tell people that there will be a lecture and simul by a visiting Grandmaster without also including the fact that games will start at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 17 or whatever. You must check for these omissions yourself. Even the best editors, when fighting deadlines (journalism's equivalent of time trouble), could print the story without checking the missing time or decide just to toss the entire thing into the trash.

The actual moves of the winning game are almost never of interest to newspapers. This unfortunate situation will continue as long as there is relatively little demand made by readers for the game scores. It won't hurt to have a typed, doubled-checked copy of the best game available for publication or included at the end of the release. Experience has shown that even when printed, the score sill tends to be full of typos. Even the best proofreaders can have trouble with such non-grammatical expressions as 27. Rd4-d2!!.

Unless you are lucky enough to have access to a local chess columnist who personally sees that the score gets into print with as few errors as humanly possible, don't ever attempt to include commentary with the score. Remember that editors will use only what they understand or expect most of their readers to understand.

4) Many roads

There are as many good writing styles as chess styles. The following examples of short releases are a very small indication of what is possible. All have been published.

The members of the Chess Ladder of Bristol face a tough task tomorrow night beginning at 7 in the Grundy Library on Radcliffe Street. Their opponent in simultaneous play will be a master whose theoretical work has been published in the Soviet chess weekly "64."

No, it is not its editor, Tigran Petrosian, but rather Philadelphian Mike Pastor.

The event is open to the public, but because time will be limited, Pastor will play only the first 50 to sign up. The cost is $2 to play and absolutely nothing just to watch. Players should bring sets (Staunton pattern) and boards.

U.S. Amateur Chess Champion Bruce Rind will give a simultaneous exhibition Saturday at 1 p.m. in Founder's Hall at Buck's County Community College in Newtown.

Mel Barron of the college's chess club has announced that the fee to play is $2 for college students and $2.50 for others. Players are advised to bring sets and boards. Rind, a member of the national championship Temple University chess team last winter, will take on at least 30 opponents. Spectators will be admitted free.

Tom Benham, of Trenton, was the winner of the recent Bucks County Spring Swiss tournament sponsored by the Delaware Valley Chess Club. Benham's perfect score of five wins was good enough for first place money of $12 and the trophy.

Tournament director Don Thompson announced that the Delaware Valley Club will hold a quadrangular tournament beginning Tuesday at 7:45 p.m. at the Faith Reformed Church on Levittown Parkway. Entrants will play in four-person sections by approximate rating strength.

Entry fee is $5, and a $10 first place prize is offered for each section. Time limit for the games is 40 moves in 90 minutes. Those scoring three wins will receive free entry in the Bucks County Open.


One last hint. Check the news releases in the publication you're dealing with. Try to make yours conform to the newspaper's preference for length and order of presentation, if any, of the material. The less work your release requires the editor to do, the more likely he is to use it.

[[A somewhat longer version of this article first appeared in the Winter 1978 issue of The Chess Journalist.]]

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