The term ‘newswire’ brings to mind another era of media, one peopled with hard-bitten reporters with ‘PRESS’ cards in their fedoras. But newswires are still an incredibly effective way for PRs to spread their stories to media outlets and the world. A survey from Vitis Public Relations found 37 per cent of journalists used newswires every day, and 30 per cent used them on occasion.
Newswires are run by news agencies, organizations that gather reports and distribute them to newspapers, magazines, radio and television broadcasters. News agencies grew out of the fact that, even in the golden age of newspapers, very few could afford international bureaus. It was more economical to source stories from Reuters in Germany or Agence France-Presse in France, both of which were founded in the 19th century.
News agencies prepare stories that can be picked up by outlets with little modification. They send these articles electronically on the wire, to which publications, companies and individuals can subscribe.
Some commercial newswires only accept news tips. Others accept press releases from PR agencies to consider assigning to one of their writers, while others will send out releases to their subscribers as is, for a fee.
While it may seem in some ways newswires make a PR’s job easier, by not having to pitch to each relevant journalist at each individual publication, the blanket approach has its setbacks. For instance, without a relationship with the writer and the personal touch of a direct pitch, your press release can be easily lost in a sea of news items. The requirement to write a compelling, memorable and news worthy release is even greater.
The major newswire services include:
Paul Julius Reuter worked for a Berlin book-publishing firm and made a name for himself by distributing radical pamphlets on the eve of the 1848 revolutions. He founded a proto-newswire service using telegraphy and carrier pigeons. The service’s first major scoop was the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, which it was first to report.
Now, Reuters, a division of Thomson Reuters, employs several thousand journalists around the world, and produces stories in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
The Associated Press was founded in 1841 by five of the leading New York City newspapers as a means of pooling resources and getting the best, most reliable stories in the fastest way. This proved invaluable during the Civil War, when American outlets wanted to publish vivid, on-the-ground reporting on the battles.
AP is still owned and operated by a collection of newspapers, radio and television stations, which both contribute stories and use stories written by its staff journalists.
In recent years AP has become the go-to headline service for web portals such as Yahoo!, MSN and Google News.
PA is a multimedia news agency operating in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It was founded in 1868 by a group of British newspaper owners to provide information more accurate than that from the growing telegraph industry.
Although it covers all manner of news, PA is known particularly for its sports coverage, including tennis, golf, horseracing and British football.
Headquartered in Paris, AFP is the third largest news agency, after the Associated Press and Reuters. AFP was founded in 1835 as Agence Havas by Charles-Louis Havas, an advertising agent who employed Paul Reuter (of Reuters). Eventually, the agencies entered into an agreement to cover different parts of Europe, which lasted until the 1930s.
The agency was taken over by the invading Nazis during the Occupation, but in 1944 a group of journalists liberated the office and renamed the service Agence France.
Currently, the AFP has regional offices in Nicosia, Montevideo, Hong Kong and Washington, D.C., and bureaus in 150 countries.