The history of press releases

The news has never been 'out there', waiting to be written or talked about by journalists. Instead, it is the journalists who have to make the news by writing or talking about it. Interestingly, the impact of journalists on the news seems to have gradually increased over the years. While newspapers are reported to have their origin in the early seventeenth century, for example, it was not until the 1860s that journalists began to actively 'make' news by interviewing public figures. Even more strikingly, in the early days of radio broadcasting, the BBC - with a total newsroom staff of only four (!) - regularly announced that 'there was no news that night'. Today this is unthinkable: there is always news unless a strike makes us do without.

More recently, individuals as well as organisations have started to realise that they don't always need to wait for the journalists to contact them (nor for uninformed, self-appointed analysts to spread rumours) but that they can pro-actively try to manage the news. As the first PR practitioner Ivy Lee noted, after one of his campaigns had won substantial newspaper space for a gift from the entrepreneur John D. Rockefeller to Johns Hopkins University:

"in view of the fact that this was not really news, and the newspapers gave so much attention to it, it would seem that this was wholly due to the manner in which the material was 'dressed up' for newspaper consumption. It seems to suggest very considerable possibilities along this line".

The term 'news management' was first used back in 1955 by a man called James Reston in his testimony before a U.S. congressional committee on government information. It has been argued that the start of news management can be situated at the Paris 1919 peace conference.

The first press releases had already been issued in the 1880s by U.S. members of Congress: they were "willing subjects. Many dropped by Newspaper Row, that section of 14th Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and F Street where most bureaus were located, and others went so far as to interview themselves, the first appearance of what are now known as press releases" (Schudson 1978: 20).

Today there are also so-called video releases, providing TV stations with audio-visual data that are ready-made to be included in their news broadcasts.

Finally, most organisations now also spread their press releases by e-mail and through the internet so that journalists can simply - and instantly - download them, without having to key them in again (and hence without being tempted to make any bothersome changes). Turn to for a glimpse of how subscription-based press release distribution services are organised.