Don't mess with copy

4 June 2006

The headline sums up one of the most important rules of the newsroom (actually the real rule is not quite as polite). And it's one that a lot of PR operations should embrace pronto if they do things the Greenpeace way.

Greenpeace is not the first organisation to issue a half-finished release and then wonder why everybody was laughing at it afterwards, but few of them could have done as much damage as the missive sent to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Part of it read, apparently:

"In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE]."

As the Inquirer reported, a spokesman for Greenpeace was aghast at the mistake and insisted that the placeholder was someone having a laugh. It won't do the image of the campaigning group any good as it lobbies against nuclear reactors, but that checks out. Even so, I can just imagine how future press calls and conferences are going to go:

"So, I'd just like to ask whether you have any more alarmist and armaggeddonists factoids you'd like to share with us..."

"The figure of 39 serious alerts at this particular reactor, is that a true number or just an alarmist and armageddonist factoid?"

It underlines how you really, really need to avoid putting gags in the drafts of stories or, in this case, releases. It's that kind of thing that leads to bits of copy like "...the company is based at [fuck knows where]" confronting slightly surprised readers. It's so easy. Someone puts it in thinking they'll deal with it later. But they get called away and the page gets picked up someone else who fails to spot the unfortunate insertion. And you know, when it's lurking inside 30  the square brackets never seem to help. Can't think why.