Press releases as a hybrid genre: Addressing the informative/promotional conundrum

Paola Catenaccio

Abstract

Press releases are short pieces of writing issued by companies or institutions to communicate newsworthy information to the journalist community on the one hand, and to the general public (indirectly through newspaper reporting, or, increasingly, directly by making press releases available on corporate websites) on the other. While ostensibly informative, press releases also carry an implicitly self-promotional purpose, in so far as the information they contain comes from a source internal to the organization which is the object of the release itself. This paper explores the generic features of press releases and investigates the way in which they codify the different communicative purposes and multiple receiver roles which distinguish the genre. Drawing on Bhatia’s work on genre (Bhatia 1993, 2004), and building on Jacobs’s preformulating features (Jacobs 1999a), which can be seen as linguistic strategies aimed at achieving the primary and most ostensible purpose of the press release (i.e. getting the story in the news with as little manipulation as possible on the part of journalists), the paper identifies a set of moves and strategies common to the genre, and links them to communicative purposes on the one hand, and to envisioned audiences on the other. It is argued that the press release occupies a hybrid position along the informative-promotional continuum, and that identification of its communicative purpose relies as much on core as on peripheral textual features.

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