All the news that's fit to hide

Dave Winer pointed to the PDF source of an announcement from Harvard’s Institute Of Politics earlier today – an interesting survey that suggests college kids will be an important swing demographic in the 2004 U.S. presidential race.

On the Blogrollers mailing list, Dave asked: “I'm still looking for an HTML version of the press release so I can write it up on the Harvard weblog. If you have a pointer, please send it along.”

So there’s me thinking: "hey! I’m a PR bloke and this is a news release – I already have all the right sources bookmarked. Should be no problem to find Dave what he’s looking for..."

Oh dear.

First place to check, natch: PR Newswire. The release is up there alright, but you just know the page is going to rot within a month – and they obscure the darn URL of the page so that it’s not even linkable anyway.

So there's not one but two examples of mind-numbingly clueless PR here, I'm afraid - one of them from a supposed bastion of the industry.

First - why the hell does PR Newswire make it so difficult to point to the news they carry?

This one makes my brain hurt. It’s akin to the big media 'archive problem' chewed over by Doc (and here), David Weinberger, and others of late, but we now find ourselves at an even deeper plane of stupidity.

If there’s any way of linking to the news PR Newswire carries, I can’t see it. And their archives (for all but their “Company News on Call” subscribers) roll off the site in 30 days. As Microsoft pays the extra for this service, you can search for Microsoft stories from way back. But try finding anything for AOL older than 30 days and you’re SOL. Same deal for thousands of other companies who pay to have their news distributed through PR Newswire.

(It's a little better if you're north of the 49th, btw. Their Canadian affiliate, Canada NewsWire, keeps a two year archive of everything online, searchable, and linkable).

Of course, you can still find the news in other ways, but from the perspective of a PR pro or journalist, it’s sometimes really useful to see the release exactly as it was originally issued. The version on the company’s own website may be different in subtle but important ways.

The other clue-hole here returns me to the subject of an earlier rant. Why does anyone ever think that posting their news release as a PDF is even a remotely good idea? It seems to be an increasingly popular approach, but not one I can make any kind of sense out of.

I’ve said this before: anything that makes your news harder to access and harder to read should be considered a dumb move, right? For the record: I love Acrobat - it's a terrific invention, and I use it every day. But that doesn't mean it should be used for everything.

The whole point of a news release, presumably, is that you want people to find and read it. Locking your news up inside a PDF makes the information less useable, less accessible, and less easy to find.

Hiding links in such a way that you actually prevent people from driving any traffic to your site by linking is even more wrong-headed.

If I pay to get my news out on the wires, I want people to be able to find it and point to it - forever, please. If there's any good reason for forcing interested media and other audiences (including influencers such as Dave) to jump through hoops just to read your news, I'm missing it.