Last Updated May 14, 2008 5:03 PM EDT
For awhile, before the Internet, this stodgy news release format went unchallenged, and journalists who were forced to wade through them to find the nuggets of news they needed did so largely without complaint. Now, however, there is a rising chorus of criticism for this format, and many suggestions about how to improve press releases to make them more user-friendly.
In the end, though, there are only really two elements that define a good press release: it needs to be brief, and it needs to contain real news. The definition of "real news" is that it be timely and contain some facts and figures about the news you are announcing. You get bonus points for including links to background information on the web. You also get bonus points for making sure the people who are involved in announcing the news -- the PR person and the key spokespeople -- are available to comment and follow-up with interested parties immediately after the release is issued.
If you're interested in the subtleties of the evolution of the press release, head over to TechCrunch and read this blog post by PR 2.0 deep thinker Brian Solis.