MEDIA : Translating Press Releases: Flack Speak for Beginners

Reading press releases is a science of interpretation. The key is deciphering the phrases and complicated terminology, known to some as "flack speak," to discover the real meaning and value of the release.

Once the science is learned, it becomes far easier to sift through the rhetoric and even find enjoyment in it.

A recent press release from KUSI-TV (Channel 51) said new Sports Guy Rod Luck has a "unique interactive style."

But what does that mean?

Using the intricacies of press release interpretation, the translation: He likes to talk to people. That could be wrong, but it's how an experienced flack-speak translator could interpret it.

Receiving this sort of mail daily, it's not hard to develop a certain appreciation for the truly meaningless phrase, the well-developed attempt to make the subject seem like the hottest thing since the Hula Hoop.

The true connoisseur of flack speak finds amusement in wading through the words to discover the real truth of a release. Take, for example, the 34-page press kit sent out for last week's San Diego Film Festival.

There were several interesting aspects to the package, not least of which was the noticeable lack of relatively relevant information, such as times for most of the screenings and a phone number for members of the public to call for information.

Included, however, were flowery letters of praise from various participants in the festival, including a letter from John Curley, general manager of the Union-Tribune Publishing Co., promising "movie reviews and listings each day in the pages of the San Diego Union and San Diego Tribune."

It didn't take a scientific expert to notice that there were no listings in either paper last week, nor reviews of "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes," "Airport '77" and the other movies in the festival.

The promise to review the movies and provide listings "may have been an overstatement," Curley said. Those things happen.

In the realm of press releases that truly challenge interpreters, Arete Magazine deserves a special award of merit for a recent release. The first page detailed the magazine's financial woes, admitting that the long overdue next issue "may be the last." The second page takes a screeching detour, though, announcing the formation of something called Arete Associates, offering to "assist writers in refining their work for successful publication."

Just a few paragraphs after detailing the magazine's problems the release boasts that Arete has grown "from modest beginnings" to become "an international magazine." In the process it has developed a "dynamic editing process." Arete editors, it promises, will share the wisdom they have accumulated "through years of publishing--years of trial and error, learning and subsequent improvements to the editing process."

The editors are willing to share all this knowledge, which has been accumulated over just four years of publishing, according to the release.

If there is one lesson in Jim Laslavic's sportscasting career, it is that being a pest pays off. Pure, non-stop persistence landed the former NFL linebacker an on-air job at KFMB-TV (Channel 8), which he parlayed into his current job as sports director of KNSD-TV (Channel 39).

His latest coup is a one-day color commentator stint with NBC. He'll work the Chargers-Cowboys opening day showdown from Dallas on Sept. 9.

Laslavic says he has been harassing the network for years without any luck. But NBC, faced with an unusual number of afternoon games on opening day, needed announcers. They only offered him one game, but he'll take it.

NBC flew him to New York last week to participate in a meeting of its football announcers. "Just being in the room (with the NBC crew) was a positive influence," Laslavic said. "At least they know who I am now."

The hot rumor at KFMB-TV (Channel 8) is that anchorwoman Susan Roesgen, who has not always been a happy camper at the station, is on her way to WABC in New York. Although she has a year left on her contract, it reportedly includes a clause that would allow her to accept a job in New York. "No comment" on WABC or the contract, Roesgen said, adding, "I am currently happy and working hard and trying to help the station do better." . . .

To the television-is-a-small-world file add this: Early in their careers, new Channel 39 reporters Monica Gayle and Roesgen worked opposite each other in the thriving media capital of Billings, Mont. . . .

Is Channel 39's "Third Thursday," which has done shows on the death penalty, abortion and other serious issues, going commercial (selling out) this month? The topic of Thursday's show is "the perfect body." . . .

KPBS-TV has hired laid-off producer Wayne Smith to fill the "newly redefined" position of senior producer. Smith had been with the station for 20 years before receiving his notice last month with six other producers. . . .

KGB-FM (101.5) fill-in disc jockey Jim Arnold is leaving to accept a job in Spokane, Wash. . . .

Channel 8's Larry Himmel pulled off the difficult, extremely cheesy, triplex self-promotional maneuver last week, hosting a feature on New Age musician Spencer Nilsen. His music is regularly featured on KIFM (98.1), which, not coincidentally, employs Himmel as its morning personality. The feature even showed Himmel in the radio studio, styling a KIFM shirt, introducing one of Nilsen's songs. . . .

It seems a little suspicious that members of the media were chosen to take the first ride in the Belmont Park roller coaster. Suspicions were confirmed when a broken part was discovered. . . .

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