Anthony Hilton: Spot the useful press release

Thirty years ago the news desk for the business section of The Times was surrounded by six full-sized dustbins.

Anthony Hilton: Journalists will get upwards of 300 emails a day
Anthony Hilton: Journalists will get upwards of 300 emails a day

Twice a day messengers from the mail room would deliver eight sacks of mail. The business news editor's job was to take the mail out of the sacks, open it and put it in the dustbins. The trick was to be able to do this and still spot the one release in a hundred that had something interesting to say.

Of course she needed help. Each reporter also had a half-sized dustbin. They would get some mail sent direct that they would of course open, and specialists in oil or property or automotive would also have binning rights over releases the news editor was unsure about.

In between delivery of mail she would scan trade papers, news services and field phone calls, all of which might produce something worth following up, and deal with reporters pushing their own ideas.

Technology has not changed things a bit, other than that the mailbags have disappeared. But the challenge has not changed. Journalists will receive upwards of 300 emails a day. The trick is still to spot the one in a hundred worth reading.

And the reason for discarding them is the same too. Some are late and old. Some are irrelevant to our target reader - articles about personal financial topics to a title without a personal finance section. Some are not of general interest, however important they may be to the sender; some are self-serving without being interesting.

This last is particularly difficult. The world is full of people seeking to set themselves up as pundits and willing to offer their opinion on the future of the euro, the banking crisis, regulation or whatever. The trouble is that they rarely have anything perceptive and original to say. It is not enough to come out with the same old stuff that would be known to any casual reader of the Financial Times, interspersed with a thinly disguised plug for their firm and the services it offers.

Somewhere a PR professional is collecting a fee for sending out the stuff that goes straight in the bin. My question is, are they just doing it for the money, or are they as deluded about what makes news as their clients?

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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