Hark! What Craziness Crosses Our Transom? 


A rich assortment of unsolicited potential content comes across a newspaper’s transom each day — much of it well-intentioned, but silly.  

Of course, the news business couldn’t survive a day without streams of press releases, story proposals, news tips, ad offerings, constructive suggestions and the like pouring in at all hours. Much of this material is well-written and creatively conceived. Nevertheless, by their very nature, mass mailings, unsolicited appeals on wide-ranging topics, and a lack of awareness of a newspaper’s core audience often set the stage for unintended cookiness. 

Take for example Dr. Potato of the Idaho Potato Commission. In an attempt to wow The Georgetowner from afar on the subject of potato skins — already a tough sell for our demographic — a press release presents Dr. Potato’s response to a concerned (and somewhat daft) writer’s query: “Can I eat potato skins on a no-carb diet?” Of course, Dr. Potato hedges: “If an individual is on a strict no-carb diet, potato skins are not devoid of carbohydrates. However…” Enough said. How did this self-interested tuber become a physician in the first place?  

My favorites are heavy-metal press releases, so raw and hellacious. This one begins on a friendly note, then plunges in the dagger: “I hope you’re doing well! EYEHATEGOD and NAPALM DEATH will be in Baltimore.” In press talking points, we learn, intriguingly, that NAPALM DEATH who recently played shows with SLAYER, ANTHRAX, MUNICIPAL WASTE and SICK OF IT ALL –  embrace “humanism, socialism and animal rights.” And, who knew that EYEHATEGOD– recommended for fans of ACID BATH and NEUROSIS — was similarly community spirited. “EYEHATEGOD shines a light and gives a voice to those impoverished in America,” touts the press release. No wonder they’re vaunted in press outlets the likes of: Metal Sucks, Brooklyn Vegan, Blabbermouth, and Angry Metal Guy. 

One press release we recently received from Choice Mutual insurance company begins: “Hi News Team, Betty White will turn 100 in January!” At first, it appears kindly that an insurance company — normally a pretty staid enterprise — is giving saucy Betty White props for continuing to “inspire fans to always pursue what they love, no matter their age.” But then, the firm makes kind of a bizarre offer: “To celebrate America’s sweetheart and her living legacy, we will pay one applicant $1000 to watch 10 hours of her best work before the nation celebrates our centenarian icon.” Isn’t this kind of a back-handed compliment to Ms. White’s body of work? What does it say about her lifetime oeuvre that you have to pay some poor sap to sit through so many consecutive hours of it?  

On a similar vein, a press release from MagellanTV offers to pay “one brave soul” $2400 to watch “24-straight hours of paranormal documentaries and share about their experience.” No word on how they want the guinea pig to “share” what they’ve learned. Would a 5-paragraph essay do, or perhaps a telepathic message?  

When the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) came to town — or at least to Fairfax, VA — they offered “storyline options” to the media. The first was to write about the “animal athlete stars, PBR’s bucking bulls, and their stock contractors who treat these bovine superstars as members of the family” and the second to describe “the trucking of 750 tons of dirt” into EagleBank Arena and the set-up of steel totaling six football fields in length.” None of this is particularly funny, however, until the press release pitches: “For two nights only, some of the best bull riders in the world will battle the sport’s rankest bovine athletes in the ultimate showdown of man vs. beast…” Do they mean to describe the athletes as so stinky? Are these high-caliber athletes even more rank than the bulls they ride? 

One message promoting the “Mad Hatter’s (Gin &) Tea Party” which came to D.C. in the fall describes the event as “a 90-minute gin-fueled, cocktail-crafting experience” which brings “Lewis Carroll’s classic story to life,” where “guests will get to step into the immersive world of Alice in Wonderland, and finally, get to live out the childhood dream of joining the Mad Hatter’s utterly curious tea party.” This sounds very promising for a night of carousing with fellow Alice in Wonderlanders. But then, the sheer scale of the event — especially during Covid times — seems a bit off-putting: “Over 50,000 tea party guests have already taken the trip down the rabbit hole…” we’re told. Sounds like way too many invitees, even for a trippy tea party! 

Not every political press release is loathsome, as one might expect. Sometimes, messages promote valuable social causes. That doesn’t make them immune from silliness, however. One statement scribed by young visitors to the United Nations exudes youthful optimism about changing the world for the better. They titled their release: “Our Generation is Fed Up: Youth Leaders Across Globe Demand Action Ensuring Clean Water, Basic Sanitation, and Essential Pandemic Protection (WASHPAP) for Everyone on Earth by 2030.” You’ve got to hand it to these youngsters who want to “wash” every “Pap” on the planet within 9 years after launching their WASHPAP program. Better start with those Bull Riders! 

One marijuana advocacy organization, D.C. Marijuana Justice sent out a smoke signal with this sensational headline: “Apes Erect 2,001 Pound Steel Monolith at DEA’s Headquarters.” Turns out a group of “anonymous apes” (i.e., stoned humans) were “celebrating the arrival of a mysterious metal monolith standing nine feet and weighing over 2,000 pounds” outside the DEA’s headquarters in Arlington, VA. Apparently, the protesters  “wheeled the full-size 2001: Space Odyssey monolith replica dressed as apes to prevent police retaliation and because it looks even cooler.” [Italics added.] In these inauthentic times, that’s a pretty cool admission about why they chose to portray apes. 

Somewhat ridiculous surveys and marketing analyses always pour in as well. In one announcement we learn that Washington, D.C. is the 36th best city for “surviving a zombie apocalypse. Using 23 “key indicators of zombie-preparedness” and surveying across 200 of the “biggest U.S. cities,” this scholarly investigation queries: Where do “the living have the best chance of defending themselves” in the “(unlikely?) event of a zombie uprising”? Clearly, we should be pressuring our representatives about why the nation’s capital is so poorly prepared for zombies. Perhaps a bipartisan commission is called for.  

Sometimes it’s just the one-liners dropped in the middle of a message that make one giggle.  “We are professional in making rubber seal parts,” says one plumbing contractor. “Help support veterans by laughing,” urges a non-profit comedic arts group.  

It appears, however, that the future is bright. One set of press talking points described the “way of the future” as pretty intriguing. Apparently, “new research shows an at-home app for gut-directed hypnotherapy” provides an “effective solution to self-manage [Irritable Bowel Syndrome] symptoms.” Great! So, after I download the app on my phone, where should I point it to begin my gut-focused hypno-therapy? Will I think I’m a chicken until I’m snapped out of the trance? I’m sure their next press release will provide full details, with diagrams. If not, I might continue to be irritable.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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