When is a press release a press release?

Have been musing on the nature of press releases following some recent blogs on some sites dedicated to journalism and the media.

Just when is a press release a press release? Is a press statement a press release? Can anything published online be constituted as a press release? Many journalists now happily concede that they do most of their hunting online and happily recycle celebrity quotes and other information from the most trusted sources - ie BBC, Telelgraph and New York Times.

This led me to consider probably the most famous press release in British history which can read here in it's entirety. It's Lord Admiral Collingwood's Despatch to the Admirality after the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Lord Nelson.

The defeat of the the French and Spanish fleet off Cap Trafalgar changed the face of Europe and ensured a British Empire. Without it Napoleon Bonapart - a dictator and the Hitler of his day - would have dominated Europe and he may never have met his Waterloo.

(I'm a Nelson nut by the way - I think most men develop an interest in military history when they get to a certain age - perhaps because we've never fought in a war but grown up among parents and grandparents who did. A friend of mine even has a lock of Nelson's hair).

Anyway I digress. Here is a pared down version of Collingwood's dispatch:

Euryalus, off Cape Trafalgar, Oct. 22, 1805.
The ever-to-be lamented death of Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, who, in the late conflict with the enemy, fell in the hour of victory, leaves to me the duty of informing my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that on the 19th instant, it was communicated to the Commander in Chief, from the ships watching the motions of the enemy in Cadiz, that the Combined Fleet had put to sea; as they sailed with light winds westerly, his Lordship concluded their destination was the Mediterranean, and immediately made all sail for the Streights' entrance, with the British Squadron, consisting of twenty-seven ships, three of them sixtyfours, where his Lordship was informed, by Captain Blackwood (whose vigilance in watching, and giving notice of the enemy's movements, has been highly meritorious), that they had not yet passed the Streights...

As the mode of our attack had been previously determined on, and communicated to the Flag-Officers, and Captains, few signals were necessary, and none were made, except to direct close order as the line bore down.
The Commander in Chief, in the Victory, led the weather column, and the Royal Sovereign, which bore my flag, the lee. The action began at twelve o'clock, by the leading ships breaking through the enemy's line, the Commander in Chief about the tenth ship from the van, the Second in Command about the twelfth from the rear, leaving the van of the enemy unoccupied; the succeeding ships breaking through in all parts, astern of the leaders, and engaging the enemy at the muzzles of their guns; the conflict was severe; the enemy's ships were fought with a gallantry highly honourable to their Officers; but the attack on them was irresistible, and it pleased the Almighty Disposer of all events to grant his Majesty's arms a complete and glorious victory...

Such a battle could not be fought without sustaining a great loss men. I have not only to lament in common with the British Navy, and the British Nation, in the Fall of the Commander in Chief, the loss of a Hero, whose name will be immortal, and his memory ever dear to his country; but my heart is rent with the most poignant grief for the death of a friend, to whom, by many years intimacy, and a perfect knowledge of the virtues of his mind, which inspired ideas superior to the common race of men, I was bound by the strongest ties of affection; a grief to which even the glorious occasion in which he fell, does not bring the consolation which, perhaps, it ought: his Lordship received a musket ball in his left breast, about the middle of the action, and sent an Officer to me with his last farewell; and soon after expired.
I have also to lament the loss of those excellent Officers, Captains Duff, of the Mars, and Cooke, of the Bellerophon; I have yet heard of none others.
I fear the numbers that have fallen will be found very great, when the returns come to me; but it having blown a gale of wind ever since the action, I have not yet had it in my powers to collect any reports from the ships.
Having thus detailed the proceeding of the fleet on this occasion, I beg to congratulate their Lordships on a victory which, I hope, will add a ray to the glory of his Majesty's crown, and be attended with public benefit to our country, I am, &c.

Stiring stuff what? Now was this a press release? Indeed it was, Sir! It was publsihed in full on the front page of the London Gazette Extraordinary - a special edition rushed out as soon as Collingwood's dispatches reached the Admiralty aborad HMS Pickle.

Every other newspaper in the country carried it too as editions of the Gazette were sent out to Bath, Bristol and Liverpool. But I wonder did Collingwood realise who was Nelson's Chief Public Relations Adviser when he wrote and Nelson legend in motion.

Now set me a course for La Reunion - and Damn Bonie.

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