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Press releases in journalism: friend or foe?

Press releases in journalism: friend or foe?

These days, PR is everything.

Companies, governments, and organizations use press releases to communicate with the media. By releasing their own official version of events, a press release helps companies maintain an image for the general public and, to some extent, control the story.

Traditional distribution networks charge companies for distributing press releases. On PRWeb.com, a "premium" distribution costs up to $360 per news release. Other companies pay wire services to spread their message.

A new company, noodls, is bucking that trend. It is the first online aggregator of press releases in "real time", and has nearly 9 million archived press releases. It does not wait for PR submissions (although PR reps can submit them), but runs a vertical search engine to gather archives in multiple languages.

The website is geared for both PR professionals and journalists. Journalists can use the site to search for sources or follow specific organizations. Organizations cannot contact journalists until the journalists themselves have specified that they would like to open a direct communication channel, preventing annoying spam.

Some studies have underscored the importance of press releases. TEKGROUP, a provider of online newsroom software solutions for the PR industry, conducted a national survey in January this year. The survey found that 99% of journalists find it at least somewhat important for a company to provide access to news releases within their online newsroom. 98% preferred an archive that was searchable.

Although journalists have relied on press releases for stories for about a century (a 1926 study of the New York Times concluded that up to 60% of the New York Times' stories came from PR), some question the integrity of "press release journalism". As the Internet has speeded the pace of breaking news, news organizations should pause to consider if press releases affect the quality of their stories.

In an effort to get a story out quickly, some journalists resort to reformulating a press release and publishing it as news. This phenomenon has been dubbed "churnalism" and can be tracked at the non-profit website Churnalism.com. It allows users to copy and paste an article, and it searches for uncredited press release sources.

Faced with a deluge of information and tight deadlines, churnalism is increasingly common at newspapers. However, it is counterproductive to serious journalism. Some press releases are obviously newsworthy. They give journalists access to information with a verifiable source. On the whole, though, newspapers do not benefit when the line between journalism and PR becomes fuzzy. PR has its place in the news, but it is no substitute for real reporting.

Sources: PRWeb, TEKGROUP, Adrian Monck, Churnalism.com, CJR.org

Photo Credit: MyFailureAtModernLiving



Florence Pichon


2011-07-04 18:53

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