According to the comments, news outlets would benefit from conversations about how to handle press releases ethically and successfully. I’ve compiled a list of six similar suggestions for you to consider.
Consider using media releases as a starting point.
I’ve always considered social media a wonderful place to start when looking for information and inspiration. Even though social media is helpful, journalists still need to use the skills they already have to find sources and check the information they get.
In a similar vein, I consider press releases. Press releases might alert you to facts you were previously unaware of. However, if you solely depend on press releases and don’t perform your reporting, you may overlook important details that help complete the story. A release can be paraphrased or quoted by anybody. You can take it a step further as a reporter.
Discuss the possibility of paraphrasing, quoting and how to cite a press release with your editor.
Discuss how to handle press releases with your editor, whether you’re a novice or seasoned reporter. What is the standard procedure in your newsroom for dealing with them, and what are the expectations? Is it OK with your editor if you quote or paraphrase them? What about citing them without giving them credit? And how to cite a press release properly?
Having a conversation about utilizing press releases might help you realize what is and isn’t appropriate in your newsroom. If you don’t agree with your newsroom’s press release handling procedure, ask your editor questions. Just because your newsroom has done things a specific way for years doesn’t imply it has to (or should) continue in that manner.
I believe that using press releases in stories is OK as long as you’re upfront with your readers about where the material came from. When you include attribution, your viewers will know where the material came from.
Check to see if the release is noteworthy.
When you get a press release, consider if the information is relevant to your target audience. Is the press release deserving of a quick mention? Is it possible to tell a longer story? Is it possible to have a post and a lengthier follow-up story? Is there anything else? Is there nothing at all?
Unless I receive a press release unrelated to my beat (which has occurred a few times), I generally read the whole release. That way, I’ll be able to make a better-educated judgment about whether or not it’s noteworthy.
I’ll write a brief article and quote the whole release if the release has relevant and critical information that I want to get out soon. I always make it clear that it’s a release, and I put it in a block quote to differentiate it from my remarks. I’ll start reporting if the release isn’t time-sensitive and I want to publish a connected article.
Follow up on the press release.
The majority of press releases are promotional. It’s your responsibility to make sure you’re not merely promoting the agenda of an organization or individual. Look for holes in press releases and try to fill them up.
Is the information in the press release accurate? Is the spelling of the names correct? Is there a local aspect that your audience would be interested in? Is there anything left unsaid? Is the content in the press release consistent with what you already know or have heard? Who else should you contact for further details? Is it possible that this press release is a hoax? Informing your reporting can be as simple as asking smart questions.
Make the story your own by adding your twists and turns.
Make your story stand out by including your voice in it, rather than just quoting or paraphrasing a release. Your tone is almost certainly more conversational and appealing than the language used in press releases.
Try to emulate the person who sent the press release or the people referenced in it to get quotes that aren’t the same as everyone else’s. Add context and analysis as needed to advance the material in the release. You’ll probably feel better about the result if you do such things.
Look for ways to get a leg up on the competition next time.
I almost always react and thank the person who sent me a press release about something applicable to my beat. If I wish to continue receiving releases, I tell the individual to keep sending them to me. Then I go a step further by informing the person that, if at all possible, hearing about the information before it is released would be beneficial.
This won’t always work, but it can occasionally, especially if you promise to keep the narrative under wraps until publication. You’ll have more time to report and interview people if a public relations person provides information to you before releasing a release.
Addressing these issues will put you above those learning about the releases for the first time.