pressconf

Is reprinting press releases journalism?

When the Vancouver Police Department issues a press release, like most organizations, they’re hoping that the press will use that information to write an article about the incident, arrest, or announcement they want publicized. But I bet public relations officers rarely allow themselves, in their wildest dreams, to imagine a world where their press releases are published verbatim by a well-read local publication.

Similarly, when a story is credited to a publication—say, the “Vancity Buzz Staff”—the reader usually doesn’t expect that the words are literally copied and pasted from that press release. They might be forgiven for assuming that the people credited with writing the piece (which doesn’t link to the press release or mention that it is, in fact, word-for-word, a press release) actually wrote it.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent Vancity Buzz article, “VANCOUVER POLICE HOPING TO RETURN PROPERTY TO OWNERS“:

An investigation by patrol officers with the VPD has led to an arrest, charges and the seizure of a large amount of suspected stolen property that police want to return to the rightful owners.

Shortly after noon on Friday, June 20, police executed a search warrant at a home located on Main Street near E. 47th Avenue to obtain additional evidence related to the investigation. The entry was made by the VPD Emergency Response Team due to concerns that there were firearms in the home.

And here’s an excerpt from the press release put out by the VPD, presumably a little earlier, titled “POLICE HOPING TO RETURN PROPERTY TO OWNERS“:

An investigation by patrol officers with the VPD has led to an arrest, charges and the seizure of a large amount of suspected stolen property that police want to return to the rightful owners.

Shortly after noon on Friday, June 20th, police executed a search warrant at a home located on Main Street near E. 47th Avenue to obtain additional evidence related to the investigation. The entry was made by the VPD Emergency Response Team due to concerns that there were firearms in the home.

The only thing they changed was to helpfully add the word “VANCOUVER” to the headline.

This is not journalism. It’s not even blogging. It’s a goddamned slippery-slope nightmare.

Yes, it’s just a press release about stolen property being found. My friend’s amp may even be among those things, so, you know, yay! But the absolute last people you want to be reading straight press releases from are the police.

That’s not to say the police in Vancouver are particularly bad police; it’s just that when you get comfortable not doing any real reporting you might miss bad things that they sometimes do. 

I can’t imagine the VPD putting out a press release about this, for example. Or this.

This isn’t about the police at all, though. This is about a not-so-complicated standard of media ethics. One of the primary components of any ethical code is, no matter how much you sell out, at least don’t just reprint the press release. To us at WORST, this is why aggregators are not the future of journalism. They are handy ways of keeping up with the local, uh, buzz—but they serve little purpose that Twitter doesn’t.

If, like Vancity Buzz, aggregators are going to play journalism, with mastheads that include an editor-in-chief, managing editor, and section editors (and a totally baffling number of contributors, given the product they create), they may want to consider adopting some of the other norms and practices of the trade. Like reporting, for instance. 

Image via Google Cultural Institute

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Jimmy is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist whose work has focused on the Arctic, science, and cannibal rat-infested ghost ships.

  • AssHat900

    Five hundred words too long, when just no would suffice.