Ode to the press release


Oh, Press Release, you seductive tease. Each weekday you flood my inbox with a wave of story ideas, making promises that you’ll make my life easier by providing everything I need to create easy articles that don’t require me to leave my house.

You’re the CliffsNotes of journalism — bright and shiny, filled with information I don’t have to search for by myself, and sometimes containing handy quotes from people that would take a week to track down for an interview. You’re so sneaky and alluring. Every time I read you I am tempted to just rewrite you. It would make my life so… much… easier.

But you’re not exactly like the CliffsNotes version. It’s more like you’re the CliffsNotes written from the perspective of one character, like The Scarlett Letterbeing told from the perspective of Arthur Dimmesdale. In any case, the Cliffsnotes might help you pass a quiz, but you would most certainly fail the final written exam. 

This week, all the TC Daily Planet writers got a cautionary email in our inboxes from our editor, Mary Turck, with a link to a recent post from the Poynter Institute. In the post, Julie Moos, director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications, described how it had come to her attention that blogger Jim Romenesko, had been in the practice of using phrases in verbatim from articles without using quotation marks, though he did attribute these sources correctly. 

While the case of Romensko seems to involve mostly articles or blogs, it made me think about my own use of press releases. I thought back — have I ever used verbatim language from a press release without putting it in quotes? Probably. I do not feel good about admitting this.

For short little preview pieces, when it’s not a controversial story where you need to talk “to the other side” — that’s when temptation is the most strong. But still, I think I need some space from you, Press Release. Because even if you aren’t a published article, you were written by somebody. I hereby vow to never ever use their words without quotation marks from this point forward. 

So, my dear Press Release. I think perhaps we should get a little distance from each other. Maybe we should see other people. I think we can still be friends. I don’t mean to sever ties completely, but I think it will be better for both of us if we remain platonic for the time being. Please don’t take this too hard.