From press release to newspaper article

I read a press release on a tragic story earlier today from the Saanich police on a sexual assault that happened this week-end. A few hours later I came across the Times-Colonist story on the same tragedy as well as the Victoria News article and they all seemed to say the same thing, so I decided to search Google news for the story, and see who else is reporting on it and compare how each article differed from the press release.

It is interesting how little has been changed when you review the them side by side. It makes me wonder, how much editing is required for one to get credit for essentially copying a press release and claiming an article as their own, or at what point would such constitute journalistic plagiarism? Hopefully some of my media friends jump in, as I’m sure this issue is not new to them as it is to me.

I don’t mind using this tragic story as a case study, as the more people that are aware of it, the odds increase of finding her attackers.

3 thoughts on “From press release to newspaper article

  1. It’s awful how lax reporting is in this town — and really across Canada. Routinely major daily newspapers (like the TC, Vancouver Sun, etc.) print press releases verbatim, especially from police, often without a followup call to the cops or anyone else. The excuse is too often that “we’re too busy”, but if you’re too busy to do your job, what’s the point? Too lazy is more often the real reason. And hey, I’ve been that lazy guy myself working at newspapers so I’m not pointing fingers. But I found out that following up a press release with a call to the cops, for example, was valuable. Not always, but sometimes they’ll point you in a direction where you can find some supporting information, and other times you can get them to go on the record with, at least, a quote indicating you were doing your job and following up. The police presser is just one, though. I see press releases from all sorts of institutions and ad hoc groups reprinted with some reporter’s byline.

  2. Sure, we often rip a press release for the first version of a story we put on the web. That’s pretty standard — get up the information as soon as possible. But we do call for more information. And often, we get nothing. The cops usually don’t give us anything more than what was in the press release. Or, in some cases, they even refuse to comment after they issue the press release — either because they aren’t the media officer (as happens very frequently on weekends) or they are the media officer but are under instructions to give us nothing. So, sometimes we stick close to the release, because it’s all we’ve got — and you don’t want to get anything wrong if no one is answering your questions.

    This is a town where we had a murder-suicide and the cops won’t tell us who killed whom. We put in a freedom of information request on the case, and they blacked out the murder weapon, telling us that it was an invasion of privacy. Sure…

  3. As a media student this also concerns me. As in, I’m concerned. I’ve both written releases and done in-class work creating an article using only a release. Mind you – I’m not in J-school. So at least I’m supplementing my learning with Journalism in mind.

    I look forward to taking the investigative and relentless information hounding lifestyle – but I wonder how much things will change with the immediacy of news nowadays. I’m worried, but hopeful.

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