Public relations association says it’s not plagiarism to use material from press releases

Public Relations Society of America
Gerard Corbett, chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, says using a press release without attribution isn’t plagiarism. Corbett made his point in response to the controversy surrounding Steve Penn, who was fired from The Kansas City Star last July for lifting material from press releases. Penn has since sued the paper.

Attribution is “recommended,” Corbett writes, when journalists use direct quotes, facts or figures from press releases, but not when using dates, times or other general information. He pointed out that public relations professionals like seeing their releases published.

After all, those words found their way onto the paper through a meticulous and often grueling process of drafting, editing, re-drafting, reviewing and approving, all intended to present a company’s or client’s news in the proper light. And what better way to insure a story’s accuracy than to pull content verbatim from the press release?

But while public relations professionals are usually willing to overlook the ethics of a news organization publishing their content without attribution, given the benefits that accrue to their companies or clients as a result (all key messages delivered!), journalists still are facing scrutiny and criticism over the practice.

Here are six ways journalists can troubleshoot the attribution issue and use press releases more effectively. || Related: Washington Post reporter sent drafts to sources

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  • Kirk Hazlett

    Attribution is entirely the journalist’s call. As a public relations professional, I will present my organization’s information as fully, honestly, and accurately as humanly possible, abiding by all the tenets of PRSA’s Code of Ethics. If the journalist (or publication) chooses to use my wording verbatim, so be it.

    But I always caution employers or clients that it is within the journalist’s prerogative to question, verify, and substantiate any and all claims that I make in my release. As a journalist myself (granted freelance, but still a journalist), I always sought out counter-balancing opinions.

    As a wise salesman told my wife years ago when, as newly-weds, we were shopping for household items and she was questioning the quality of a particular item, “Nothing’s perfect, little girl.”

    That has always stuck in my head as a cautionary note.

  • Anonymous

    No, it’s not plagiarism, Corbett is right. But it’s not journalism, that’s for sure. Here in Taiwan English newspapers when a press release is used in the papers as an exact copy of the release, with new
    headline maybe, readers are alerted by the BYLINE which reads STAFF REPORTER, this is newsroom lingo for “this is a press release.” That is how they do it here.

  • Gerald Grow

    I saw releases I that wrote quoted with attribution, excerpted without attribution, printed whole without attribution, and printed whole with somebody else’s name as author. All were fine with me, though claiming authorship for an entire release is questionable journalism. 

  • Anonymous

    PR Society member:  “Sure we want you to use it as written…that’s why we spun it that way, lazy rewrite genius!”