July 25, 2012

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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As managing editor of The Poynter Institute’s website, Poynter.org, I report on the media news industry, edit the site’s How To section, and moderate the…
Mallary Jean Tenore

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