Covering an innovation story? Re-hashing a press release may be better than nothing, but doing it whilst maintaining full disclosure and explicitly adding your own specialist perspective? Journalism!
There’s nothing wrong with a press release that some serious journalism can’t fix
Relying too much upon a press release (even if you ultimately rephrase almost everything you use from it) is often quite understandably stigmatised as being ‘churnalism’ by those aiming to improve editorial reporting standards.
But if the story is relevant, important and topical, then the luxury of undertaking a thorough research exercise before publishing may not always be a realistic option: it may be more important to ‘get it out there quickly’ than almost anything else.
In this age of countless specialist online publications, the blogosphere rubric of ‘be early, be first, correct errors quickly with rapid updates’ is worth taking into account.
There’s no more excuse than before for being recklessly negligent about checking, but these days there are strong expectations among readerships for their specialist sources of news to provide quick responses to topical developments.
So here are our top tips on ‘de-churnalisation’:
- always contextualise the article as much as possible by adding your own specialist insight: offering informed reflections upon past experience will add value, but always make it crystal clear that such perspective is your own and is distinct from that of your source
- try as hard as time permits to find at least one other very recent story, announcement, or development on the same subject that has a direct bearing on the announcement, especially if it inspires fresh thoughts: you might not have time to include it in your own coverage, but it might just improve the treatment
- if you are using a press release as a primary or even exclusive source for your article, explicitly say so and include a link to it (or if publishing in print, give its full title, source and date)
- when using/quoting from Wikipedia, always include the link and/or the article name and section and very importantly the date when you copied the content from it (because the Wikipedia article may change)
- check as carefully as possible to see if you need to include caveats for your readers about the content of the press release in your article, reminding them wherever necessary about the particular standpoint of the source on the relevant issues, especially where you haven’t had time to check any further regarding what the press release is announcing
- the very fact that you have had to use a press release as a primary source is an excellent justification for doing a follow-up article which doesn’t use a press release as its primary source: see if you can get some quotes on ‘what happened after the announcement’.
Speaking personally, I am probably the world’s worst when it comes to forgetting these rules, so please feel free to point out when I do!