What happens when a news report based on a press release and using sentences from the press release does not acknowledge the source? And, worse, the reporter actually takes a byline for it?
This was the subject of my Reading Room post yesterday: "Have you heard of 'churnalism'?"
That post was inspired by a press release (I have copied it below) that had a lot of useful information about IJNet, a website for journalists and would-be journalists but, as is the case with most press releases, it was not an interesting read. Nor was it an easy read.
How could I turn it into a news item? Or write about IJNet on The Reading Room? The thought process involved in the rewriting may give you an insight into how the dross from a press release can be turned into gold: news that readers will want to read.
Here is the press release:
International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), is a non-profit, professional organization headquartered in the U.S. ICFJ runs a website, the International Journalists’ Network -- http://ijnet.org/ which offers many resources of interest to young as well as mid-career journalists.
India is fortunate to have had good journalism institutes and outstanding journalists who have helped shape a media that’s largely independent of both government and business. Still, with new challenges like digital media, the definition and skills of journalism continue to evolve. This is where IJNet could help meet a need, helping young and mid-career journalists to continue their professional education by staying in touch with their peers worldwide and tracking new trends.
While you would want to explore this website yourself, we thought we should draw your attention to a few highlights announced on the site:
*Innovative news projects in digital journalism funded by Google
*Courses on mobile reporting from cellphones; also courses on development and diversity issues and journalism for social change.
*Internship programs that enable journalists to work at US media organizations
*Fellowships in investigative journalism at the University of California and Berkeley School of Journalism
*Blogs and other competitions on global energy issues
*Live chats with prize-winning journalists
More recently, the website offered a Census of India photography contest. Sometimes the site also offers travel grants to international seminars of special interest to journalists.
Other features of the website include:
*Journalism resources and news: Where you can find information on everything from basic reporting to healthcare journalism to new media
*Community content: Where you can easily upload your own valuable resources to share with the world
*Specialized blogs written by IJNet editors
*Discussion groups on hot topics: Where you can sound off on issues that matter to you!
Discussion posts cover topics like “Should news sites be held responsible for user comments?”, “Should journalists help investigate crimes?”, “To what degree should journalists protect privacy?” and the ethics and issues involving Wikileaks. These are issues being debated also in India and our journalists could share their own views and approaches with the rest of the world.
The site also has a bank of articles on multimedia and digital journalism and videos on disaster reporting, maintaining a healthy broadcast voice (for broadcast journalists), and using Google maps in online stories.
As I wrote above, there is a lot of useful information here but the sentence construction, the choice of words — the very structure of the press release — soon had my eyes glazing over. And I began feeling disconnected.
What to do?
I needed to study the website first in order to think of something interesting to replace that turgid intro, so I clicked on the link provided in the press release. Voila! I found my news peg right there on the website: a reference to "churnalism". And this is what I came up with for an opener in the post I published yesterday:
Sometimes newspapers base a news report on a press release. Nothing wrong with that when the newspaper makes the source clear to readers by including this line (or a variant) at the appropriate place in the report: "...according to a company press release."
But what happens when a news report based on a press release and using sentences from the press release does not acknowledge the source? And, worse, the reporter actually takes a byline for it? (This happened to me once — a press release I sent out to Bangalore newspapers on behalf of Commits was reproduced almost verbatim in The Hindu with the reporter attaching her name at the end.)
That is called "churnalism". Also known as "cut-and-paste journalism".
It's only in the fifth paragraph of my post that I introduced IJNet.
But I believe that Poynter is also an excellent website for journalism resources, so keeping my student audience in mind, I included this line at the end of that fifth paragraph:
Along with Poynter, IJNet is the go-to site for anyone serious about a career in journalism.
Then, having introduced "churnalism", I returned to it. I explained the term by quoting an example from IJNet and then concluded the post by expounding on the lessons to be learnt from this particular episode of "churnalism".
At the end, since I was writing a blog post and not a full-fledged news item, I attributed the "source" of this press release. (Let me make it clear here that Commitscion Shruti Upadhyay only forwarded it to me.)
I would like to believe that what I have written (read the post in its entirety here) is more interesting to read than the press release.
Also, if a PR professional had sent the press release to me with the intention of getting some publicity for IJNet, he or she would have no reason to quibble.
Now this is what I call a win-win situation. Do you agree?