Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Thoughts on Press Releases

I have seen several comments about blog posts that "copy" and regurgitate press releases. Some bloggers decry this practice for a variety of reasons. They express the opinion that this is somehow an "unacceptable" practice and that they categorically ignore such repeat posts. This does raise some questions about journalism in general and historic newspaper practices in particular. 

I just got through reading two news articles that appeared in the Salt Lake City, Utah based Deseret News, one of the local print newspapers. Hmm. I also looked at the Provo Daily Herald from Provo, Utah, another daily print newspaper from the same state. In fact, they are published about 45 miles from each other. The Provo Daily Herald contained exactly (differently worded) news stories and both quoted the exact same press releases. I guess my question is what happens if I take both newspapers? Do I ignore the articles because they are based, per se, on press releases? Do I read one newspaper's account and not the other? Am I offended because they both posted the press release? Do I conclude that both newspapers have violated my personal standard of news reporting that says that I ignore copied press releases?

Is there some fundamental issue with journalistic practices that prohibits mentioning, copying or republishing press releases? 

There is a more fundamental question however. How am I going to know about the press release if I do not learn about it from the newspapers or other media outlets, including blogs? From the comments I have received about blogs incorporating press releases, I would assume that in every case, the reader had a subscription to the original press release. Taking this position would assume that every reader of the blog had a subscription to every outlet for any entity making a press release. After all, press releases are released for news purposes. Is the objection to the blog post incorporating a press release to have us believe that we should ignore press releases because they are press releases.

Of course, you are hopelessly naive if you do not realize that press releases are self-promoting advertising. So what? I read ads for news all the time especially new product releases. Do I believe everything I read? If you have read any of my blog posts, you know the answer to that question. A press release is one side of a discussion. 

It seems to me that the objection comes from seeing the same press releases quoted in different blogs. So what? This is a non-issue. In many cases, I will quote a press release and then comment on the content. In some cases, I have no comments but I still reproduce the press release. This serves the same purpose as having the same news articles in two newspapers. If you take the time to look at Google News for an example, you will see a news story (i.e. a press release) copied hundreds and sometimes thousands of times across the world. In fact, I looked at Google News this morning and immediately found an article in the New York Times reporting about a press release from the U.S. Government. Do I avoid the article because it quotes a press release?

I see a fundamental problem with the comments on press releases. First, what is the role bloggers play in the genealogical community? Is there a problem that some bloggers provide updates to the news of the day? If a press release is reproduced and provided to the blogs readers is that a violation of some policy? There is an issue here. See "Is It Journalism, or Just a Repackaged Press Release? Here's a Tool to Help You Find Out." The issue raised by this article in The Atlantic, addresses the issue of plagiarism. When I quote a press release, I am not plagiarizing anything. I always give a link to the original. Is what I do "good" journalism? Who cares? I am not vying for a Pulitzer Prize. I do not work for anyone in the newspaper industry. If I choose to quote or comment on a press release and you don't like it, don't read my blog post. In fact, you can isolate yourself from all press releases and hence, all the news about what is going on in genealogy by just stopping the practice of reading blogs or news altogether. 

As for me, I will keep reading press releases and I will also keep writing about them and quoting them. I will also continue to attribute anything I quote or include in my posts. 


  1. Interesting post, James. You will already know that the practice of repeating stories in the press is not new. I managed to acquire on Ebay a copy of the Boston Gazette (that's Boston, Mass in the USA, not Boston, Lincs in the UK) for Monday, September 2, 1816. It reported the death of a distant cousin of mine, 'blind' Adam Yarker, in Darlington, County Durham, England. He died on 30 June 1816, a couple of months before the report crossed the Atlantic. No internet or even trans-Atlantic cables in those days! The report is almost identical to one in the Asiatic Journal for 1816. Similar reports also with almost identical wording appeared in various newspapers in England including the Northampton Mercury for Saturday 27 July 1816, the Hull Packet on Tuesday 9 Jul 1816 and, rather later, in the Old Local Records column of the Morpeth Herald for 13 March 1880 [sic].

    Sadly, even the most assiduous search on Google could not find it quoted in any 1816 blogs...

  2. I am always interested in hearing the latest news. If more than one blogger announces an item, I read the first one that shows up and skip the others. Plagiarism? Not at all unless a person attaches his/her own name as the originator of the news, which is pretty hard to do if it is corporate announcement.