Seeing a portion of a press release run in a newspaper can be a minor victory for the public relations person who wrote it.
But for a journalist using that release it can mean the end of a career.
That was the case for Kansas City Star
columnist Steve Penn, who last July was fired for repurposing content verbatim from press releases without attribution.
A Poynter.org story on Thursday
says that Penn is now suing Star
owner McClatchy Newspapers, insisting the practice was allowed at the paper. Penn says that management didn’t inform of a change in policy. He is suing McClatchy for $25,000, plus punitive damages, claiming that the firing has hurt his career.
“In his complaint, Penn, who joined the paper in 1980, says ‘the widespread practice in journalism is to treat such releases as having been voluntarily released by their authors into the flow of news with the intention that the release will be reprinted or republished, and preferably with no or minimal editing.’
“Penn maintains that copying from press releases was always OK at the Star and his firing resulted from management’s failure to make it clear that there’d been a shift in policy. ‘Acting pursuant to his training and to widespread practice at the newspaper, he would occasionally use in his general interest column press releases which described upcoming community events.’”
Read the full story at Poynter
There is a term in the media/PR world for a story that is a repurposed press release: churnalism. Last year, a website in the U.K. launched
that highlights examples of the practice. A story that ran on PR Daily’s sister site Ragan.com last year
explored the topic of whether churnalism is good or bad for public relations. The results were mixed.
“Some PR insiders have said the site is issuing unfair hits,” Ragan.com staff writer Russell Working wrote. “Others say it points to the need for higher standards of integrity and fact-checking among communicators themselves.”