Who wins when reporters cut and paste press releases?

It happens regularly in newsrooms, especially with dwindling staffs. But is it a good thing for journalism—or public relations?

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The Kansas City Star claims Penn, a former columnist at the paper, plagiarized by using material from press releases in his columns without attribution. He countersued last week saying that it’s commonplace in newsrooms to cut and paste from press releases.

It’s not plagiarism, because the writers of press releases give up ownership of the information when they send it to a newsroom, according to Penn’s suit. The suit adds that it’s a regular practice for reporters to crib from press releases.

The situation raises interesting issues. Having been on both sides of this argument—in the newsroom and in the PR world—I can tell you that reporters regularly cut and paste information from press releases. And that’s exactly what PR practitioners hope they will do.

Is it a good practice on the part of reporters? No, but it certainly does help, particularly as newsroom staffs continue to dwindle.

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