On the Ground With Gabe is a FingerLakes1.com blog that “takes you behind the headlines, practices, techniques and ethics of all things journalism.”
Meltwater, one of the world’s leading media monitoring companies, revealed an often overlooked, inconvenient truth when it comes to the precious balance between public relations and journalism, especially now during the 21st century.
In a recent post titled “How to Pitch Your Press Release to Journalists,” Meltwater insists that “a press release is only as good as your pitch.”
“And with reporters getting dozens [if not more] pitches in their email inbox every day, you’ll need to make sure yours stands out,” their article continued.
Ironically, press releases often pop up underneath my “Promotions” tab in my Gmail account — like the one pictured below from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s press office.
Case in point, there’s certainly a place for press releases in journalism, but it’s about how you contextualize and even supplement them through original, organic reporting.
Typically, in the absence of any substance, they’re still authoritative texts from sources and possibly worthwhile inserting within any article.
Sometimes, however, newsrooms might slightly modify press releases and rerun them — replacing original words and phrases for the sake of creating concision and clarity among readers. Although announcement write-ups may be grammatically and stylistically altered, the original messaging is always supposed to remain intact.
For many publications that are understaffed, hanging by a thread with dwindling subscribers and declining circulation routes, the presser is praised and beloved — maybe even hailed as a proverbial savior to fill a block of empty space within the alphabetized middle section of a declining daily or weekly newspaper by overworked, old-school newsroom editors.
It’s a part of the process to such an extent that Brian Montopoli, a MSNBC producer for “All In With Chris Hayes,” dubbed it as “press release journalism,” in a Columbia Journalism Review commentary.
It’s an endemic and powerful element of our profession. There are countless newsworthy stories that organizations release, plenty of which are loosely based upon or remotely inspired by the typical presser that floods any inbox of a reporter, editor or newsroom leader.
Even national news outlets rely on these statements to report and ultimately stay informed.
I personally rarely use a presser as the template of a story, yet my inbox still gets flooded with them all the time — not just ones as a part of Governor Cuomo’s “prestigious” New York press corps either.
After being published nationally on behalf of Civil Eats, I’ve been receiving some of the most random releases and statements from all across America.
Each day, I’m being sent pressers about places like Minnesota and California— even though I’ve never stepped foot in either of those media markets.
And the list goes on and on and on…
Yet, these releases might alert me about something that’s happening in our community or coverage area — allowing us to keep a tab and potentially dedicate time to follow-up on a story of major significance.
Most recently, however, it was brought to my attention that our company came under fire by a current Geneva city councilor in a brief Facebook post that appeared in the comment section underneath one of the articles published by our social media account.
He alleged that “no one at FL1 News gives 2 shits about this,” a blanket statement that’s in reference to a story about Jan Regan, a fellow city councilor, who’s publishing a photo-visual book alongside Chris Lavin, one that recounts the history of COVID-19 in Geneva through her porch portrait series.
In response to that affirmation, FingerLakes1.com has always cared about that story — long before our competitors ever even dared to pick the scoop up.
In fact, I actually broke the original story almost a year ago on Monday, April 13, as a part of our newly-launched FL1 Daily Debrief, which we later rebranded as the FL1 Daily Podcast.
The program titled “Photographing local history, as it happens in real-time” captured the attention of our listeners after being played thousands of times on Anchor, Spotify and iTunes.
Our short feature shed light on Councilor Regan’s efforts to create a permanent historical record amid an unprecedented time in our world.
Even after our initial program aired, there hadn’t been any further mention of Regan’s latest project in the days and months that followed — none whatsoever. Not a single one of our local or regional media outlets in the Finger Lakes that routinely cover the city of Geneva even acknowledged it.
Clearly, we were first, and more importantly, we always cared.
Aside from our initial coverage in 2020, no other stories have been published until around late-March, coincidentally when a presser had been sent to members of the media, including the Finger Lakes Times and Evan Dawson, the host of WXXI News’ Connections, who later interviewed Regan and Chris Lavin on Mar. 23, 2021.
Even if you take a look at Susan Clark Porter’s article titled “Documenting the pandemic, one porch at a time,” there are striking similarities between her bylined article and our staff report.
Another point raised in the Facebook post asks why the article wasn’t attributed to any particular author.
Essentially, what is the problem with our newsroom’s usage of a presser, and why isn’t there anymore outrage among our fellow competitors?
That’s because it’s simply old news.
Our fearless News Director Josh Durso has already offered an impressively thorough explanatory exposé in the Sunday, Mar. 7 edition of the Sunday Insight newsletter, which I highly recommend subscribing for [a cheap plug on my part, nonetheless]!
Every Sunday, our news director intends on answering a news-related question from a reader, one of whom recently asked a few weeks ago: “Why do you use ‘staff report’ as the byline on certain articles published on FingerLakes1.com? Is that ethical?”
In a 399-word response, Durso mentioned that “bylines have always been about ‘giving credit’ to the people on our team- or guest contributors- who work hard to make a story come to life.”
He somewhat even empathizes with those who question “the integrity” of any non-bylined reports, especially now amid an era of escalating misinformation and disinformation efforts online.
“Let me be clear: Our organization stands behind everything we publish,” Durso wrote. “I’m also not going to keep myself up at night- trying to convince those most-skeptical about everything they encounter. We report on a good faith basis and ask that visitors read on the same premise.”
On Friday, April 2, Durso took to Twitter to offer an explanation about the situation in a thread of his own.
This fine gentleman, who serves on Geneva City Council, is pretty wildly off-base with this comment. Normally, I wouldn't bother responding- but here's a little explanation from my own point of view. 1/ #thread pic.twitter.com/nuf3G36wZt
— Josh Durso (@FLXJosh) April 2, 2021
Like Durso, I too, won’t be kept up, tossing and turning overnight either — and truthfully, neither should any of you.
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