News releases are not news. They might be newsworthy, and they might share information that can become news. But, in and of themselves, news releases are not news. They are a one-sided, unbalanced pitch originally intended for journalists who would, hopefully, create some news stories with them. In our modern communications era, they are used to spread information with a certain perspective to the public, as well, through websites and social media outlets.
It is abhorrent behavior then, for news outlets to take these news releases and print them verbatim on a news website. And yet, that’s exactly what happened recently with two outlets in Lansing — WILX TV 10 and the Lansing State Journal. They took a news release sent out by Sparrow Hospital and Hayes-Green Beach Memorial Hospital that explained a growing partnership between the two medical centers. The State Journal didn’t even bother to remove the sentence in the middle that announced a joint call for the media that day, including the passcode for the telephone press conference! The hospital actually had to change the passcode since the LSJ decided to announce it publicly through its latest veiled attempt at being a professional newspaper.
I do not fault Sparrow, Hayes-Green Beach or anyone involved in the public relations industry for what happened. It is their job to get the news distributed with as much of their information and perspective as possible. I’ve been in the journalism or PR business combined for more than 20 years. I’ve been on the receiving end and the sending end of news releases. I know how they are used and why they are used and have no complaints with that. I don’t even mind that we in the PR industry can now bypass the media and go straight to the public. I believe the public is smart enough to understand that what an organization is putting on its website is expected to be one sided. But are they savvy enough to figure that out when looking at a supposedly unbiased and objective news website? The problem is that as soon as that news release is posted to a legitimate news organization’s website, it’s no longer just a news release — it’s deceptive reporting.
WILX and the Lansing State Journal clearly shirked their duty to perform reliable, responsible journalism. The journalism industry is already suffering from a credibility gap, and acting as a shill for a public relations machine — either deliberately or through sheer laziness — is only expanding that gap.
Here are some screen shots of the news release, as well as the WILX and LSJ websites where it was posted: