Last month, I wrote a press release for a fundraiser a friend of mine is organizing, which will take place on January 19. As the date of the event nears, we’ve been trying to get the word out through media pitches, social networking sites and word-of-mouth marketing. Any exposure or media attention is more than welcome.
Today, a freelance journalist based in Toronto posted the press release on his blog and on DigitalJournal.com. This was great news to my friend, and I was quite pleased, but herein lies the rub – while it was posted verbatim, it was not sourced or credited to anyone. Furthermore, my contact information at the bottom of the release was removed. With his byline, it looked as though it was his post/article.
I didn’t know what to think. This isn’t about me getting attention; as a professional communicator, I don’t expect personal accolades and recognition for my work – any attention should be directed at the organization I’m working for. But in my opinion, a simple notation about the source (my friend’s comedy troupe, StandUp For Your Sisters), or an article based on the release, would have been the right thing to do.
The releases I’ve issued for the Ontario Dental Association have either been reprinted and credited to the organization, or cited by reporters as a source of information for their articles or broadcasts. This situation was entirely new to me. So I sought advice from friends and colleagues: Is this normal?
Most agreed that yes, it was (unfortunately) normal and legal, albeit very unprofessional and amateurish. One friend told me I was lucky to have the release posted by a journalist, because it lends more credibility (as opposed to having a release posted by me or my friend). He added that I should be happy it was posted verbatim because at least the message was not distorted. “Welcome to the state of journalism in 2010,” he quipped.
I suppose I should be glad about the coverage — the event will hopefully receive more exposure, and the message was, indeed, intact. Yet something about the whole thing smacks of laziness and a little disrespect. It also got me thinking — what’s stopping someone — anyone — from taking a press release and posting it online as their own? Should we allow our material to be appropriated as someone else’s work and just be grateful we’re getting the attention?
To me, there is a fine line between reporting and plagiarism, and I’m still unsure if it’s been crossed in this case. But it does feels like it has been broached.
Does this really constitute journalism in the 21st century?