On the subject of press releases (see my previous post) one thing that most people who don't work in PR or the media aren't fully aware of, is just how many stories that end up in one's newspaper are the direct result of a press-release from a company or organization to news outlets.
Most are round-filed but many are genuinely newsworthy: what should happen then is that the reporter widens the coverage of the story with background and information from sources other than Company X's press-release.
Taking as a case in point, CLP's announcement to cut CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour (Asian utility plans major emissions cuts; Friday, December 7, 2007).
There has been a token nod to unnamed other sources in paragraph 4 ('CLP's decision is especially noteworthy, energy experts said, because...') but the end of paragraph 6 it is evident that the article thus far is based largely on information contained in an advance copy of the announcement to be made by CLP CEO Andrew Brandler on Friday, December 7th, 2007. Obtained not by sleuthing but no doubt from CLP's PR company.
In paragraph 10, Frances Yeung from Greenpeace is quoted as saying it's all well and good cutting your emissions per kilowatt-hour, but if 'generate more power, then absolute emissions of carbon dioxide will increase'.
Then we have news, and indeed a photo of a Greenpeace-staged protest at one of CLP's coal-fired power plants on Thursday morning, with a photo from the European Press Agency. Again, it is doubtful that either the photographer from EPA or the author of the IHT article, Keith Bradsher, would have known about the Greenpeace protest without the help of the Greenpeace PR machine.
So by paragraph 11, Mr. Bradsher probably hasn't had to put in too much work to crack this story.
Now we come to the second alternative source on the issue, a report issued by Credit Suisse
reporting that mainland China's power consumption would continue growing by 11% to 14% a year for the next three year to five years. Issued on Thursday (everyone including CLP and Greenpeace trying to cash in on the climate change talks currently underway in Bali) this report from Credit Suisse also probably hit Mr. Bradsher's desk with a press release with the report's key points, coming from either Credit Suisse's internal PR department or from their PR agency.
Bradsher now picks up the phone for the second time, having probably rung the CLP spokesman earlier in the day just to get a quote not in the original CLP announcement in response to the Greenpeace press release about CLP (5 minutes work?), and rings up a contact of his at Standford University, and gets a couple of 'independent ideas' from him. (Earlier we had been told Bradsher had spoken with, or heard from energy experts - note plural - but the research fellow at Standford is the only one mentioned by name.)
That is the lot of most business journalists and they have a symbiotic relationship with corporate PR agencies. I'm not suggesting there is anything sinister here, simply that few readers perhaps fully understand just how these media/PR relationships work and how often the journalists are friends with, and socialise with, their PR contacts. If somebody from a PR agency speaks badly of a journalist they know, its probably a sign the journalist is a good one.
I would like to see any press releases used or quoted in an article, posted on line at http://www.iht.com/ next to the article (easy to do because the companies post these press releases themselves on their own sites, so only a question of a link).
Here's how it might look like: