Are journalists unethical for republishing press releases without attribution?

Proper attribution is the bread and butter for anyone using AP style or writing news articles. Because of the increasing workload that many journalists are burdened with they often look to public relations practitioners for story ideas and press releases to help alleviate this burden while making their personal deadlines. Having said this, is it okay for journalists to simply cut and paste press releases without it being considered plagiarism?

A journalist working for the Kansas City Star was fired[1] because editors had discovered that he was lifting information from press releases without proper attribution. The journalist in question was quoted[2] as saying that the “widespread practice in journalism is to treat such releases as having been voluntarily released by their authors … with the intention that the release will be reprinted or republished … with no or minimal editing.”

One of the main points of PR practitioners sending pitch emails or press releases to journalists is to catch media attention, either through republishing the press release or having a journalist follow up to craft a story. PRSA “views the issuance of a news release as giving implicit consent to re-use and publish the news release’s content. Certain exceptions would apply; attribution is recommended, for example, when a direct quote is re-used, or facts and figures are cited,” according to[3] Gerard Corbett, APR, PRSA fellow.

As a journalist I will often look through press releases to gather information for the weekly news briefs that I write every week. I won’t simply cut and paste 100 words worth of content, but will rather go through the sometimes daunting process of fact checking, gathering information from different sources and reword/synthesize information. By the end of this process my news brief is at least somewhat different from the original press release I was sent, and any quotes pulled from the press release are attributed to the press release.

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