"Science reporting by press release"

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Cris Russell has a column under the headline above in the Columbia Journalism Review. Excerpts:

“A dirty little secret of journalism has always been the degree to which some reporters rely on press releases and public relations offices as sources for stories. But recent newsroom cutbacks and increased pressure to churn out online news have given publicity operations even greater prominence in science coverage.

“What is distressing to me is that the number of science reporters and the variety of reporting is going down. What does come out is more and more the direct product of PR shops,” said Charles Petit, a veteran science reporter and media critic, in an interview. Petit has been running MIT’s online Knight Science Journalism Tracker since 2006, where he has posted more than 4,000 critiques involving approximately 20,000 articles. He is concerned that science news “spoon-fed” directly to the media through well-written press releases and handouts has “become a powerful subversive tool eroding the chance that reporters will craft their own stories.” In some cases the line between news story and press release has become so blurred that reporters are using direct quotes from press releases in their stories without acknowledging the source. …

“The problem is worsening,” agreed Paul Costello, who heads the Stanford University School of Medicine communications and public affairs office. He said that the “shift to new media Web site traffic” is putting added pressure on reporters, leading some to cut corners in the name of more copy, “often writing right off press releases, even at the good papers.” “

She also cites our HealthNewsReview.org project in the piece.

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