A press release is not a “Top Story”

by David Safier

(Full Disclosure: I write a monthly column in The Explorer, a weekly distributed in northwest Pima County.)

A press release is not news. It's not a "story," let alone a "Top Story." It's a press release. Whoever puts together the website for the Explorer needs to learn the difference between news and PR.

Under "Top Stories" featured near the top of the Explorer website is the headline, "Gov. Brewer signs measure to improve Arizona education standards." Another headline: "Gov. Jan Brewer honored as Arizona 'Mother of Accomplishment in Government.'” The "education standards" story comes verbatim from a press release out of Brewer's office. The "Mother of Accomplishment" story is taken word for word from another Brewer press release. The "stories" don't include a source, so the unsuspecting reader will assume these puff pieces are newsworthy items written by someone on the Explorer staff.

It doesn't stop there. Here's another "Top Story": County attorney announces April as Month of Awareness and Action to aid victims crime. I couldn't find a press release on this one, but I found it on the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona website — again, word for word. And this: Call for nominations for Gabe Zimmerman Public Service Award, which is also on the ASU School of Public Affairs website.

I understand the problems an understaffed weekly has trying to add new content to its website on a regular basis, but it's journalistic malpractice to represent press releases and public service announcements as news. At the very least the Explorer needs to put something like "From the Governor's office" at the beginning or end of the piece.

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