Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Can People Distinguish PR News Releases from News Stories?

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 23, 2007

[This is response to a discussion in the comments section related to my recent post: Social Media Releases are Moving in a Bad Direction - Questionable Ethics in Masquerading as "News" ]

I think lots of people can distinguish content as promotional, as in a press release, or content that is a news story written by a journalist. The latter is trusted more because it is independent of any direct financial incentive.

But just in case readers get muddled, let's clearly mark PR content along these lines: "This is promotional content on behalf of Acme Corporation."

So if a news aggregator such as Google News picks it up by mistake readers can clearly identify the source of the information. They can see that it is self-serving, biased, paid-for-content -- and readers won't confuse it with news journalism.

But there are PR firms and PR practices that profit from a flaw in Google News, Yahoo News, and other large online news distributors, that pick up press releases and distribute them along with news stories written by journalists. There are studies that show that a significant number of readers get confused and think some press releases are news stories. Let's make things clear by marking content clearly.


If you have them, please send me examples of media using press releases in this way. I'll be publishing a few examples over the coming weeks.

This is becoming an interesting discussion and I thank people for their contributions.

It is an important issue because our society needs high quality information to make high quality decisions. Otherwise it is garbage in, garbage out, which doesn't bode well for us making the right decisions on global warming, foreign policy, healthcare, tech policy, and many dozens of extremely important problems.

Let's not let minority elements in PR, media, and search sectors profit from practices that reduce the quality of our information. Let's point out such practices.

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