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Why linking is better than rehashing a press release

May 6, 2010

One of the things I’ve always found paradoxical about journalism is that for all the bluster about ethics and the preservation of democracy, journalists think nothing of reading over a press release, rewriting it and publishing it immediately. I get that it was a necessary evil when X amount of space on a printed page had to be filled, but online it’s lazy, crappy and a huge waste of time.

Take this Consumer Reports survey on social sharing, for example: We’ve got a survey that says (in a nutshell) People share too much on social networks and it’s exposing them to security risks... Stats, stats, stats, “Seven things to stop doing on Facebook NOW!” and we’re done.

Over here, we have distilling that information, in their own words, and for some reason, attaching a byline to it. No value has been added to the press release—it’s just a regurgitation of the information.

On the other hand, over here we’ve got Read Write Web, which, after summarizing and linking out to the press release, delves into its own take on the data:

The problem with this report is that it acts as if the burden of online safety should be entirely placed upon social networking users. While there are some obvious areas where people need to think smarter, some of the real issues regarding these networks are being ignored.

With social networks – Facebook in particular – privacy settings are too often obscured or are confusing and so therefore are generally overlooked by the majority of a social network’s users.

I’m not saying SFGate should’ve done it as well as RWW—the latter is a dedicated tech blog that specializes in news about social networking—but I do find it a little shocking that a publication that’s no stranger to economic strife still finds it necessary to fund parroting. There were any number of ways they could have cut down the time involved in creating their post and made it better:

  • Quote a few bits of data—whichever they thought were most relevant—and link out to the PR Newswire release (conveys information);
  • Quote some data, link out and ask people if they “overshare” (conveys information, stimulates discussion);
  • Do a Google search for the press release—maybe they would’ve found the RWW story (conveys information, adds value).

Any one or any combination of those three would’ve saved time that could’ve been spent creating original content and would’ve given readers either the same value as what was actually posted or more.

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