Newsroom downsizing could save the press release suggests media lecturer on panel debating future of journalism

Lau Joon-Nie (far right) talks on panel including Alan Soon, Andrew Pickup, Victoria Ho and Mark Laudi

Lau Joon-Nie (far right) talks on panel including Alan Soon, Andrew Pickup, Victoria Ho and Mark Laudi

The shrinking of editorial newsrooms could be the salvation of the traditional press release used by PR agencies and corporates to communicate with journalists, a university lecturer suggested on a panel on the future of journalism in Singapore last week.

Talking at an event hosted by MyNewsDesk, Lau Joon-Nie, a lecturer for journalism and publishing at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and a former Mediacorp journalist, said that “possibly because of the downsizing of newsrooms, the press release isn’t dead” as the resources and time journalists have for field reporting have dwindled.

“There is a lot of life left in the press release,” she said. A journalism trends survey presented by MyNewsDesk found that journalists value a press release sent via email second only to face to face contact with a source as the preferred way to be sent information.

Source: MyNewsDesk Journalism Trends 2016

Top 5 ways journalists want to be contacted, source: Journalism Trends 2016

The press release acts as an official, archivable document of record in an era when major news organisations are making errors because they were relying on digital channels such as WhatsApp and Facebook as news sources, Lau noted.

She said that she knew of a newsmaker who made deliberate errors to their Wikipedia page just to catch journalists out, and referred to a blunder made by CNN and other international news outlets around the death of Lee Kuan Yew as an example of the dangers of relying on information gleaned from the internet.

“Major news organisations fell for it; the likes of CNN, they all got
egg on their faces. They had to retract and apologise,” she said. “We do slam the local [Singapore] media quite a bit. But they will wait for the official press release.”

Victoria Ho, the Asia editor of digital culture site Mashable, and former Business Times journalist, said that she uses press releases as a place to check facts that “feels safe”, but her publication never uses press releases to break news.

“We get our news probably hours before a press release
comes out, so the press release is not breaking any news,” she said.

“For us, half the time our quotes are taken from Facebook or Twitter
embeds, and that’s a lot different from the stiffer way that we used
to report it in print. But I think it’s [using social media posts] a reality of the way people capture and consume the news these days.”

Alan Soon, the former managing editor of Yahoo Southeast Asia and now running consultancy The Splice Newsroom, suggested that press releases were largely irrelevant in the modern publishing world, particularly for digital native publishers like Mashable.

“Why do you have to have a certain format [for a press release] that begins with a dateline and ends with a boiler plate?” said Soon, who suggested that Facebook was a better option, as brands can reach a more targeted audience and communicate in a more personal way.

“Facebook becomes your entry point and you provide a link to get more, stats, quotes, etc – and that’s the purpose of a traditional press release, which offers you more information but it becomes a secondary service.”

“Facebook is from the first person, and press releases are always in the third person, which is ridiculous in this day and age,” he said, adding that press releases tend to be “stiff” in the way they are written.

Soon’s former CNBC colleague Mark Laudi, who was chairing the discussion, pointed to a story in Singapore’s government-record paper Straits Times about the country’s finance minister suffering a stroke during a cabinet meeting. The story used quotes from Facebook posts made by the prime minister and president, and left the official line from the government until the end.

Microsoft is a famously big fan of PR, and the company’s senior director of communications for Asia, Andrew Pickup, said that the value of a press release is as a tool for journalists to get their facts straight, but Microsoft also uses a corporate blog to get across long-form messaging.

Pickup: With a blog you don't have to engage directly with a journalist

Pickup: ‘With a blog you don’t have to engage directly with a journalist’

“The advantage of a blog is that you don’t have to engage directly
with a journalist, you are talking directly to your constituents. But there has to be a long form mechanism for getting your facts straight,” he said.

“It might be boring to put facts about Microsoft building a new data centre on Facebook, but there has to be a place where that information can live and for us that’s a blog.”

“A journalist can use it to write their story, and check that that’s the official order of things,” he said.

The panel session later moved on to how brands work with journalists, with Ho remarking that it felt “shitty” to write on assignment for a brand when it was the publisher making the money, not the writer.


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