The latest word out of global and US press release mega-firm PRNewswire is that press releases are as integral to journalists’ working lives as ever.

One key result from a PRN survey of Asia-Pacific journalists was that official press releases ranked ahead of Facebook and Twitter accounts as more trusted sources when writing a story or verifying a fact.

Closer to home the media team at Medianet has been gleaning direct feedback on how journalists in Australia and New Zealand view press releases and derive different types of value from them.
 
Here’s a selection of these insights from our client newsletter, Media Movements:
 
Press releases as a starting point for a story

A common theme from the feedback is the importance of the initial role of releases in news and information gathering.

  • “(It is) the starting point of the newsgathering process.” Danielle Cronin, editor of The Brisbane Times.
  • “Often it’s the first alert I will get to somebody important coming into town or a new (musical) release.” Danielle McGrane, AAP entertainment journalist.

 
A good way to build contacts

Another theme that emerges is a simple one: releases being essential for putting journalists and news sources in contact with each other.

  • “They are a great way to build your contacts.” Samantha Rose Spence, producer at Nova 106.9 Breakfast.
  • “They can be good to spark ideas and provide contacts.” Liam Phelan, editor of The Sun-Herald.

 
Extra information for a story

A press release can provide supplementary information for a journalist who is already working on a story. Sometimes it can contain the missing link  And there is always evidence that releases are being drawn on towards crafting a story.

  • “If a press release has valuable new data then I’m likely to use it.” Bhakti Puvanenthiran, editor of Fairfax Media’s My Small Business.
  • “In the news cycle, they can be useful at highlighting an aspect of a story we hadn’t considered.” Rob Stott, editor of Buzzfeed News Australia.

 
Good for finding a position on a matter

Sometimes a press release can save a journalist time when they are looking to round out a story with a range of opinions or standpoints.

  • “The best stories rarely come from press releases, although they can be useful for ideas or getting quick reaction to a breaking story.” Natasha Bita, national affairs writer at The Daily Telegraph.
  • “Where traditionally a phone call would have provided the information needed, journalists are now being directed to written statements and press releases.” Karen Sweeney, AAP NZ Newswire journalist.

 
Cautious to use a release as the only source
A widely held view among journalists is to treat press releases with caution.

  • “I’ve never had a problem with using press releases as a source of information. My problem is with journalism that takes a release at face value or, even worse, simply regurgitates it with a couple of syntactical changes, a few different words, a new comma. You needn’t leave your critical thinking at the door.” Matthew Clayfield, digital news editor of Delicious magazine
  • “In my experience, press releases provide journalists with supplementary information to a topic already on the agenda. I take some of them with a grain of salt because I don’t want to write a free advertisement.” Sarah McPhee, AAP news intern

 
And always worth remembering… journalists like ‘short, sharp releases’

Journalists are short on time so the last thing they want is a long, wordy press release where the information is hidden in the seventh paragraph.

“Journalists just need short, sharp releases with some great quotes so we can get our stories out quick.” Rashida Yosufzai, AAP political journalist.